Season Preview: Texas A&M

Opening Statement

Texas A&M will pay Jimbo Fisher $75 million over ten years to coach their football team. Let that soak in. Your visceral response to that fact tells you more about you than it does the fiscal proclivities of the Aggie administration. Yes, it's a lot of money. A lot. But it's also market rate. 

 Jimbo Fisher ( C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY ) 

Jimbo Fisher (C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY

In the last ten years, five coaches have won national titles, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Gene Chizik, Dabo Sweeny, and Jimbo Fisher. Saban makes $11 million plus per season, Meyer makes $7.6, Dabo makes $8.5, and Chizik, well, which one of these is not like the other four? It's not just the ring; Fisher guided Florida State to the playoff in 2014. He led the 'Noles to six BCS/New Year's Six Games. Fisher won ten or more games in six of eight seasons in Tallahassee.

He's an elite coach. By the way, he's also one of the few coaches in college athletics to follow a legend and build on that school's legacy. Ask Charlie Strong, Lane Kiffin, Will Muschamp, and Ron Prince about that. Does that mean all this works out? Absolutely not, but A&M took a swing and didn't spend any of your money. 

The bigger issue and why you should be looking inside the depths of your heart is why the hell not? A&M is flushed with money -  they can pay three Jimbo Fishers, and they want to be more than their history dictates. They aren't going to sit in their place, winning eight games, finishing fourth or worse in the SEC West. They are shooting for the moon. Good for them. They hired a guy with a track record of doing it. The more practical question is whether A&M can get there in 2018. Spoiler alert, they can't. But they're building a new animal in College Station. 

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In spite of hiring Darrell Dickey away from Memphis, this offense is still as much Jimbo's as anyone else. It'll look different than Kevin Sumlin's finesse, bubble screen, pass on third and short attack. Fisher will want to play physical. That's a cultural decision as much as anything else. It's also a decision that bears itself out on the recruiting trail. 

At quarterback, this feels like Nick Starkel's job to lose. The redshirt sophomore played well in fits and starts in 2017 and gave the Aggies their best chance of winning. He's not a finished product, but he completed 60% of his attempts with fourteen touchdowns and six picks. 

Kellen Mond grew further into becoming a competent college quarterback last year. He has great raw talent, but he could use some seasoning. If he doesn't win the starting job, it's not hard to imagine him playing in a different uniform.

Perhaps no player benefits from the offensive shift than Trayveon Williams. He'll get the ball more consistently and in ways designed for success. Williams is a thousand yard rusher but last year's scheme held him back, he had ten or fewer carries in four games last year. The Aggies have several backs ready to step up in a supporting role or perhaps a prime time slot. Kendall Bussey averaged just over five yards a carry last season, and Kwame Etwi has gone from walk-on to viable option. 

6-3, 245-pound true freshman Vernon Jackson and UCF transfer Cordarrian Richardson give A&M a couple of big back to take punishment, dish it out and change pace. 

The Aggies have talent returning at receiver, but it's young talent. Jhamon Ausbon has all the markings of a star. He caught 50 passes as a true freshman. Cameron Buckley averaged almost seventeen yards a grab last year, and Roshauud Paul got on the field as well as a true freshman. 

Klyde Chriss is a burner on the outside, and Hezekiah Jones should play his way onto the field after catching two balls last season. True freshman Jalen Preston comes from powerhouse Manvel, where he displayed physical gifts beyond his years. 

 Erik McCoy - ( Louis DeLuca The Dallas Morning News )

Erik McCoy - (Louis DeLuca The Dallas Morning News)

The Aggies will deploy a tight end, something Sumlin appeared allergic to, and the name to watch is Jace Sternberger. The JC transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma put on a show in the spring game, and while we aren't prepared to hand him the Mackey Award, he did bring a different level of skill to the festivities that bodes well. 

The biggest question mark, after quarterback, comes up front. Erik McCoy might be the best center in the SEC, but after McCoy the known commodities are limited. Colton Prater and Conner Lanfear are back at guard, but they'll get pushed by a couple of sophomores including Jared Hocker. Ryan McCollum can swing to any of the three interior positions.

Dan Moore, Keaton Sutherland, and Carson Green will fight it out at tackle. Green plays with a mean streak but was a bit of an unguided missile as assignments go. The Aggies lost Koda Martin who transferred to Syracuse to play for his old man, but Moore probably edged him out anyway. 

Fisher and Jim Turner will be looking for maulers up front and allow them to fire off and hit people. That'll be a departure from Noel Mazzone's offensive approach. If this unit can't put together a cohesive unit, the Aggies will rely on hope in no small degree. Hope is an unpredictable strategy at best.  

A&M went out and hired Mike Elko from Notre Dame, ending the failed John Chavis tenure. A&M will run a 4-2-5 under Elko, trying to get as many athletes on the field, while using fewer resources to stop the run. 

