Aggies rank No. 37 in Athlon’s Top 130 for 2017
For the third straight year, a strong finish by Texas A&M gave way to a late-season fade as the Aggies lost four of their final five games, including the Texas Bowl to Kansas State. Kevin Sumlin enters 2017 needing to break out of this 8-5 rut but he will have to do so with a new starting quarterback and the guy who was the No. 1 overall pick in the April’s NFL draft. The Aggies have a few playmakers and a veteran interior offensive line, but wide receivers not named Christian Kirk need to emerge and new tackles need to be identified. The defense lost its top pass rusher and continues to have issues stopping the run. Recruiting hasn’t necessarily been an issue for Texas A&M, but several players will need to step up or Sumlin’s job security could become the storyline in College Station this fall.
Previewing Texas A&M Football’s Offense for 2017
Junior receiver Christian Kirk and sophomore running back Trayveon Williams are big-time playmakers. Kirk has accumulated nearly 2,000 receiving yards in two seasons, while Williams rushed for 1,057 yards as a freshman. The Aggies are facing major questions almost everywhere else, though. Again, they will start the season with a new starting quarterback.
Whether that’s senior Jake Hubenak, the backup to Trevor Knight a year ago, redshirt freshman Nick Starkel or highly acclaimed true freshman prospect Kellen Mond likely won’t be determined until late August.
Kirk has caught 163 passes in his brief career, but the other receivers on the roster combined for just eight receptions a year ago. However, there is great optimism surrounding freshmen Quartney Davis, Jhamon Ausbon and Hezekiah Jones.
Interior linemen Connor Lanfear, Colton Prater and Erik McCoy anchor an offensive line that enabled A&M to average 211.8 rushing yards per game and allowed just 21 sacks in 2016. New starters are needed at tackle. Promising junior Koda Martin is expected to step in at left tackle, where the Aggies have excelled the last five years.
Previewing Texas A&M Football’s Defense for 2017
However, the Aggies’ primary worry continues to be its porous run defense and lackluster linebacker play. Fingers are crossed both will be much improved. That could happen if they get better in the middle. Junior Otaro Alaka may get the call there, although he’s performed better on the weak side. Sophomore Tyrel Dodson is another possibility to fill that void. Heralded true freshman Anthony Hines could also make an immediate impact.
A&M projects to be very good in the interior line. Defensive tackle Kingsley Keke looks to take the step from effective starter to genuine star. Senior Zaycoven Henderson is also coming off his best year. The ends are much more uncertain with Qualen Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson, who have been moderately productive in backup roles. Junior college transfer Micheal Clemons also was brought in to boost the pass rush.
Safety Armani Watts will contend for All-SEC recognition, but much better play is needed from the cornerbacks.
Previewing Texas A&M Football’s Specialists for 2017
As his All-America credentials suggest, Kirk is among the elite in the country at returning punts. He just needs more chances. In 26 career games, he’s returned only 27 punts, yet he’s averaged 23.0 yards per return and has scored five touchdowns. Punter Shane Tripucka is almost as good but needs to be more consistent. Last season he averaged 42.9 yards per attempt with 27 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line. More consistency is also needed from kicker Daniel LaCamera. He converted 17-of-24 field goal attempts, but four misses came inside 40 yards. A reliable kickoff returner is needed.
The Aggies are trying to end a trend of three consecutive 8–5 seasons that have featured late-season collapses. Also, they haven’t finished higher than fourth in the SEC West since 2012. Inexperience at quarterback, issues in run defense and dependency on unproven players render the season outlook quite suspect. The schedule won’t do them many favors, either, with road trips to UCLA, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss, where they typically struggle.
Coach Kevin Sumlin’s job could be in jeopardy if the Aggies cannot break out of their 8–5 rut. Ironically one of Sumlin’s best coaching efforts may be required this season for A&M to post eight victories.