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2019 SEC Preview: Texas A&M Aggies

By Matt Smith
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Matt Smith breaks down everything you need to know about the 2019 Texas A&M Aggies.

Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher – second year at Texas A&M; tenth year overall (92-27 overall, 5-3 SEC)

Offensive Coordinator: Darrell Dickey (second season)

Defensive Coordinator: Mike Elko (second season)

2018 Record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC); defeated N.C. State in Gator Bowl

Returning Starters: 11 (7 offense, 4 defense)

2019 Schedule

Aug. 29– TEXAS STATE (8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Sept. 7 – at Clemson (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Sept. 14 – LAMAR (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Sept. 21 – AUBURN
Sept. 28 – vs. Arkansas (Arlington)

Oct. 12 – ALABAMA
Oct. 19 – at Ole Miss

Nov. 2 – UTSA
Nov. 23 – at Georgia
Nov. 30 – at LSU

What We Know

-The passing game will be the best it has been at Texas A&M since Johnny Manziel left. Junior quarterback Kellen Mond still hasn’t reached his ceiling, but that might not be far off in his second season with Jimbo Fisher. He will miss standout tight end Jace Sternberger, who left early for the NFL, but every other contributor in the receiving corps returns, and the Aggies are raving about early-enrolling freshman tight end Baylor Cupp. Junior Kendrick Rogers has a nose for the end zone, catching five touchdown passes a year ago, but there’s not much different between the top four wideouts. None are spectacular, but the Aggies might have four No. 2 receivers. That’s not a bad place to be in.

-The offensive line will just be fine despite losing a second-round NFL Draft pick. All five projected Aggies starters have started at least half a season already, led by junior tackles Dan Moore and Carson Green. The sack numbers went up last season, but that was expected with the switch in scheme from Kevin Sumlin to Fisher. The running game took a huge leap forward after a disastrous 2017, and that should be maintained this year even without Trayveon Williams carrying the football. The only concern is a change at position coach, as longtime assistant Jim Turner left for the NFL, with Fisher bringing in Josh Henson from Oklahoma State to replace Turner.

-Texas A&M is going to find itself in a number of close games again this season, and special teams could push the Aggies over the top in a few of those. Fisher brought punter Braden Mann to SEC Media Days, which tells you all you need to know. Mann averaged nearly 45 net yards per punt last season, and easily led the nation with a 50.8 gross yards average. Sophomore placekicker Seth Small wasn’t supposed to play last season, but filled in for an injured Daniel Lacamera and connected on 20 of 28 attempts. Jashaun Corbin is a very dangerous kick returner, as his 30.1 average return was tops among Power Five players. Don’t underestimate the importance of this group.

What We Don’t Know

-The secondary needs to take major strides, but can it? It has to be for the Aggies to survive their brutal schedule, especially with the front seven, which carried the defense to a five points per game improvement last season, losing most of its contributors. After finishing 12th in the SEC in pass defense in 2018, the Aggies are much more experienced in the back end. Explosive plays were a killer last year, which the most damage coming in a collapse against Auburn. Texas A&M finished tied for 124th nationally in plays of 30 yards or more allowed. The Aggies will face Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagovailoa, and Jake Fromm this season, and all are licking their chops to get a chance to throw against this secondary.

-Can the defensive front come together? Coordinator Mike Elko has a history of making something out of seemingly nothing, and while there’s plenty of talent on the defensive line and at linebacker, it’s mostly unproven. The lone exception is junior defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, an athletic interior pass rusher who finished second on the team last year with 5.5 sacks. Losing three-year starters Tyrel Dodson and Otaro Alaka from the linebacking corps is a major blow. Elko has one all-SEC caliber player to lean on, but it’s probably going to be 2020 before this group can get to a level where the team can contend for the SEC West title.

-Are we undervaluing the loss of Williams in the running game? As a junior, Williams was a workhorse, toting the ball 271 times, second-most in the SEC behind Kentucky’s Benny Snell, but producing an average yards per carry a yard and half higher than Snell. Williams never got the credit he was due, in part because his teams went 8-4 twice and 7-5 once, but he was a special running back. Corbin and UCF transfer Cordarrian Richardson will share the load this season, but neither are what Williams was.

Ranking The Units

1. Receivers
2. Quarterbacks
3. Offensive Line
4. Running Backs
5. Defensive Backs
6. Defensive Line
7. Linebackers

Schedule Analysis

National Ranking: 7
SEC Ranking: 4
Swing Game: Nov. 30 at LSU
Trap Game: Oct. 19 at Ole Miss

Texas A&M could be a far superior team to last year, but not produce a better record. The Aggies will face four of the top six teams in the preseason USA Today Coaches’ Poll, and of those four, only Alabama comes to College Station. Unlike LSU, which has two tricky Group of Five opponents, the buy games will pose no threats, so those three weeks plus two idle weeks should help the Aggies overcome the bumps and bruises that will come with facing Clemson, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, and LSU.

Season Prediction

Texas A&M could be a top-five team to start 2020, with potentially as many as 19 or 20 starters returning, but the 2019 Aggies will surprise despite their ridiculous schedule. Clemson and Alabama will do to the Aggies what Clemson and Alabama do to every opponent that isn’t each other, but Texas A&M will take care of business against the rest of the SEC to get to 8-2 in mid-November. That will set up a trip to 10-0 Georgia, much like the 7-2 Aggies’ visit to unbeaten Alabama in November 2012. History will repeat itself in Athens, as the Aggies will stun the Bulldogs and climb back into the New Year’s Six bowl picture. The season will end in AT&T Stadium, just as that memorable 2012 season did.

Overall Record: 9-3
SEC Record: 6-2
Final CFP Ranking: 11
Bowl: Cotton Bowl vs. Memphis

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.