There's plenty of pressure on Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin to win big this year. The combination of new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and graduate transfer quarterback Trevor Knight must deliver if the Aggies are going to make a run in the SEC. With uncertainty surrounding the offense, Texas A&M could lean even more on its defense, which features All-America end Myles Garrett and rising star Daylon Mack at tackle.
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Previewing Texas A&M’s Offense
Trevor Knight, a dual-threat transfer from OU, projects as A&M’s fourth different starting quarterback in four years. He starred in a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama in 2013 and passed for 2,300 yards in 2014, but he lost the starting job to Baker Mayfield last season. Knight must hold off a challenge from junior Jake Hubenak, who made his only start at A&M in last year’s Music City Bowl loss to Louisville.
Running back Keith Ford, also a transfer from Oklahoma, is being counted on to provide a big-play element that the position has lacked. There is an array of big-play threats at receiver, where all four starting receivers return. Christian Kirk caught 80 passes for 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman. He figures to be even better as a sophomore. Senior Josh Reynolds, an All-SEC selection two years ago, has averaged 17 yards per catch and has 18 touchdown grabs in his career at A&M. Ricky Seals-Jones looks to build on a solid sophomore year in which he had 45 catches for 560 yards.
The offensive line also needs to be more consistent. New line coach Jim Turner, who is back in College Station after a stint with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, faces a task of rebuilding an underachieving unit that was up-and-down in run blocking and disappointing in pass protection.
Previewing Texas A&M’s Defense
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All-America junior Myles Garrett and senior Daeshon Hall have proven to be among the most productive sets of defensive ends in the country. They combined for 19.5 sacks in 2015 and will look to increase that total this year.
The Aggies need to improve at defensive tackle where Daylon Mack and Kingsley Keke step into starting roles. Mack demonstrated the ability to make spectacular tackles in the backfield, but he needs to make the routine plays, too.
There is cautious optimism the linebackers will make drastic improvements. Otaro Alaka, a starter as a true freshman and Defensive MVP of the 2014 Liberty Bowl, is back after missing almost all of the 2015 season with shoulder and elbow injuries. The development of sophomore Richard Moore is another plus. He started the last third of the 2015 season and emerged as the Aggies’ best linebacker.
Safeties Armani Watts and Justin Evans are as good as any tandem in the SEC. Also, Donovan Wilson, who led the team with five interceptions, excels in his role at nickel. Former four-star recruit Priest Willis, who sat out last season after transferring from UCLA, will take one cornerback spot. Nick Harvey figures to start on the other side.
Previewing Texas A&M’s Specialists
The Aggies are breaking a new kicker and punter to replace All-SEC selections Taylor Bertolet and Drew Kaser. Kicker Daniel LaCamera has yet to attempt a collegiate field goal. Shane Tripuka punted twice last year, and Braden Mann is a true freshman. There are no such concerns on returns. Kirk and Speedy Noil have All-SEC credentials.
Coach Kevin Sumlin’s reputation as an offensive mastermind took a big hit last season. Had the Aggies scored 30 points in every game, they would have finished 12–1. Instead, the sluggish offense caused another late-season fade and resulted in A&M’s finishing fourth or worse in the SEC West for the third straight year. Sumlin responded by hiring Turner and accomplished offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Either Knight or Hubenak must emerge as an effective quarterback who can adequately distribute the football to an array of playmakers. However, neither has to be a star, because the defense, which made remarkable improvement in the first year under John Chavis, projects to be even better in his second season.
The Aggies typically get off to a fast start. They definitely need to duplicate that feat with UCLA, Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee looming in the first half of the schedule.