Some say Kellen Mond is the most important player in college football and certainly for A&M’s fortunes that’s the case. Mond played at a relatively high level in 2018, but if A&M is going to climb the ladder, he needs to be better. Specifically more accurate. His 57% completion rate sat him twelfth in the league, ahead of only Arkansas’ Ty Storey and Mississippi State full-guard turned quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
Overall Mond played to an average level in 2018, almost to the percentile. The only area where he was in the elite neighborhood was in touchdown rank, which, let’s be honest, is pretty important. But Mond was bad in terms of sack avoidance and that dreaded completion percentage, and dead average in yards per attempt and yard per play.
Jimbo Fisher’s offense is a double edged sword. Fisher’s one of the more accomplished quarterback coaches in the game, but his approach demands a lot from a quarterback. The Aggie offense isn’t Sumlin’s one-read, audible off a poster board, center calls the snap any longer. Pre-snap reads and adjustments are now in squarely in Mond’s lap. That also means that a second year in the system could provide a significant jump in productivity.
If he can turn in an above-average efficiency season, A&M could top last season’s win total and threaten the top of the division. If he still lacks accuracy, the Aggies, with their schedule, will fight to get to seven wins.
The Aggies lose one of the best backs in the SEC in Trayveon Williams, and the lightly used Vernon Jackson will miss the season with an injury. Jashaun Corbin will carry the bulk of the rushing weight along with UCF transfer Cordarrian Richardson, who give A&M a thumper for the first time since Tra Carson roamed Kyle Field. Fisher is old school in his approach to the running back position. He’ll have a bell cow, rather than a committee, for the start of 2019, that bell cow is Corbin.
The A&M receiving corps is chock full of freakish talent. Kendrick Rogers is a mammoth, athlete who still gives LSU defenders nightmares. Jhamon Ausbon seems on the verge of becoming a legitimate number one receiving threat. Camron Buckley and Quartney Davis are both studs, with Davis the leading returning receiver from 2018. Injuries have limited Davis this camp, but he’s expected back at nearly full speed for the opener.
The piece that is missing is tight end Jace Sternberger, a revelation last season at a position that Aggie fans have re-familiarized themselves with under Fisher. Highly rated freshman Baylor Cupp will miss the season due to an ankle injury. His loss hurts, and now A&M will turn to players with limited experience and impact like Glenn Beal and Camron Horry. Mond hopes to find another intermediate/goal-line security blanket from that group.
The other significant loss from the offseason was center and second-round pick Erik McCoy. A multi-year starter and now NFL starter, McCoy was the lynchpin of the offensive line for three seasons.
Man-mountain Dan Moore returns at left tackle, like most man-mountains he’ll struggle with defenders that actually move. He’s be joined on the flanks by Carson Green. Inside the Aggies are battling amongst themselves to sort the middle out. Jared Hocker might be the best lineman on the roster, he and Kenyon Green should pin down the guard positions. Green is a future starting tackle for the Aggies, but he’s too good to keep off the field.
Colton Prater is pushing Ryan McCollom to start at McCoy’s vacant center spot. Prater reminds me of the steadfast maternal figures of Appalachia; he’s one tough mother. McCollom had the best spring of any offensive lineman but he’s been banged up in fall camp.
*We track percentile ranks among quarterbacks with 100 or more attempts in a given season. We take statistics like yardage accounted for, touchdowns per play, completion percentage, yardage per attempt, yardage per play, plus sack and interception avoidance and put them into a visual of efficiency and explosiveness. The bigger the radar area, the better the player performed.
Jimbo vs the Giants
Hand it to Jimbo; he transformed Kevin Sumlin’s team almost overnight - turning the Aggies into as close a semblance of an SEC team the program’s ever seen. Mike Elko’s defense stopped the run, the offense learned to run, Fisher spread his philosophy over the Aggie program and the results were…the same. Number one in your hears, third in the SEC West.
Technically third was an improvement, but the Aggies still ran into the 800-pound gorilla that is Alabama, inexplicably dropped another game to Mississippi State, and blew a chance at Auburn. Now it’s year two, and Jimbo’s continued metamorphosis of the Aggie program persists. The schedule is more brutal, with trips to Clemson and Alabama, preseason numbers one and two respectively, and a trip to LSU, where the Aggies haven’t won since the Clinton Administration.
A&M pushed their chips in and paid $75 million to lure Fisher away from Florida State, all to win, at minimum, two more games a season or ideally, to place themselves on the national stage. Both of those goals are lofty, but the Aggies are swimming in money since they moved to the best conference in football so if you’ve got it, spend it. Fisher’s nationalized their recruiting efforts and made inroads in finding those rarest of unicorns, the dominant defensive lineman.
Will all this pay off in a national title? Probably not, but fortune favors the bold and Fisher is a bold choice. Too bad there’s a gorilla in the room.
The defensive line “looks” like an SEC line, and the Aggies have depth as well.
