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2016 SEC football preview: Texas A&M Aggies

The Texas A&M Aggies hope to rebound from a disappointing 8-5 season and will be led by quarterback Trevor Knight and standout defensive end Myles Garrett.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Record Last Year: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)

Key Returnees: QB Jake Hubenak, WR Christian Kirk, Speedy Noil, WR Ricky Seals-Jones, WR Josh Reynolds, LT Avery Gennesy, DE Myles Garrett, DE Daeshon Hall, DT Daylon Mack, LB Shaan Washington, SS Armani Watts

Key Departures: QB Kyle Allen (transferred to Houston, QB Kyler Murray (transferred to Oklahoma, RB Tra Carson, OT Germain Ifedi, C Mike Matthews, CB Brandon Williams, K Taylor Bertolet, P Drew Kaser

Key Arrivals: QB Trevor Knight (transfer from Oklahoma), RB Keith Ford (transfer from Oklahoma), DE Justin Madubuike, OL Kellen Diesch, DB Travon Fuller, RB Trayveon Williams

What Happened Last Year

The Aggies began the 2015 season on a high note, winning their first five games and averaging over 39 points per game. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen was completing almost 66 percent of his passes, averaging 255 yards passing per game with 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Then, Alabama happened. In Week 6, the eventual national champions handed the Aggies their first loss to the tune of a 41-23 stomping. Allen completed just 50 percent of his passes and was picked off three times.

The loss to the Crimson Tide would eventually be the beginning of the end of the 2015 Texas A&M Aggies. A&M would also lose the following week to Ole Miss and after that loss head coach Kevin Sumlin began to rethink his quarterback situation.

True freshman quarterback Kyler Murray would get his first start the following week against South Carolina. That experiment started fast, too, as Murray completed 20 of 28 passes for 223 yards and a score in addition to rushing for 156 yards and another touchdown.

Murray would struggle in his next start—a loss to Auburn—where he tossed three interceptions and passed for just 105 yards. He would go on to play in just one more game last fall for the Aggies before announcing his intentions to transfer.

By the time A&M’s bowl game arrived, sophomore Jake Hubenak started under center.

Overall, the Aggies finished No. 50 in total offense, averaging 424.7 yards per game. Defensively, A&M was No. 51, allowing 380 yards per game.

Turnovers were an area of concern last season, as the Aggies had -6 turnover margin. Some of those issues can be attributed to Sumlin’s mismanagement or indecisiveness—you decide—regarding the quarterback position.

An area where the Aggies were strong last season: Getting to the opposing quarterback. Texas A&M finished with 34 sacks in 2015.

3 Key Players

TCU v Oklahoma Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

QB Trevor Knight

Knight comes to College Station with plenty of experience, starting 15 career games for Oklahoma. With the Sooners, Knight passed for 3,424 yards and rushed for 853 yards.

The 6’1”, 215-pound graduate transfer left Oklahoma after Baker Mayfield won the job last year and developed into a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy.

Knight immediately becomes A&M’s best option at quarterback. Not only does he bring experience, but he’s also a dual threat. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will almost certainly take advantage of Knight’s athleticism.

Mazzone runs the spread, but it’s a more balanced version than what A&M fans are used to seeing. Mazzone likes to run the ball and coached the leading rusher in the Pac-12 in three of the past four seasons while he was offensive coordinator at UCLA.

Knight will likely benefit from Mazzone’s offensive approach and could be in for a big senior season.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

WR Christian Kirk

The Aggies return their top five wide receivers and rising sophomore Christian Kirk leads the pack.

Kirk had a sensational freshman campaign last fall, catching 80 passes for 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns. As impressive as Kirk is as a receiver, he’s just as dynamic as a return man. He averaged 24 yards per punt return, taking two back for touchdowns.

Texas A&M often employs four receivers on the field at all times. Ricky Seals-Jones and Josh Reynolds are bigger targets, while Kirk and Speedy Noil are more versatile. Kirk can line up in the backfield, in the slot or split out wide. He’s the Aggies’ most talented weapon on offense and is a possible All-American at two different positions.

If Kirk stays healthy all season, the Aggies should be fun to watch on the offensive side of the ball.

NCAA Football: Nevada at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

DE Myles Garrett

The 6’5”, 262-pound junior defensive end is perhaps the most talented player in all of college football. As a freshman in 2014, Garrett recorded an SEC freshman record 11.5 sacks. He followed that up in 2015 with 12.5 sacks.

Garrett is a near certainty to leave for the NFL Draft after this season. But, he still has one more year left in College Station. And it should be a good one.

Not only does Texas A&M return seven starters on defense, Garrett’s fellow comrade at defensive end, Daeshon Hall, is back, too. Hall had seven sacks in 2015 and should help limit the double teams Garrett faces each week.

In addition to Garrett and Hall, the Aggies have a pair of defensive tackles that average 325 pounds in between them.

Defense has been a problem for Sumlin since he became Texas A&M’s coach back in 2012. However, it could be A&M’s strong suit in 2016. A big reason for that is Garrett. As good as he is rushing the passer—and he’s phenomenal—Garrett has shown the versatility to both drop into coverage and defend the run.

Remember the hype surrounding Jadeveon Clowney back in 2013? Well, there’s similar hype around Garrett this fall and the Aggies hope he plays up to expectations, unlike Clowney did in his final collegiate season.

Best Case Scenario

9-3 (6-2 SEC): Texas A&M opens the season with UCLA at home. The Bruins have, arguably, the top quarterback in the country in sophomore Josh Rosen. Mazzone coached Rosen last fall and knows him better than anyone. That could be just enough for the Aggies to pull off a huge season-opening win.

Outside of UCLA, the non-conference slate consists of Prairie View A&M, New Mexico State and UTSA. So, that’s favorable.

The Aggies also have SEC East favorite Tennessee at home and Ole Miss and LSU will come to College Station. All three games are winnable.

Everything comes down to how well Knight plays and can the defense finally play at a high level for 12 games? If that happens, the Aggies could threaten in the SEC West. Alabama and LSU currently sit atop the SEC West Mountain, and that isn’t going to change. However, if the Aggies can steal one from the Tide or Tigers, 2016 could be a special year in Aggieland.

Worst Case Scenario

5-7 (2-6 SEC): UCLA is a difficult draw to the open the season. Not only do the Bruins have Rosen under center, but they also have a stout offensive line that can stand up to A&M’s defensive front. If the Aggies can’t get pressure on Rosen, they won’t win.

Auburn and Arkansas are tough opponents back-to-back in Week’s 4 and 5. Then, after a road game at South Carolina, the Aggies face Tennessee and Alabama. Those aren’t favorable matchups for the Aggies.

An injury to Garrett could derail TAMU’s season. Also, Knight failing to do the job at quarterback could open the door for Hubenak, who isn’t quite as talented as Knight.

A 6-6 season, or worse, could end Sumlin’s reign.

My Prediction

8-4 (5-3 SEC): The season opener against UCLA could go either way. Fortunately for the Aggies, it’s at home.

The Aggies host Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU. If they can win two of those, nine wins are feasible. Beating the Volunteers and Tigers will be tough. And there are those two trips to the state of Alabama to face Auburn and the defending national champions.

Texas A&M is a hard team to read heading into this fall. So much depends on a new quarterback, a new offensive coordinator and a defense that is talented, but has often failed to live up to expectations.

An eight-win regular season should be considered a success for the Aggies in 2016. Anything less than that could prompt big changes in College Station, though.