Spring Forecast: Texas A&M

Say this for A&M; they spend that money son. After moving to the SEC and becoming pajama rich, or more so, they are Scrooge McDuck diving into their swimming pool of cash. They rebuilt Kyle Field, continue to upgrade other facilities, and now they went out and spent a ton more money on Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher. 

Fisher and his highly compensated staff are now moving into spring practice trying to make A&M's program into something that justifies its price tag. A few items to check off the list this spring:

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Quarterback Battle

The next fifteen practices will probably define Texas A&M's future at quarterback and also its roster. Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond will compete to see who's the better fit for Fisher's pro-based offense. Starkel's 2017 injury placed Mond in the spotlight, then Starkel returned to the lineup and played reasonably well.

As we know, the A&M quarterback room can be a volatile place. A&M's quarterback bounty has fed other programs, as much as its own. Kyler Murray, Jameill Showers, Kyle Allen, Matt Davis, and Kenny Hill all gave valuable time and starts to other programs. Murray and Allen famously left A&M within weeks of each other, no other program in the country has housed more starters for other schools to benefit. 

The repercussions from this year's quarterback dual are far-reaching. The winner will lead A&M's program into the perils of the SEC; the loser probably leaves town. As disappointing as the latter outcome is, quarterbacks, convince themselves that they should be on the field and if not, they aren't willing to sit and wait. No doubt Fisher knows what's at stake. Take away the transfer possibilities, Fisher is known as a quarterback whisperer, he's been consistently able to take average quarterbacks and make them good and good quarterbacks to great ones. Where A&M's quarterbacks are on that scale is yet to be determined. 

Starkel looks more comfortable in the pocket, but his build doesn't seem conducive to surviving an SEC season. Mond, on the other hand, is better on the run and if he can improve his accuracy, might be more of the complete package. 

Physicality 

In spite of continued assurances to the contrary, Texas A&M never played physically enough to compete with the elite teams in the SEC West. Kevin Sumlin's program became infamous for its November swoons. He tried to exploit a perceived market inefficiency and bring a pace and space offense to the SEC. 

The Achilles heel of A&M's approach was, despite the talent on both lines of scrimmage, the SEC pushed the Aggies around. 

Jimbo built Florida State into a team in the mold of Alabama's smashing machine. The Seminoles consistently produced large, physical, athletic lines. Can Fisher's A&M do the same? The move to a more prostyle system with a fullback and tight ends should help, but the Aggies need more than new formations, they'll need a new attitude as well.   

Welcome Mike Elko

For the second straight time, the Aggies spent a fortune on a defensive coordinator, this time for Notre Dame DC Mike Elko. 

Elko is a cerebral guy who wants cerebral players who understand the why as much as the how. His drill work at practice is legendary for its attention to detail. That attention to detail has made Elko one of just two defensive coordinators with top 40 defenses in each of the past 40 years. 

He isn't chasing a payday either. Elko studied Notre Dame's defense before leaving Wake Forest. If the Irish weren't showing signs of potential, Elko claims he wouldn't have left. We assume he saw the same potential in A&M defense. 

Now Elko's got fifteen practices to figure out if his initial impressions were right. The scheme change isn't critical because his approach defines the word "multiple." The Aggies under John Chavis accumulated and stockpiled long, athletic defensive backs and improved at the linebacking position. This year's crop of backers might be the best at A&M in some time. Otaro Alaka, Tyrel Dodson, and Anthony Hines could play in most elite programs. 

The defensive line will look to rebuild after losing Qualen Cunningham, Zaycoven Henderson, and Jarrett Johnson, but there is young, raw talent to build on. Spring ball is critical to transforming this defense into a unit that can compete in the SEC. 

The 75 Million Dollar Question

If you were looking for people to Poo Poo the Fisher hire, they were in vast supply in December and January. The most significant stumbling block for most was the bill A&M paid to bring in Fisher. Now we've heard about how A&M must now justify their expenditure by making the playoffs in "x" amount of years. 

These opinions overlook the Scrooge McDuck pool of cash, but they also seem to discount what Fisher did at Florida State, where he won a National Title and perhaps more impressively followed up on the legacy created by Bobby Bowden. His Florida State teams won ten or more games in six of his eight seasons. 

He's a proven winner, and A&M is flush with cash, enough to payout Sumlin's $10 million buyout and pay a $7.5 million salary for Fisher. Cross-state rival Texas, by comparison, pays Tom Herman, who's been a head coach for three seasons, $5.5 million with increases of $250,000 each year up to 2021. They'll extend him and give him a raise soon. The money for the track record isn't at all out of whack, and if Fisher can make A&M into a contender in the SEC West, that's well worth it. 

Some might argue the West is vulnerable, perhaps now more than at any point in the past 15 years. You can't question Alabama's dominance, but Arkansas is rebuilding, again, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are not where they were just two years ago, and LSU is trying to figure out whether they made a terrible mistake hiring Grape Ape. LSU and Auburn are the vaulting points for Fisher, beat the Tigers, both of them, and you're in prime contention in the West.

Sumlin couldn't beat Auburn consistently and LSU at all. The Bayou Bengals had their way with the Aggies. His alleged rivalry with Alabama centered on one win followed by five straight losses including several definitive ass kickings. Was A&M required just to sit there and continue to enjoy their eight-win seasons? First in online polling, fifth in the SEC West? A&M made a bold move and hired one of the only coaches in America who's resume is worth the hefty price tag including the Sumlin's buy out. Now Fisher's task of building A&M into a conference challenger begins. 

The Roundup...