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2017 SEC Football Season Preview: Texas A&M Aggies

Will the Aggies do enough for Kevin Sumlin to keep his job?

NCAA Football: Texas Bowl-Kansas State vs Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach: Kevin Sumlin (44-21, 21-19 SEC, enters sixth year)

2016 record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)

Bowl result: 33-28 loss to Kansas State in the Texas Bowl

2016 summary

The Aggies started off at a blistering pace with a 6-0 record, highlighted by a 45-38 double overtime victory over No. 9 Tennessee at home. Sumlin’s squad moved up three spots in the rankings to No. 6 heading into its SEC West Division showdown at No. 1 Alabama.

The Aggies were no match for the Crimson Tide and fell 33-14. Texas A&M split its next four games with bookended wins over New Mexico State and UT-San Antonio, and losses in between at Mississippi State and at home against Ole Miss. The Aggies closed out its 2016 regular-season campaign with back-to-back losses.

2016 offense: 467.0 yards per game (255.2 ypg passing, 211.8 ypg rushing), 34.8 ppg

2016 defense: 441.8 yards per game (250.0 ypg passing, 191.8 ypg rushing), 24.5 ppg

SEC preseason media poll: 5th in SEC West

Preseason polls (AP/Coaches): Not ranked

Preseason All-SEC selections: WR Christian Kirk (First team offense/special teams), OL Koda Martin (Third team) and S Armani Watts (First team).


Players to watch

Mississippi v Texas A&M Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Christian Kirk, WR/PR

Despite having instability at quarterback, Kirk has been one of the top wide receivers in the SEC. He sits fifth in program history in career receptions and is 1,063 yards away from eclipsing the 3,000 yard mark for his career. If that wasn’t enough, Kirk also shines on special teams as a punt returner. He holds the A&M record for most punt return touchdowns at five.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Texas A&M Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Armani Watts, S

While several Aggies declared for the NFL Draft, Watts decided to stay another year in College Station. He had 56 tackles (six for loss), one sack, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles and recoveries in his junior season. He recorded those numbers in only nine games, as he missed the last four due to a leg injury.

Tennessee v Texas A&M Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Trayveon Williams, RB

Williams shocked everyone by rushing for 1,057 yards in his freshman season. With the aforementioned questions at quarterback, Williams could shoulder even more of the load this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Williams and Keith Ford both reach 1,000 yards.


Top storylines

Sumlin’s job

The Aggies are unhappy about how the past few seasons have ended. Especially since Sumlin’s 2012 season. Now, another 8-5 year might not be enough to save Sumlin’s job. However, if the Aggies close out strong and have consistent quarterback play, another 8-win season might just be enough to keep Sumlin in College Station.

Quarterback

Ever since Johnny Manziel left A&M, the Aggies have struggled to find consistency under center. This summer, A&M held its fifth quarterback competition in six years, and Sumlin still hasn’t named a starter. Senior Jake Hubenak figures to be the guy out of the gate, as he’s the team’s top returning passer with 1,283 career yards and nine touchdowns. But he’s only made three career starts. Connor Blumrick, Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel - all freshman - could also see time if Hubenak struggles.

Defending the run

Defensive coordinator John Chavis has gradually improved the Aggies’ run defense the past two seasons. A&M went from 114th to 104th in his first season then got up to No. 75. But now, Chavis will have big spots to fill on his defense as Myles Garrett, Daeshon Hall and James Lockhart along with linebackers Shaan Washington, Claude George and Richard Moore are gone. It’s a tall order for Chavis’ group to improve against the run while plugging in so many new faces in the front seven.


Best-case scenario

The Aggies jump out to a 5-0 start to the season for a fourth straight time. A&M falls to Alabama at home, but rebounds with a win at Florida and at home against Mississippi State to improve to 7-1. Following a loss to Auburn, the Aggies win their final three games, including a close win at LSU to finish 10-2.

A&M caps off its season with a bowl game victory to silence any Sumlin critics.

Hubenak or Starkel find stability at quarterback with Williams and Ford serving as a dynamic 1-2 punch out of the backfield. Kirk crushes even more records and leaves College Station as one of the best wideouts in program history.

Worst-case scenario

A&M starts the season 2-1 with a loss at UCLA, but drops its next two against Arkansas and South Carolina. The losing streak then reaches four with losses to Alabama and at Florida. Sumlin’s seat is red-hot. The Aggies pull out a win against Mississippi State to reach 3-5, but fall to Auburn and their hopes of a winning season are almost certainly gone. As is Sumlin’s job.

The Aggies get two more wins over New Mexico and Ole Miss to finish 5-7, one loss shy of Mike Sherman’s 2008 mark. A&M fires Sumlin and begins its hiring process. They can’t land former LSU coach Les Miles, Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini or Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery. So, they hire former A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who spent the 2017 season at California in the same role after being fired by Fresno State as the Bulldogs head coach.


3 games to watch

A&M’s schedule, on paper, is a gift. After their season opener at UCLA, the Aggies will play five games in Texas. A&M hosts FCS Nicholls and Louisiana-Lafayette of the Sun Belt before The Southwest Classic against Arkansas at AT&T Stadium. The Aggies then play South Carolina before Alabama comes to town.

at Florida (Oct. 14)

In the past few seasons, A&M has started strong before getting beat down by the Crimson Tide and struggling the rest of the way. A win the next week at Florida would go along way for the Aggies to avoid stumbling down the stretch.

Mississippi State (Oct. 28)

Back-to-back losses after what looks like a 4-1 start could be detrimental to the Aggies. But three consecutive defeats could be writing on the wall for Sumlin’s departure. Three of the previous four meetings between the schools have been decided by less than two scores. The road team hasn’t won since the Aggies beat the Bulldogs 38-13 in 2012.

Auburn (Nov. 4)

Starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham, a Baylor transfer and rumored A&M target, leads Auburn into College Station. The home team has never won in this series. Will that trend continue?


Predictions

The Aggies go 7-6 (4-4 SEC) with a bowl loss, and Sumlin is replaced by Miles or Montgomery.

at UCLA (L)

Nicholls State (W)

La.-Lafayette (W)

Arkansas (W)

South Carolina (W)

Alabama (L)

at Florida (L)

Mississippi State (W)

Auburn (L)

New Mexico (W)

at Mississippi (W)

at LSU (L)