It would seem like being the only SEC team in the state of Texas would mean more, but the Texas A&M Aggies have not won more than eight games in the last four seasons and that was enough to send Kevin Sumlin packing. Former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher literally had a welcoming committee upon his landing in the Lone Star State and he’ll now look to lead the Aggies to new heights in the country’s toughest conference.
Change was overdue in College Station. While the Aggies have had some elite individual players, the total team has never really been up to SEC West standards. After all, A&M has only posted a winning conference record once in five seasons in the SEC. Fisher made an excellent defensive coordinator hire in Mike Elko and brought in a very well-respected offensive coordinator in Darrell Dickey. If this coaching staff can maximize talent better than Sumlin and his coaches, it could be a very interesting first year.
Texas A&M is priced in the mid-range to win the National Title, with odds ranging from +5000 at BetDSI to +7500 at BetOnline and +10000 at 5Dimes. Winning the SEC would be the first step and the Aggies are +3000 at 5Dimes and +2000 at BetOnline. From a season win total standpoint, BetOnline shows 7.5 with the under at -150 in Fisher’s first season, while 5Dimes has 7 with the over at -145. Keep in mind that these win total odds do not include conference championship games or bowl games.
|Date||Opponent||BangTheBook Line||Expected Wins|
|8/30 (Th)||Northwestern State||N/A||1|
|9/29||Arkansas (N – Arlington)||-8||.74|
|10/13||@ South Carolina||+1||.49|
|10/27||@ Mississippi State||+7.5||.27|
Expected Wins: 7.23
Jimbo Fisher and Darrell Dickey have something of a blank slate on offense. Nick Starkel stood out over Kellen Mond last season, as Starkel completed 60 percent of his passes with a 14/6 TD/INT ratio. Mond was at 51.5 percent with an 8/6 TD/INT ratio. Texas A&M recruiting the quarterback position very well on Kevin Sumlin’s watch, including a top guy like Kyler Murray, but nothing has really materialized since the days of Johnny Manziel. These players were recruited to run a spread, but we’ll have to wait and see what Dickey and Fisher do with this offense. The spring game featured a good mix of under center exchanges and shotgun snaps. Either way, timing will be the most important thing for this offense.
Whether Starkel or Mond get the job, they’ll have to find some new weapons. Christian Kirk caught 71 balls and had 10 touchdowns before taking his talents to the NFL. Damion Ratley was also drafted. Jhamon Ausbon had 50 catches as a true freshman last season, but he’ll draw much tougher assignments now with those two gone. Trayveon Williams will likely be the focal point of the offense, but he’s only 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds, so we’ll see how much abuse he can take without Keith Ford. Williams had 173 carries to Ford’s 139. Texas A&M may be forced into a tandem approach to preserve Williams. The Aggies do return most of the offensive line, but they’re learning a brand new offense.
For the first time in what feels like forever, Texas A&M hasn’t lost a whole bunch of impact players. Armani Watts is a big loss from the safety position, but the defense is pretty in tact otherwise. Top pass rusher Landis Durham had 10.5 sacks last season. Tyrel Dodson and Otaro Alaka combined for 11. We’ll see how aggressive Mike Elko’s defense will be with all of this athleticism. Wake Forest had 41 sacks in his last season in Winston-Salem and Notre Dame had a 10-sack increase from 14 to 24 last season.
Highly-touted recruits dot the two-deep on defense, so this is a unit that does have a lot of upside. Over the last two seasons, the Aggies have allowed too many big plays in the passing game. They’ve done a decent job of stuffing the run, but have been beaten through the air. That is particularly concerning, as the level of quarterback play in the SEC has been steadily on the rise over the last two seasons. Rewind back to 2015 and the conference was in dire need of quarterback play. Now, this is the best that it has been in a while and that means the Aggies need to figure out their issues in the secondary. It will be a fairly young back seven once again.
The Aggies draw a really tough schedule. They’re on the road at Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Auburn, with the Tigers coming off of a bye. They also play Clemson at home in Week 2. The only upside to the schedule is that they don’t face Georgia. This is a big departure from the ACC, which was a very top-heavy league, so Fisher will have to get this team in shape in a hurry.
Pick: Under 7.5 (-155, BetOnline)
This is a lot of juice and you can see that our season win total expected wins number falls right between the two lines. That makes this a no play. But, it is hard to see Texas A&M having a lot of success right away with this schedule. They’ll have six games at Kyle Field and they’ll be an underdog in one of them. They have a grueling road schedule. The big scheme changes on offense are going to put a ton of pressure on this defense. Even though Mike Elko is an excellent hire, there are some concerns as the rest of the conference is improving rapidly on offense.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
The Kevin Sumlin era at Texas A&M has been very interesting. Top-ranked quarterback recruits haven’t worked out in the post-Johnny Manziel era, so the Aggies have turned to defense and have put more of an emphasis on running the football. Through it all, Texas A&M has won at least eight games in each of Sumlin’s five seasons and has pulled off some premier upsets in some of those seasons. Heading into 2017, the Aggies, truthfully, look like a tough team to gauge.
A lot of talent is gone, but a lot of talent remains. The quarterback position is still a major question mark with Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight out of eligibility, but the Aggies are in the high school football recruiting hotbed that is the Lone Star State and the program’s conference affiliation makes the school the only Texas university in the SEC. Everybody wants to play in the SEC, right? So, talent goes and talent goes out. It’s just the cycle of life in the top conference in the country. Has too much talent left College Station for the Aggies to meet expectations?
Here’s the thing…Expectations are fairly low this season. Oddsmakers at 5Dimes Sportsbook have a win total of 7 with the under at -115 for Texas A&M this season. They’ve won seven games at least every year since 2010. Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season.
|Date||Opponent||Projected Line||Expected Wins|
|9/3 (Su)||@ UCLA||+0.5||0.5|
|9/23||Arkansas (N – Arlington)||-3.5||0.61|
Total Expected Wins: 7.09
Last year’s transition to more of a pro-style attack led by former UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone went quite well. The Aggies scored nearly 35 points per game and ran the ball very effectively. Their 5.7 yards per carry was the most for the offense since the 2012 season. The passing attack wasn’t efficient, with just a 54.4 percent completion percentage, but it was potent with over 250 passing yards per game. Jake Hubenak, who had 104 passing attempts last season, is back for his senior season. A talented crop of freshmen and redshirt freshmen will challenge Hubenak for reps, with Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond as unknowns, but as high-upside recruits.
The problem for whichever guy gets the nod as the starting quarterback is that the receiver corps is in need of a rebuild. Christian Kirk led the team with 83 receptions last season and he’s back in the mix, but the only others back that caught passes are running backs. That might be the best part of the offense, with two-headed monster Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford back for their sophomore and senior seasons, respectively. Williams ran for over 1,000 yards as a true freshman and Ford, who was backed up a bit, averaged over five yards per carry. With three offensive line starters back, this should be a potent rushing attack, but the passing game is a major unknown.
Replacing the top pick in the NFL Draft is never easy. That’s the task at hand for third-year defensive coordinator John Chavis with Myles Garrett playing on Sundays for the Cleveland Browns. While Garrett will draw the majority of the headlines, given his 8.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 10 quarterback hits, losses of guys like Shaan Washington, Justin Evans, and the defensive end opposite Garrett, Daeshon Hall, the losses on this side of the ball are very significant. Texas A&M had 39 sacks last season and held opponents to 4.4 yards per carry, the best mark since 2012. Expect a big step back in those two departments.
Armani Watts turned down the chance to play on Sundays, so he’ll be the leader and star of this defense. Chavis was formerly the defensive coordinator at LSU, so he’s no stranger to having to replace a lot of studs on the fly. The thing about losing a lot of talent is that the players next up on the depth chart have been blocked for a while, so, while they haven’t had a chance to shine in games, they still have lots of practice experience and game reps in the substitution rotations. There are still a lot of seniors atop the depth chart and seven starters back.
The schedule for teams in the SEC West is always a challenge. Texas A&M has UCLA on the schedule again, but this time the Week 1 tilt is in California. Alabama and Auburn are at Kyle Field, which is one of the stronger home fields in the country with capacity approaching 103,000. The Aggies also play only four true road games, with a “neutral” site game in Arlington against Arkansas. College Station is a three-hour drive. Fayetteville is a five-hour drive, so it will likely be a pro-Aggies crowd.
Win Total Pick: Over 7
There’s no value one way or another on this pick, but we’ll slide the lean to the over because of the lack of true road games and the history under Kevin Sumlin, who does seem to get a lot out of the talent that he has. Though my numbers have A&M as a virtual pick ‘em at UCLA, the Week 1 lines have the Bruins -3.5. That means A&M is favored in seven games and a dog in five. There will probably be a deviation or two, but looking at things right now, it seems very likely that A&M will win when they should and lose when they should, which makes for a 7-5 season.