FRISCO, Texas – Even by some lofty standards, the college connection feels special in this Week 3 matchup.
Even those who don't follow college football should be aware of Alabama's stranglehold on the sport. Starting in 2007, when head coach Nick Saban took over the program, the Crimson Tide have won 88% of their games and six of the last 15 national titles.
The program leads the way in terms of NFL talent, with 53 former players on active rosters at the start of the 2021 season.
Suffice to say, a lot of NFL matchups feature former Alabama greats, but Monday night is going to stand out. It's hard to say how much they'll go against each other, but it's going to be appointment viewing when reigning Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith goes against his former teammate – and rival – Trevon Diggs.
"We just competed every day," Diggs said Thursday. "I ain't going to say I won all the time. He got me sometimes. I got him sometimes."
Diggs and Smith were in school together from 2017-19, going through those battles on a daily basis for teams that played for two national championships and won one. And while Smith didn't blossom into an 1,856-yard phenom until Diggs had left for the league, he knew exactly the quality of the guy he was going against.
"It's going to be a real competitive matchup," Diggs said.
As the first-round pick and Heisman winner, the spotlight is going to be on Smith all year – especially since Dallas enabled the Eagles to draft him by trading back from No. 10 to No. 12 in this year's NFL draft.
Diggs is making a case for the spotlight, himself. Through two weeks, he has two interceptions to go with seven tackles and three breakups. Having followed Mike Evans and Keenan Allen in those two games, he said he'd like to continue working against the opponent's No. 1 options, because he sees himself as a No. 1 cornerback.
"I feel like I can be one of the best corners, so I have to prepare that way, work that way on and off the field, so it's doing all the things that lead up to that," he said.
Smith's play will at least partly be determined by another Alabama connection. Jalen Hurts transferred to Oklahoma for the final year of his college career, so he technically doesn't count toward the Tide's NFL total – but trust that Diggs is plenty familiar with his fellow former teammate.
"I've seen him grow as a player, got smarter," Diggs said. "He's a hard worker. I don't expect nothing less from him. He works super hard, super intelligent. I don't expect nothing less, I expect him to get better."
Similarly, Diggs and Alabama aren't Hurts' only tie. His top receiver at Oklahoma held his weekly press conference just 10 feet away, answering questions about their own history.
CeeDee Lamb helped Hurts become a Heisman Finalist in his own right in 2019, as the duo guided Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff off the strength of one of the most explosive offense's in the country.
"It feels just like yesterday he was just on my couch asking me, we were watching film together," Lamb said.
Hurts found his way to Oklahoma after Tua Tagovailoa assumed the starting role at Alabama. His new landing spot seemed just fine, though, as he and Lamb connected 62 times for 1,327 yards and 14 touchdowns.
"It was just the same mindset, same goal and two guys just ready to eat and very hungry," Lamb said. "That's kind of what brought us so close. We had kind of like that brother like relationship. Just being able to compete and ready to be better."
It's not a wrinkle that will do much to decide Monday's game, but it's an extra layer of intrigue. Not to mention, judging from the trajectory of all four players, these are matchups that could affect this rivalry for years to come.FRISCO, Texas – Even by some lofty standards, the college connection feels special in this Week 3 matchup.