The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 34 Texas A&M.
Previewing Texas A&M’s Offense for 2014:
While there’s no replacing Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M’s coaching staff is confident that whoever emerges as the starter will possess the necessary skills to make A&M’s offense highly effective once again. The top two quarterback candidates (sophomore Kenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen) have combined for 22 passing attempts. Without Manziel, A&M may rely more heavily on its ground game, where Trey Williams is an explosive breakaway threat, and junior Tra Carson, who played at Oregon as a true freshman in 2011, may be the most valuable weapon. Carson is a particularly punishing runner.
While the Aggies will miss the imposing wide receiver presence of 6'5" Mike Evans, the 6'5" Ricky Seals-Jones may be the next go-to target. A&M also features senior Malcome Kennedy, its second-leading receiver from last year, as well as some talented young players like true freshman Speedy Noil, who was ranked as the nation’s No. 1 athlete prospect by one recruiting service. “As explosive as anybody I’ve ever seen,” A&M wide receivers coach David Beaty says of Noil.
The tradition of great left tackles at A&M continues, as Cedric Ogbuehi moves from right tackle to possibly follow in the first-round draft pick footsteps of Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. The rest of the offensive front looks imposing as well. Junior Mike Matthews (Jake’s younger brother) is continuing to develop as an outstanding center, and Jarvis Harrison and Germain Ifedi return on a exceptional offensive front.
Previewing Texas A&M’s Defence for 2014:
Texas A&M's defense took a huge hit in early June with the dismissal of defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne. Both players were expected to start and were key cogs in a defense that needs to take a step forward in 2014. Had Golden returned up front, the Aggies would have returned all four starters on the line. Without Golden in the mix, combined with a struggling line, newcomers will make the biggest difference, as the Aggies added a tremendous recruiting class of defensive linemen highlighted by five-star end Myles Garrett. The newcomers join returning starters Gavin Stansbury, Alonzo Williams and Julien Obioha to provide defensive coordinator Mark Snyder some impressive depth.
The linebackers may have been the weakest link of a defense that ranked last in the SEC in total and rushing yards allowed per game. A&M was extremely young at linebacker last season, as three true freshmen — Darian Claiborne, Jordan Mastrogiovanni and Shaan Washington — received considerable playing time. A&M should receive a lift from the return of those players, as well as the addition of TCU transfer A.J. Hilliard and true freshman Otaro Alaka. Hilliard and Alaka's presence is even more critical with the dismissal of Claiborne.
The Aggies feature one marquee player in the secondary in senior playmaker Deshazor Everett, a lock-down cornerback. The rest of the backfield is filled with uncertainties. Fellow cornerback De’Vante Harris, for example, has been solid as a pass defender, but he has not been a particularly good tackler.
Previewing Texas A&M’s Specialties for 2014:
Junior Drew Kaser led the SEC in punting last year (47.4-yard average) and is a legitimate Ray Guy Award candidate in 2014. Placekicker Josh Lambo was practically an answer to prayers last season, providing accuracy and consistency that had been a major issue in 2012. The Aggies also feature a big-play return specialist in Trey Williams.
A&M’s stadium is undergoing a $450 million redevelopment that will make Kyle Field one of the premier venues in college football when construction is done in 2015. Until that time, however, Kyle Field remains a work in progress. The same could be said for the inhabitants of the facility. With a strong offensive line, a stable of promising, young skill players on offense and a defense that should improve, the Aggies could be a factor in the SEC West. But 2015 may be the year A&M steps back into in the national spotlight.