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SEC Preview: Texas A&M

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith previews the 2020 Texas A&M Aggies.

TEXAS A&M AGGIES
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (first season at Texas A&M, 11th season overall); 100-32 overall, 9-7 SEC
Offensive Coordinator: Darrell Dickey (third season)
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Elko (third season)
2019 Recap: 8-5 (4-4 SEC); defeated Oklahoma State in Texas Bowl
2019 was never going to be the year for an Aggies resurgence under Jimbo Fisher. The team was too young, and the schedule was too daunting. Even with tempered expectations, a 7-5 regular season was still a disappointment in College Station, as an ugly home loss to Auburn in late September was the difference between acceptable and concerning. Kellen Mond was fine under center, but he didn’t play like a high-level SEC quarterback. The defense continued to be pretty salty under Mike Elko, holding Clemson to 24 points and Georgia to 19 points. Now, it’s 2020 – the season everyone in Aggieland has been pointing to as the year to again contend for an SEC West title.

2020 Schedule
Sept. 26 – VANDERBILT (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network Alternate)
Oct. 3 – at Alabama (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Oct. 10 – FLORIDA
Oct. 17 – at Mississippi State
Oct. 24 – Idle
Oct. 31 – ARKANSAS (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Nov. 7 – at South Carolina
Nov. 14 – at Tennessee
Nov. 21 – OLE MISS
Nov. 28 – LSU
Dec.  5 – at Auburn

Under Center
Mond is an interesting player. He’s at his best when he’s not asked to throw 30 or 40 times a game, but running your starting quarterback has its risks. Mond had 126 carries (including sacks) in 2019, so he took plenty of hits. Did that hurt him in the passing game? It’s hard to tell, but Mond did not complete 60 percent of his passes in any of the team’s five defeats. As he enters his final season, Mond is a quarterback who looks the part, but doesn’t yet inspire a ton of confidence in big moments. That needs to change for the Aggies to make a run at the SEC West title.

Redshirt freshman Zach Calzada is the likely backup again. He played in three games last season, completing 24 passes. He’s yet to take a snap in an SEC game. Rising sophomore James Foster transferred over the summer, lessening the competition for the No. 2 role.

In The Trenches
After allowing 34 sacks last season, the Aggies looked to have problems akin to what Fisher experienced at Florida State. Some of those fell on Mond making poor decisions, but Texas A&M has to protect its quarterback better than it did a year ago. The line brings back four starters, so it’s not green, but it is pretty “Green”, as in guard Kenyon Green, who can play tackle as well, and tackle Carson Green. Center is up for grabs, and the Matthews family is back in the mix there, as sophomore Luke Matthews tries to join brothers Kevin, Jake and Mike (sons of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce) as Aggies offensive line starters.

The defensive line should again be a strength. Justin Madubuike left early for the NFL, but the interior is in good shape with senior Jayden Peevy and junior Bobby Brown III. The pass rush may need to be dialed up a level or two for the Aggies to climb in the standings. Enter sophomore Demarvin Leal, who at 290 pounds, has the strength to physically battle SEC tackles. Madubuike led the team in sacks last season with just 5.5. In a nickel-heavy defense, the Aggies often play just two linebackers, and there aren’t many concerns there with senior Buddy Johnson and junior Anthony Hines III both returning starters. They’re not stars, but solid players who understand their roles in Elko’s defense.

On The Edge
The running game is now in Isaiah Spiller’s hands after Jashaun Corbin transferred to Florida State. Spiller ran for 946 yards and 10 touchdowns as a freshman. Converted receiver Ainias Smith is the likely backup/passing-down option. The passing game could utilize a lot of multiple-tight end sets after Jalen Wydermyer emerged as a freshman last season. That role was expected to go to classmate Baylor Cupp, but he broke his leg before the season. Cupp and Wydermyer could stress defenses if they’re on the field together, but that’s a big if after Cupp underwent shoulder surgery last month. The receiving corps is a question mark, especially with the opt-out of Jhamon Ausbon. No other returning player had more than 200 yards in 2019.

Throughout its time in the SEC, Texas A&M has had issues in the secondary. That hasn’t really changed under Fisher. Sure, playing Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow is going to kill your stat sheet, but big plays were a big problem last season, something Elko defenses historically have limited very effectively The secondary is probably a year away, as highly-touted true freshmen Jaylon Jones and Antonio Johnson Jr. get their bearings, but the list of opposing quarterbacks is far less daunting than it was in 2019.

Ranking The Units
1.   Defensive Line
2.   Linebackers
3.   Running Backs
4.   Quarterbacks
5.   Offensive Line
6.   Receivers
7.   Defensive Backs

Schedule Analysis
No team was hurt more by the increase from eight to ten SEC games than the Aggies, who had flipped Georgia for Vanderbilt as the rotating game. Florida and Tennessee joined the revised slate, negating a huge schedule advantage the Aggies had over their fellow SEC West contenders. Things start out with a bang, as the trip from Alabama is now in Week 2, followed immediately by a visit from Florida. After a pretty cushy middle portion of the schedule, the Aggies close with a tough stretch of at Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and at Auburn.

Season Prediction
Even with the schedules becoming more balanced, expectations don’t need to be dialed down in College Station. Texas A&M should be expecting a No. 2 finish in the SEC West, and anything else should be a disappointment. They will do just that, overcoming a 1-2 start and more big-game struggles to rattle off six straight wins, including a key swing game victory at Tennessee and a win over LSU. Auburn will make it four straight wins over the Aggies to deny them any hopes of sneaking into the College Football Playoff.

Record: 7-3
CFP Ranking: 7
Bowl: Cotton Bowl vs. Iowa State

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.