Previews 2019: Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M

Jul 16, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher addresses the media and answers questions during SEC football media day at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Texas A&M Aggies

Projected record: 8-4 (UA, LSU, Clem, UGA); 4-4 and 3rd SEC West
Returning offensive starters: 7 (SE, FL, LT, LG, C, RT, QB)
Returning defensive starters: 4 (RDT, RCB, LCB, SS)
Returning specialists: 1 (P)

Unit ratings
QB: Vg DL: Av
RB: Fr LB: Fr
WR: Vg DB: Fr
OL: Vg ST: Ex

Offense – what’s to like: Kellen Mond has always sort of been Blue Light Special Jalen Hurts, but he got stronger toward the end of last year and, to the surprise of many, is a top-half QB in the SEC now. Mond is going to get more rushing attempts this year as well, and if he can improve his accuracy – probably the toughest thing for a quarterback to do if we’re being honest – he’ll be tough to handle.

The returning wide receivers, particularly Quartney Davis and Jhamon Ausbon, scare plenty of people with their raw ability. Camron Buckley was the surprise of the 2018 year. They all need to get better on intermediate routes, and Ausbon was not the downfield threat he could have been, but we’re picking nits at this point. The offensive line is strong and deep and may be the overall strength of the offense.

Offense – potential pitfalls: One big hole in the receiver group, however, is at tight end, where freshman Baylor Cupp suffered a broken leg and will miss the 2019 season. The only other tight end Texas A&M feels comfortable with is sophomore Glenn Beal, who Alabama recruited at one point. His backup will probably be a freshman.

The running back group is less than stellar. Jashaun Corbin may end up being the featured back with no real rotator. Vernon Jackson, the most purely talented back on the roster according to some, was lost for the year with a neck injury and his return beyond that is uncertain. Cordarrian Richardson let a crowded group out of spring as Corbin’s backup, but Richardson weighs in at 250 pounds and is probably more suited to spot work.

Defense/special teams – what’s to like: Better coaching than under previous regimes has been the most welcome change. Texas A&M surprised everyone by ranking 3rd in rush defense in 2018. Despite losing three starters, the defensive line ought to be okay at worst and could end up being very, very good. Justin Madubuike returns to a starting tackle spot, but even the new starter next to him, be it Bobby Brown or T.D. Moton, is highly regarded. If new ends Tyree Johnson, who had a solid freshman year, and Michael Clemons continue to improve, the Aggies won’t skip a beat.

The special teams are among the best in the conference. Punter Braden Mann won the Ray Guy Award and is back for his senior year. You know the depth chart at kicker is good when Seth Small hits 20 of 28 field goals and suddenly finds himself in competition for his job. The kickoff units, both coverage and returns, are fantastic. Punt returns could improve a bit but they’re already decent.

Defense/special teams – potential pitfalls: Texas A&M ranked 98th in pass defense and 106th in pass efficiency defense despite having a good defensive line in front of the secondary (20th in sacks). Senior CB Charles Oliver may have lost his job over it. The safety group is being rebuilt. Fans are banking on the athleticism that comes with high-end recruiting grades, but that’s a dangerous bet. Most analysts don’t expect much of an upgrade here.

The linebacker group is completely new, and only Buddy Johnson seems to have locked down a position in the spring. Given the defensive backfield already needs help, having a green linebacker corps in front of it is the worst possible outcome.

Final analysis: Somehow, with this defense, Texas A&M is being picked by some analysts to upset Alabama and LSU and win the SEC West. We’re not sure where that kind of logic is coming from; SEC teams with weak defenses don’t usually win divisions. Those analysts are obviously banking on QB Kellen Mond getting better, along with the Aggies’ venerable special teams units and the other offensive accoutrements that all point to a fast-scoring, high-flying, ball-moving machine. The problem with machines is they don’t like monkey wrenches being thrown into the gears. If Texas A&M can’t fix the linebacker or secondary issues, that monkey wrench may end up being bigger than the machine itself.

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