#20 Texas A&M Aggies





HEAD COACH: Kevin Sumlin, 28-11 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jake Spavital | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Chavis

It was a busy offseason in College Station, as Texas A&M and coach Kevin Sumlin made the defense a top priority after this unit has struggled mightily through three years in the SEC. John Chavis was hired away from LSU, and the veteran coordinator is tasked with fixing a defense that allowed 36.6 points per game in SEC contests last season. Scoring points won’t be a problem for the Aggies. However, improving in the win column means Texas A&M has to take a step forward on defense. 

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Texas A&M’s Offense for 2015

If his freshman season is any indication, quarterback Kyle Allen will develop into one of the top passers in the SEC. Thrust into the starting lineup in November, Allen threw three touchdown passes against Missouri and four against Auburn and West Virginia. Allen, an Arizona native, aims to pick up where he left off in the season opener against Arizona State.

Still, Allen must stave off a challenge from highly touted freshman Kyler Murray — assuming Murray doesn’t sign a professional baseball contract. Whoever emerges has an array of talented receivers to target. Sophomore Speedy Noil is the deep threat his name would suggest, while junior Josh Reynolds set a school record with 13 touchdown catches.

The Aggies must run more effectively, though. More production is desperately needed from running backs Tra Carson and Brandon Williams (who might also play some cornerback), who are running behind an offensive line that didn’t meet A&M’s typical standards in 2014. The Aggies allowed 27 sacks and failed too often to convert short-yardage situations. Enter former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen, who will coordinate the running game and coach the offensive line. He’s stressed better technique and a more aggressive mentality.

Previewing Texas A&M’s Defense for 2015 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 SEC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Frustrated from two years of inept defensive play, coach Kevin Sumlin convinced John Chavis, one of the nation’s most respected defensive coordinators, to leave LSU and come to College Station. The move cost A&M $1.7 million per season, but if Chavis can rejuvenate the once-proud “Wrecking Crew,” that price tag will look like a bargain.

Athletic pass-rushing ends are of utmost importance in Chavis’ scheme, and he has them. Myles Garrett set an SEC freshman record with 11.5 sacks and projects to be even better in 2015. The Aggies believe they will be able to apply pressure from the other end, too. Junior Daeshon Hall has bulked up to 260 pounds and seems primed for a breakout year. Senior tackle Alonzo Williams is effective against the run but desperately needs help inside.

The linebacker position has been especially moribund the past two seasons, but there are some signs of improvement. Sophomore Otaro Alaka showed steady improvement and was named Defensive MVP of the Liberty Bowl. However, injuries have been a recurring problem.  Junior college transfer Claude George had a strong showing in the spring at middle linebacker and figures to upgrade A&M’s run defense immediately.

The Aggies also need to improve their pass defense. Senior cornerback De’Vante Harris has started since his freshman season, but he’s also been inconsistent. He may flourish in Chavis’ aggressive press coverage scheme. A&M is in better shape at safety. Armani Watts aims to build on a solid true freshman season in which he grabbed three picks. Junior college transfer Justin Evans drew raves in the spring.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Texas A&M’s Specialists for 2015 

Punter is an area of strength. Drew Kaser, a Ray Guy Award finalist, is among the best in the country. Placekicking is another matter. Taylor Bertolet has great range but questionable accuracy. He’s converted just 4-of-12 field goal attempts between 30 and 49 yards and has missed 10 extra points.

Final Analysis 

The Aggies have learned they can go only so far in the SEC without a strong defense. Therefore, they’re counting on Chavis to rebuild a unit that ranked 102nd in the nation and last in the SEC in total defense in 2014. Chavis has young talent with which to work but obviously faces a tall task. The Aggies have a high-scoring offense loaded with big-play threats, so they can be a serious contender in the SEC with a respectable defense. How quickly can Chavis deliver?

The Debate

Is Kyle Allen One of the SEC's Top Quarterbacks for 2015?

Click here to join the debate.


#22 Tennessee Volunteers





HEAD COACH: Butch Jones, 12-13 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike DeBord | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Jancek

Tennessee is a program on the rise entering its third year under coach Butch Jones. The Volunteers improved from 5-7 in 2013 to 7-6 in 2014 and finished last season with a dominant win over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl. With 17 returning starters, Tennessee is poised for another jump in its win total and final ranking in 2015.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Tennessee’s Offense for 2015

Joshua Dobbs’ rise from third on the depth chart to being the impetus of Tennessee’s 2014 bowl push and the projected star of the 2015 Vols has been, in a word, meteoric. The aerospace engineering major from suburban Atlanta has even been mentioned as having an outside shot at this season’s Heisman Trophy. Keeping Dobbs healthy will be of utmost importance; no other quarterback on the roster has taken a collegiate snap.

There are only three scholarship running backs on the roster, but Tennessee’s backfield duo of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara should be as exciting to watch as any. Hurd finished with a team-high 899 yards in 2014 but seems eager to share carries with Kamara, who began his career at Alabama. Kamara will complement the punishing style of Hurd with his maneuverability and speed.

The receiving corps should be a talented group of playmakers that is a coverage nightmare. The return of Marquez North from a shoulder injury that ended his 2014 season will be a huge boost, and anything less than North’s best season yet will be a disappointment. The Vols also bring back Pig Howard, who led the team with 618 yards last year.

A year of experience will help alleviate serious concerns about the offensive line, which last season gave up more yards due to sacks (305) than all but two FBS teams. One of the only positives about this group in 2014 was Jashon Robertson, who started all 13 games and was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team.

Previewing Tennessee’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 SEC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

As hard as it is to believe, the defensive line that dominated Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl somehow got even better this offseason. Back are Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt, who combined for 21 sacks last season. No position group enters this season with more potential.

Gone is A.J. Johnson, Tennessee’s middle linebacker and team leader. Finding a suitable replacement up the middle will be paramount to the Vols’ ability to stop the run this season. On the outside, there are far fewer question marks. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is coming off a breakout season as a sophomore and will likely lead the team in tackles once again.

The Vols’ defensive backfield, led by cornerback Cameron Sutton, should be one of the conference’s best. The reports on junior college transfer Justin Martin, an athletic corner, sound as if he’ll transition nicely into Division I football. Replacing nickel corner Justin Coleman with sophomore Rashaan Gaulden seems like a logical fit. At safety, Brian Randolph packs a punch and was an integral part of the defense last season. Opposite him, LaDarrell McNeil looked rejuvenated in 2014.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Tennessee’s Specialists for 2015

Aaron Medley was automatic on field goals from within 40 yards last season. He has spent the offseason trying to develop long-kick accuracy, which will also help him on kickoff duty. Replacing punter Matt Darr and his penchant for pinning teams deep won’t be easy, but the incoming transfer of three-year Maryland starter Nathan Renfro, a Nashville-area native, will help. So will the addition of Tommy Townsend, a high school All-American. Sutton will likely handle punts with Evan Berry returning kicks for the second straight year.

Final Analysis 

Tennessee’s dismantling of Iowa in last year’s TaxSlayer Bowl guaranteed that excitement in Knoxville would reach a fever pitch by this season’s opener. With the suddenly high expectations for the Vols comes pressure for Butch Jones for the first time in his Tennessee career. There’s talent at the skill positions, but enough to win the SEC East? Jones probably has another year before fans grow restless, but if the Vols don’t win the division, they’ll need to at least come very close.

The Debate

Where Does Butch Jones Rank Among the SEC's Coaches in 2015?

Click here to join the debate.

More Stories: