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SEC Season Preview: Texas A&M

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Previewing the Texas A&M Aggies, ahead of the 2018 season.

Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher – first year at Texas A&M; ninth year overall (83-23 overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Darrell Dickey (first season)

Defensive Coordinator: Mike Elko (first season)

2017 Record: 7-6 (4-4 SEC); lost to Wake Forest in Belk Bowl

Returning Starters: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense)

 

2018 Schedule

Aug. 30 – NORTHWESTERN STATE (8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

Sept. 8 – CLEMSON (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Sept. 15 – LOUISIANA-MONROE (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

Sept. 22 – at Alabama

Sept. 29 – vs. Arkansas (Arlington)

 

Oct. 6 – KENTUCKY

Oct. 13 – at South Carolina

Oct. 27 – at Mississippi State

 

Nov. 3 – at Auburn

Nov. 10 – OLE MISS

Nov. 17 – UAB

Nov. 24 – LSU

 

What We Know

-The offense is going to look much different. Gone are the days with four wide receivers and an all-shotgun scheme. Under Jimbo Fisher, the Aggies will be mostly under center in a throwback pro-style attack. The perception that Texas A&M was “soft” under Kevin Sumlin was probably overblown, but the running game wasn’t reliable when it needed to be (see last year’s collapse at UCLA). The line has four starters returning, and Trayveon Williams has the potential to be an elite tailback. After a huge fall to just 4.0 yards per carry last season, expect that number to climb by at least a yard this season.

-There’s a new defensive sheriff in town. Gone is SEC mainstay John Chavis, who is now at Arkansas. In comes Mike Elko from Notre Dame, who has coordinated three top-40 defenses (in yards per play) in four seasons in the Power Five (2014-16 at Wake Forest). In his lone season with the Fighting Irish, Elko helped the Notre Dame defense climb 20 spots in yards per play and 46 spots in red zone touchdown percentage. Elko faced Fisher’s Florida State teams twice while at Wake Forest, and held the Seminoles to eight and 18 points below their season averages.

-The front seven is finally loaded. OK, so there might not be a Myles Garrett in the bunch, but the Aggies have four potential all-conference players on the first two levels of their defense. End Landis Durham burst onto the scene last year after Garrett’s departure, registering 10.5 sacks after making just six tackles in his first two seasons combined. Kingsley Keke is a stud in the middle, and the linebacker duo of senior Otaro Alaka and junior Tyrel Dodson is as good as any in the SEC, including Alabama. Elko steps into a favorable situation, and this run defense should rock.

 

What We Don’t Know

-Is Jhamon Ausbon ready to be a No. 1 receiver? I called for Ausbon to be the freshman of the year in the SEC last season, and while he wasn’t quite to that level, he did catch 50 passes and approach 600 yards. With Christian Kirk off to the NFL, and steady veteran Damion Ratley also moving on, Ausbon needs to threaten the 1,000-yard mark as a sophomore to Texas A&M hopes to win nine or more games. Behind Ausbon, Jalen Preston should be an immediate-impact true freshman, while Cameron Buckley is the only other wideout on the roster besides Ausbon who caught a touchdown pass last season.

-Will it be Nick Starkel or Kellen Mond? Both played and thrived in pressure situations last season, with Starkel picking apart UCLA in his first start before hurting his foot, and Mond taking over and leading comeback wins over Arkansas and Florida before Starkel returned in November. Starkel’s skill set better fits Fisher’s system, which gives him the advantage, but Mond is a superior athlete. Fisher can be tough on his quarterbacks, but expect him to pick one guy and stick with him.

-Can the Aggies survive September? Clemson and Alabama have combined for the past three national titles, and Texas A&M faces both in a three-week stretch early in the season. A 2-2 start is just fine with two potential get-right games ahead against Arkansas and Kentucky, but the Aggies would benefit greatly if they can go 60 minutes with one of the two heavyweights. It would be a huge mental boost for a program that hasn’t fared well under the brightest of lights in recent years. If this team can hit its stride as it ventures out on the nasty three-game road trip starting in mid-October, it’ll be set up for a big year.

 

Ranking The Units

1. Linebackers

2. Defensive Line

3. Quarterbacks

4. Defensive Backs

5. Offensive Line

6. Running Backs

7. Wide Receivers

 

Quick Hitters

Swing Game: Oct. 13 at South Carolina

Trap Game: Oct. 6 vs. Kentucky

Offensive MVP: RB Trayveon Williams

Defensive MVP: LB Tyrel Dodson

Floor: 7-5

Ceiling: 9-3

 

Season Prediction

Fisher fell out of favor in Tallahassee, but a fresh start will benefit both Fisher and Texas A&M. No, the Aggies aren’t beating Clemson or Alabama, but they’ll finish strong with seven wins in their final eight games, including yet another win at Auburn, with the only loss coming to nemesis Mississippi State in Starkville. It won’t be good enough for a New Year’s Six bowl, but it will be good enough for the most regular-season wins since 2012. The sleeping giant in College Station may finally have been awoken.

Overall Record: 9-3

SEC Record: 6-2

Final CFP Ranking: 15

Bowl: Outback Bowl vs. Ohio State

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.