Texas A&M is a contender this season and with it has come a lot of media attention.

Kellen Mond, the quarterback. Ainias Smith, the do-it-all receiver/running back. And of course, Jimbo Fisher, who is fulfilling Aggie fans’ expectations for him in Year 3.

They are all deserving of praise, but there is another group that has been equally important to the Aggies’ rise to No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

The defense has been unrelenting of late and it’s resulting in dominant victories. Aside from surrendering 52 points to Alabama in the second game of the season, the Aggies have mostly locked down their opponents. They are giving up just 338.2 yards per game (only 95.7 on the ground), which leads the SEC.

If it holds, this would be the first year the Aggies have finished among the top 5 teams in the conference.

They are most effective against the run, allowing only 95.7 yards per game on the ground. South Carolina’s Kevin Harris, one of the SEC’s leading rushers, had just 39 yards against them. Even Alabama’s Najee Harris struggled, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry (well below his season average of 5.8) when he faced A&M.

The defensive line is a big reason. They have 12 sacks over their past 3 games. Micheal Clemons leads the team with 4 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss but missed the Aggies’ last game against South Carolina after undergoing ankle surgery.

His absence will put a bigger burden on Jayden Peevy and Bobby Brown III, starting Saturday against LSU.

Linebacker Aaron Hansford has also got plenty of praise after making the change from tight end last year as a junior. He wasn’t expected to start this season but moved up on the depth chart after Anthony Hines opted out. He has 2 sacks and 4 tackles for loss and has been mentioned as a potential NFL prospect.

The Aggies have been somewhat softer against the pass, giving up 242.5 yards per game through the air. That is still good enough for 4th-best in the conference, which is their 2nd-highest ranking since joining the SEC.

Not to mention, the Aggies’ biggest win this season came courtesy of their defense. DeMarvin Leal recovered a fumble that set up the game-winning field goal against Florida. Without that, we definitely wouldn’t be talking about A&M as a potential Playoff team.

All this points to the best defense the Aggies have had since they became an SEC member in 2012.

In fact, the defense is probably the biggest difference between this year’s team and the Johnny Manziel-led Aggies from that year. Both teams had explosive offenses, but the edge goes to the 2012 squad that averaged 44.5 points per game.

Defensively, though, they ranked 9th in the conference. They did have defensive end Damontre Moore, who had 12.5 sacks, but the unit this year is better as a whole.

There are plenty of reasons that the Aggies are firmly in the Playoff conversation. They also present a much more balanced offense than we have seen in the past thanks to the rushing attack of Smith and Isaiah Spiller. Mond is in the middle of his best season yet.

But it could be defense that gives them a chance at a championship.