It's Year 3 of the Jimbo Fisher era in College Station, and now that he's integrated his program with his guys, some are hinting that Texas A&M could be a dark-horse candidate for the national title. The Aggies were knocking on the door of the College Football Playoff last year and have 15 returning starters to make another run.
Of course, one of those returning starters is not quarterback Kellen Mond, who seemed to be behind center for about seven years in Aggieland. Haynes King is the new field general, and he has some butterflies to overcome, especially in a game like this that is being played in an NFL stadium full of jeering fans who are not wearing maroon.
To put it kindly, Colorado has sort of been toiling in anonymity, suffering three straight 5-7 seasons (2017-19) before making the change to Karl Dorrell as their new head honcho last season. He helped the Buffaloes finally pull together a winning mark, going 4-2 in a truncated campaign. The Buffs got off to a good start to 2021, pasting FCS Northern Colorado 35-7. Of course, that was Northern Colorado, not a top-five team from the SEC that is bursting with talent and attitude.
Texas A&M vs. Colorado
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Empower Field at Mile High (Denver)
When Colorado Has the Ball
It will be interesting to see what the "cool" level will be in freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis. He got his first start against Northern Colorado and was decent, hitting on 10 of his 15 passes for 102 yards. Dorrell was extolling his high-level decision-making and his ability to go through his progressions. But the fact remains that Lewis only threw 15 passes. The biggest key to the Buffaloes' success is how the passing game ratchets up against the Aggies. If they can't get a better run-pass mix, this one could get ugly.
Speaking of the running game, the Buffaloes were a stampede against the Bears last week, hoofing it for 281 yards and having 16 of their 22 first downs come via the ground game. While the passing improvement is of vital importance, the ability to keep running the ball consistently is amped up for this one. A&M returns nine starters on defense, but there is still a lot of youth on that side. Kent State ran for 235 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per carry against the Aggies. For CU, four Buffaloes had eight carries or more in the win over Northern Colorado, so they spread the attempts around. Five of the front six guys are returning starters for CU.
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
As much as the offense has ballyhooed running back Isaiah Spiller (1,036 yards last year) and new QB Haynes King, the real key to this game will be how the A&M offensive line performs against the Colorado defensive line. The Aggies have four new starters up front, and they'll be going up against a really good Buffalo D-line that features returning starters Jalen Sami and Terrance Lang, who both missed the Alamo Bowl against Texas, and it showed. The good news for CU is that defensive tackle Mustafa Johnson has been cleared and will be available, further bolstering that front wall. The big uglies for A&M will have their hands fill in this one.
King, meanwhile, played with the cool of an upperclassman, going 21-of-33 for 292 yards, but he did throw a trio of interceptions. He'll need to be sharper this week as the talent level he'll face takes a considerable step up. He and Ainias Smith became quite a combo in Week 1, as Smith netted eight catches for 100 yards and both touchdowns through the air. Haynes completed passes to five different receivers last week, including four to All-American candidate tight end Jalen Wydermyer.
As with Colorado, the Aggies' running game will be vitally important. Again, a ton depends on how the hogs up front do against that Buffalo front seven. Keep an eye on RBs Devon Achane and the aforementioned Spiller, as they both busted the century mark in Week 1, churning for 124 and 113 yards, respectively. If the Fighting Ralphies put the clamps on them, this one becomes a lock-sure four-quarter game down to the wire.
These two hooked up nine times during their 15 years together in the Big 12, with Colorado winning six of nine. This being a neutral-site game might be a little misleading, as the CU campus is just 29 miles away. But if it makes any difference, Jimbo Fisher is 5-0 in neutral-site games as the maestro at A&M.
As mentioned, both teams ran the ball very well and trotted out young, rough-hewn quarterbacks against inferior competition in Week 1. Week 2 will be a drastic step up. It just seems like the team that establishes the run better in this one will have a huge advantage, especially in the fourth quarter as stamina becomes an issue.
Even in the mile-high air, the Aggies will have just enough.
Prediction: Texas A&M 28, Colorado 20
Podcast: Week 2 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.