A&M paid John Chavis a king’s ransom to deploy a mediocre defense. Chavis is putting together another screen door of defensive excellence in Fayetteville for used car salesman Chad Morris. So what did A&M do? They reached deeper in their pocket and brought in Mike Elko from Notre Dame. Elko did everything Chavis couldn’t as one of the highest-paid assistance in college football.
His defense is aggressive, nasty, and causes a physical reaction, just like I take my coffee in the morning.
Justin Madubuike is a legitimate All-SEC defensive lineman, which means he’s a legitimate NFL caliber player. He had 5.5 sacks from his defensive tackle position and 40 total tackles. He’s disruptive, and this season some young studs will try to help him out. The most notable is Bobby Brown, a 6-4 325 sophomore from Arlington. The stories of Brown’s athleticism are near-mythical at this point. If they’re anything close to accurate or he’s just this side of a unicorn, he should be an outstanding player.
The defensive ends are starting from scratch, but they are all tall and rangy. Michael Clemons returns at defensive end after missing last season with a broken foot. He’s bulked up to 272 pounds, and at 6-6 he’s got an NFL body. Marvin Leal was the jewel of the 2019 class, he enrolled early but missed the spring with a knee injury. He’s back and at 6-4, 290 he’ll be able to swing inside or out, but for now, he’s a matchup problem for opponents at defensive end.
At linebacker, A&M loses real assets in Tyrel Dodson and Otaro Alaka. Anthony Hines returns, and Buddy Johnson moves in at the Mike backer, but this unit won’t be as seasoned as last years. Hines health has been an issue at A&M, and he’s been in and out of fall camp. If Hines is healthy, he’s a difference-maker.
The A&M secondary looks excellent on paper. They have pedigree, athleticism, and experience, but they haven’t translated that into proficient play on the field. Most teams would trade for this group - Leon O’Neal is a star in the making, Derrick Tucker covers a lot of ground, Charles Oliver is on the all hotel lobby team. But they haven’t put those pieces into a coherent pass defense.
Tucker’s off-field issues won’t keep him off the field. He and O’Neal could potentially be one of the best safety duos in the SEC. Cornerbacks Myles Jones, Oliver, and Debione Renfro, have ideal size and they can all run. The prognosis looks great until you consider this was the twelfth best pass defense in the SEC and allowing the second-worst passer rating in the league. For A&M’s defense to improve, this is the area with the highest upside.
Braden Mann is the best punter in America, and, bonus, he’s an actual American, not a dadgum Aussie. Last year he led the FBS with a 51-yard average, won the Ray Guy award, and dropped 19 inside the 20. He averaged 60 yards a punt against Alabama and drilled a 69 and 73 yarder against Clemson.
Seth Small is back for his sophomore season after making 20 of 28 field goals with a long of 52 and 40 of 40 field goals. The Aggie specialists might be the most talented position on the team, and that’s saying something.
I guess there are a couple of ways to look at A&M’s schedule, this could be an elite level team that doesn’t improve its win total because of the brutal scheduel or, this team was never elite because they couldn’t deal with the brutal schedule. Either way the schedule is brutal.
As the slate stands, there are four top six teams on the schedule. Three of the four seem legitimate, LSU is a wait and see for me.
Circle the home games with Auburn and Mississippi State as key for A&M. Not that ‘Bama, LSU, and Georgia aren’t, but if you beat any of those three it’s a major cherry on top, but a loss to Auburn or State is a step backward.
That night game is the LSU version of Death Valley will be an organized riot. The Cajuns are spoiling for revenge, if this A&M team can hold it together it’s a major sign of maturity.
|8/29/19||Texas State||Sun Belt||W||A Thursday night opener to work out the kinks.|
|9/7/19||at Clemson||ACC||L||A&M gets to meet Trevor Lawrence|
|9/14/19||Lamar||Southland||W||Lamar was a playoff team in 2018, won't matter.|
|9/21/19||Auburn||SEC||W||Auburn's won the last two in College Station.|
|9/28/19||Arkansas||SEC||W||Arkansas annual heartbreak game in Dallas.|
|10/12/19||Alabama||SEC||L||Jimbo vs. Nick at Kyle Field.|
|10/19/19||at Ole Miss||SEC||W||Trips to Oxford ain't what they used to be.|
|10/26/19||Mississippi State||SEC||W||A&M's boogie man comes to College Station.|
|11/2/19||UTSA||CUSA||W||A break before a gauntlet.|
|11/16/19||South Carolina||SEC||W||A must win vs. the Muschamps.|
|11/23/19||at Georgia||SEC||L||A third national title contender.|
|11/30/19||at LSU||SEC||L||Coach O has this one circled after 2018.|
Checking Our Work
So you’re asking yourself, yeah, but what do you know? You’re right, not much, so in the interest of full disclosure, let’s look at our predicted wins in years past vs. the actual wins. We hang our hat on transparency and grammatical indifference.