Texas A&M has all of the necessary prerequisites to ascend back into SEC and national prominence, but they also have to navigate a furious and daunting schedule to get there. It starts from week one with Arizona State and then rarely lets up with the exception of a few non-conference doormats and Vanderbilt before a season finale in Death Valley.
Hopefully the Aggies will be able to avoid the quarterback turmoil they endured last season, but even if they do they have the benefit of the best receiving corps in the conference. One of the things that makes this group so potent is a great blend of size and speed. Ricky Seals-Jones and Josh Reynolds give Kyle Allen a pair of big weapons on the outside with Speedy Noil being the smaller, but shiftier, potential gamebreaker. Noil is also an animal in the return game.
Kyle Allen was recently names the starter and has been tabbed by some as the “next Aaron Rodgers”. He was mighty impressive after taking over for Kenny “Trill” midseason. Allen completed over 60% of his passes for 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was embroiled in a competition with true freshman Kyler Murray, but as many expected, Sumlin recently dubbed him as “the guy”.
One side of TAMU’s offensive line also returns intact, although the guys on the left will be tough to replace. Cedric Ogbuehi was an All-American left tackle. Mike Matthews and Germain Ifredi are no scrubs at center and right tackle though, and Joseph Cheek is reasonably experienced with nine career starts at right guard. Avery Gennesy and freshman Keaton Sutherland are the guys tabbed to step up at left tackle and left guard respectively.
Running back may not be the most critical role in this offense, but he is expected to contribute in the option game and catch passes out of the backfield. A good back should also be able to put up big numbers because of the open space the spread offense creates. Tra Carson and Brandon Williams have nearly identical builds and should be more or less interchangeable backs in the rotation. The pair combined for 960 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season, and I’d look for them to build on that this season.
Here’s where the real improvement absolutely has to come. This defense was rough last season, and in many respects was worse even than Vanderbilt. They do have a decent start on the line though with their top five defensive linemen from last season back, including Myles Garrett. Garrett just might be the best individual pass rusher in the SEC. He recorded 41 tackles and 11.5 sacks as a true freshman last season. His presence also has the effect of attracting double teams and creating mismatches for other members of the line like Alonzo Williams and Daeshon Hall.
This linebacking corps has a similar issue to Arkansas’s in that it is super thin. There also isn’t a whole lot of returning production to boast. Shaan Washington is the leading returner at linebacker in all tackling categories with 45.5 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks. That’s not a ton. Sophomores Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker will join Washington in the starting lineup.
Secondary is also a major concern, as it has been ever since the Aggies joined the SEC. Armani Watts and De’Vante Harris do give Texas A&M some hope at safety and cornerback. Watts and Harris combined for four interceptions and thirteen pass break-ups. They will most likely be joined by CB Victor Davis and safety Justin Evans in the starting lineup, neither of whom did much of anything last season. In fact, Evans failed to record a single tackle. A huge step forward is needed for this team to keep up in the conference, and it’s not necessarily a safe bet either.
This team seems like it might be a year away from big things. John Chavis will improve this defense tremendously, but I’m skeptical of just how much of an impact he can have in year one. The pieces are all in place for an SEC West title run, but I believe that many of them, especially on defense, need a little more seasoning before they are ready to do that. Arizona State will be a very difficult opener, and should give us a pretty good insight as to what to expect going forward. This team will remain dangerous for everyone they play, but the back end of the defense is enough of a liability to relegate them to near the bottom of the SEC West pack.