Up front Justin Madubuike played well in his redshirt freshman season. His upside is clear. He'll line up next to Kingsley Keke, a run plugger in the middle. Daylon Mack flashes less and less on film. The former five-star player has great get-off that seems to show itself less and less and his arm length is a problem against better technicians. Jayden Peevy has vast potential and the physical size to be a monster. 

A&M signed Mohammed Diallo from Arizona Western College to help inside. He might have the most interesting route to A&M let alone college football. He grew up in Canada and didn't play the game until after his senior year in high school. He's a project but his natural ability is intriguing and his physical strength is incredible. TD Moton finally became eligible last season; he was a four-star recruit in 2016. 

 Landis Durham - ( Laura McKenzie BCS Eagle )

Landis Durham - (Laura McKenzie BCS Eagle)

At end, Landis Durham is one of the most accomplished returning pass rushers in the SEC after transitioning from linebacker and fighting his way up the depth chart. His work rate is evidence that he's not a one year wonder. Michael Clemons is a physical freak who looked outmatched in the SEC last season. Fisher likes Clemons' progression during the spring and maybe a year of experience will help. He'll have to fight off Tyree Johnson and Ondario Robinson to replace Justin Johnson. 

The Aggie defensive line is probably adequate at best. But the assembly of size and potential gives Elko something to work with. A&M was average stopping the run last season, finished 71st in rush defense. When they got into conference play, those numbers were almost a half a yard per carry worse. 

The news is better at linebacker where Tyrel Dodson is coming into his own last season, leading the team in tackles. He's a star and a difference maker.  Otaro Alaka is an experienced hand who's grown into a top level SEC defender. Anthony Hines is a hard player to keep off the field, and Buddy Johnson looks to have turned a corner. This is a big, athletic group and easily the strength of the defense. 

Myles Jones and Charles Oliver both played better than their experience level last season. They're 6-2 and 6-4 respectively, length isn't an issue. Oliver made eight starts last season in relief of Priest Willis, and he's got one side locked down. Jones didn't get a start last year but forced his way into playing time. 

Debione Renfro missed most of spring practice recovering from a foot injury, but he has a chance to start or at least work in as the nickel. 6-5 Clifford Chatman will compete at corner as well. 

At safety, the Aggies have more length as well. They have to replace All-SEC standout Armani Watts, but they have quantity here as well. Larry Pryor should start at free safety, and Keldrick Caper gets first shot at Watts strong safety position. Donovan Wilson is a Swiss Army knife in the secondary, capable of playing nickel, safety, and even a dime linebacker. Wilson is back after suffering a season ending knee injury in the 2017 opener. 

Specialists

A&M loses an excellent punter in Shane Tripucka who heads off to the Chargers. Tripucka finished second in the FBS in net punting. Braden Mann will move into that position but expect a little fall off. 

Daniel LaCamera made 85% of his attempts last season with a long of 52. Mann handled kickoffs, depositing 62% into the end zone. 

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Trayveon Williams - Running back

A legitimate home run threat, Williams, if healthy, is primed for another 1,000-yard season. 

Jhamon Ausbon  - Receiver

Freshman receivers rarely show out like Ausbon did, catching 50 balls and playing physical and technical with terrific positioning and hand strength. Expect big things from Ausbon. 

Erik McCoy - Center

With 25 starts, McCoy is the best and most experienced offensive lineman on the roster. He's one of the best interior linemen in the league and capable of playing center or guard. 

Landis Durham - Defensive End

Durham found a home at end, contributing a team-best 8.5 sacks in 2017. On a roster loaded with potential, the transplant from linebacker is the best pass rusher. 

Tyrel Dodson - Linebacker

Dodson is a dude. A classic SEC thumper who can play every down without missing a beat. 

Otaro Alaka - Linebacker

Alaka has grown into one of the most consistent linebackers in the league and a steady force for the Aggies. 

The Schedule

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Best Case: The Aggies defense lives up to its potential and Elko's, and one of the quarterbacks takes to the new offense. A&M vanquishes boogie men Baton Rouge and Starkville. 9-3.

Worst Case: Two brutal stretches, Clemson and Bama in three weeks and the Gamecocks, Bulldogs, and Tigers on the road, doom A&M's chances. 6-6.

Closing statement

If 2018 doesn't pan out, pundits will question Fisher's hiring and price tag. Those people are probably assholes who need to fill content. You'll find none of that on this reputable site. Do we poke fun and mastermind Tom Herman? Sure, but our hijinks are smart and timely. 

Fisher's hire will pay off, or should, in 2019 and beyond, and he fits roster pieces to his culture and style. And yes, he'll get paid a lot of money per win, math is awesome and stuff, but that's the price of doing business and trying to elevate your football program. He's a proven, national contending commodity. There aren't many of those.

The Roundup...