A lot changed for the Texas A&M Aggies in the first season of the Jimbo Fisher era.
While playing the toughest schedule in all of college football, the talented Aggies went 9-4, 5-3 in the SEC and a picked up a bowl win over the N.C. State Wolfpack. They snuck past the Kentucky Wildcats and played in arguably the game of the year against the LSU Tigers.
Kellen Mond was named the starter, Trayveon Williams set A&M’s record for single season rushing and Braden Mann won the Ray Guy Award for best punter, as well.
However, there were some things to cause concern. That loss to the Auburn Tigers, particularly the fourth quarter, was terrible. They made Jarrett Stidham look surprisingly good. They lost to the Clemson Tigers while moving the ball with ease, because they failed to capitalize.
The offseason saw eight NFL-caliber players leave for the NFL Draft, including Jace Sternberger, Erik McCoy and most of the front seven. Now, let’s look to the future and preview A&M’s season.
Last season was definitely a success for the offense, as the Aggies averaged 36 points per game and 471 yards per game. That’s amazing, but then you realize that a lot of the points came against Northwestern State and LSU. They failed to exceed 27 point seven times last year, ultimately losing four of those games. They had 18 total turnovers, and fumbled the ball a total of 19 times. This is due in large part to the 37 sacks given up in an extremely tough SEC West division.
Kellen Mond returns for his junior season, after winning the job over now Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Nick Starkel. He had a solid season as the QB, posting 3,107 yards through the air with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He added another 474 yards on the dirt with seven rushing touchdowns. His passing numbers leave a bit to be desired, especially with a completion percentage of 57.3 percent. They also look worse when you consider that a good chunk of his touchdowns came in one game against LSU. While Trayveon Williams was the workhorse for A&M last year, Mond still showed flashes of potential to improve.
The offensive line is returning most of the talent from last season, however they lost their anchor in Rimington Award finalist Erik McCoy. The left side is set, and Carson Green is fine at right tackle. They were fine with run blocking, but their pass protection left something to be desired. They did however land on the most talented offensive tackle recruit in Kenyon Green.
Keeping with the ground game, they need to find a replacement for Trayveon’s production. There are two potential options. One is UCF Knights transfer and 246-pound battering ram Cordarrian Richardson, and the other is A&M’s third leading rusher from last season, Jashaun Corbin. I expect Corbin to be the Week 1 starter, but Richardson should see a decent amount of touches early in nonconference action.
When in comes to the pass catchers for A&M, they’re big, mean and talented. Quartney Davis, Camron Buckley, and Jhamon Ausbon all return for 2019. All of them are 6-2 and built like muscle cars. The top six receivers from last year are all returning. Although there is a definite hole at tight end with Sternberger gone, Baylor Cupp, the No. 1 tight end recruit in the nation, should see some action. If not, look for a lot of looks from the shotgun or 3 wideout looks from under center.
There was a lot to be happy about from last season. Although the defense was ranked 36th nationally, Mike Elko made that happen with a team that was ranked in the 70’s the season before. They slashed their rushing yards allowed from 170 to 92, and points allowed went down from 31 to 22 per game. They were fantastic against RPOs, and that front seven remained dominant, racking up 35 sacks on the season.
Even with Micheal Clemons going down, having Kingsley Keke on the edge with Daylon Mack up the middle proved promising. In addition to losing Mack and Keke, they also lost Landis Durham, leading tackler Otaro Alaka and Tyrel Dodson are also gone. However, the defense is in great shape.
The front four are still extremely talented. Yes, they lost three starters, but Clemons and Justin Madubuike return. This front four helped slow down the likes of Nick Brossette, Benny Snell, Josh Jacobs and Travis Etienne. Their production this season should be comparable to last season, although I could definitely see a slight regression due to the loss of talent.
The linebackers, Texas A&M’s strength last season will be the focus of their success. Losing both leading tacklers to the NFL, A&M has the tall task of replacing two of three starters. There’s potential for Buddy Johnson to improve on his 27-tackle season. Anthony Hines III will be returning as well, after being injured for most of the Clemson game. This was one of the weaker spots in the class for A&M, but we’ll see how things play out..
The secondary should also improve. They lost safety Donovan Wilson, but have depth from the recruiting class. Charles Oliver and Debione Renfro return, along with Leon O’Neal. While I do not believe the pass rush will be as strong as 2018, I expect the secondary to improve with experience. They need to be able to break up passes at a higher rate, and to remain dominant they need to force turnovers. The secondary had only 7 interceptions last season.
A&M had one of the best recruiting classes this past season. Three of their biggest needs, defensive end, offensive line and tight end were all addressed. They landed the third-best tackle in Kenyon Green, who may not start this year, but will lock down the line for years to come.
They landed the second best defensive end in DeMarvin Leal, who will be apart of one of the best front sevens in college football. He should be in the rotation early and will create havoc. Baylor Cupp might not see a lot of snaps next year, but his size rivals that of Sternberger and he could fill the void.
They addressed the safety depth, adding two four star safeties and Texas natives Brian Williams and Demani Richardson. Elijah Blades was a late JUCO signing, and should add valuable depth at corner. These are just some of the top talent that the Aggies signed last year. This is a very deep class, especially at wide receiver.
Texas A&M opens up against the Texas State Bobcats, which should be a nice tuneup before the real meat of the schedule begins. A&M travels to Death Valley to to play the reigning national champions and their sunshine superstar quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Following the road trip, they play Lamar at home and begin their SEC schedule.
At this point in the season, the Aggies should definitely be 2-1. Auburn, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Alabama are all home games this upcoming season, and I can see the Aggies winning three of these four games. Advance them to 6-2 because of their home game against UTSA.
Their road schedule is their ultimate test. The Aggies travel to JerryWorld to take on the Razorbacks in Dallas. They also travel to Ole Miss, LSU and Georgia. If A&M regresses in wins, I can understand why. Having to travel to Athens and the Bayou, two of the toughest places to play in the country is more than just a challenge, its near impossible.
I believe that Texas A&M is going to have another winning season, but there may be a slight regression from last year due to the tough schedule and loss of talent. In Jimbo Fisher’s second year with the team, I expect signature wins, especially against South Carolina and Auburn. I expect some heartbreak, potentially against LSU and (maybe) Mississippi State. Overall, a winning record and another bowl appearance, hopefully against a Big 12 or Big 10 powerhouse.