Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher is knocking on the door of ultimate success in College Station as his three seasons on the sidelines have each ended just shy of taking the Aggies to Atlanta. On the heels of another second-place finish in the SEC West, the Aggies have their sights set on breaking down the door to the College Football Playoff but must navigate another schedule filled with top-20 teams to make this dream a reality.
Only in the SEC is an 8-1 conference-only regular-season record not worthy of titles, banners, or an automatic invite to the playoff. As is, a 52-24 Week 2 loss last season to eventual national champion Alabama stopped the Aggies short of their ultimate goals. As the team wraps up their spring practices, A&M's defense looks like a tone-setter with an offense that can make some noise if consistent play is had in the trenches and at quarterback. If all can come together, the flow of the 2021 schedule is in the Aggies' favor to push for their first SEC Championship Game berth.
Bye: Week 9
Week 1 – Sept. 4 vs. Kent State (College Station, Texas)
On the positive, Kent State finished the 2020 season 3-1 going against MAC teams. On the downside for the Golden Flashes, when they ventured outside of their conference in 2019 they lost, badly, to Arizona State (30-7), Auburn (55-16), and Wisconsin (48-0).
Week 2 – Sept. 11 vs. Colorado (Denver)
The up-and-down nature of the 2020 season hit the Pac-12 hard after a late start with most teams falling shy of the planned seven-game conference schedule. In his first season leading the Buffaloes, Karl Dorrell started out hot with a 4-0 record but ended on a two-game skid against Utah and Texas in the Alamo Bowl. Colorado opens against FCS member Northern Colorado but then hosts A&M and Minnesota. Taking on the Buffaloes in Empower Field at Mile High should add some extra juice to this SEC vs. Pac-12 showdown.
Week 3 – Sept 18 vs. New Mexico (College Station, Texas)
Making his return to New Mexico after defensive coordinator stints at San Diego State (2017) and Arizona State (2018-19) did not go as planned for Danny Gonzales. The initial cancellation of the 2020 season and then the planned restart on Oct. 24 left the Lobos without much enthusiasm on the field. An 0-4 start got a lift from playing their last two games against Wyoming and Fresno State at Sam Boyd Stadium in Nevada. New Mexico is in for a rude awakening against the Aggies after opening with FCS Houston Baptist and New Mexico State.
Week 4 – Sept. 25 vs. Arkansas (Arlington, Texas)
In the win-loss column, The Southwest Classic has been a one-sided affair in the Aggies' favor in the form of a current nine-game winning streak against the Razorbacks. But these games have been tight and thrilling with seven during this span coming down to fourth-quarter plays and a final outcome decided by an average of 7.8 points. For the 2021 season, this is Fisher's first true test. Arkansas has a roster full of returning talent and just completed an actual spring to install and work on schemes. It sets the stage for what should be another heart-pounding affair in AT&T Stadium.
Week 5 – Oct. 2 vs. Mississippi State (College Station, Texas)
The Bulldogs are the light end of a two-game homestand that will dictate the rest of the season. A&M's defense made quick work of Mike Leach's offense a year ago, holding MSU to 217 total yards. The plan is for another shutdown of the Bulldogs' offense to keep everyone fresh for the big showdown that's looming.
Week 6 – Oct. 9 vs. Alabama (College Station, Texas)
As odd as college football can be at times, Alabama and Texas A&M align similarly in 2021. Both teams suffered heavy losses on offense, both should be very good on defense, and the two recruit very well. How well prepared the coaches have the players will be the difference in this one. As A&M is to Arkansas, the Crimson Tide are to the Aggies, boasting an eight-game winning streak that dates back to the 2013 season.
Week 7 – Oct. 16 at Missouri (Columbia, Mo.)
Coming off what should be a slugfest contest against the defending national champs, going on the road against Missouri might be a hard rebound game. The Tigers went 5-5 under first-year head coach Eliah Drinkwitz, picking up a feather-in-the-cap 45-41 win over LSU. A middle-of-the-season three-game win streak was diminished with back-to-back losses to Georgia and Mississippi State and then a canceled bowl game finishing the campaign. Looking at 2021, if a Week 2 road win against Kentucky is had, the Tigers could come into this contest undefeated. The Aggies are the end of three straight at home for Missouri. Even though this game follows Alabama, A&M should be ready to pounce.
Week 8 – Oct. 23 vs. South Carolina (College Station, Texas)
Coming home after their first SEC road trip of the season, the Aggies host a South Carolina team at the start of a rebuilding project. Will Muschamp has been replaced by first-time head coach Shane Beamer. Being the son of a Hall of Famer gives Beamer knowledge, but how does that translate after never even serving as a coordinator in the college ranks?
Week 10 – Nov. 6 vs. Auburn (College Station, Texas)
The uniforms may look the same, but Auburn will be anything but their same old selves in 2021. Bryan Harsin is making the jump from Boise State, replacing Gus Malzahn on the Plains. While with the Broncos, Harsin's teams were well-coached and usually featured potent offenses. The Tigers have new coordinators, so fresh schemes and philosophies are being installed. Auburn's schedule is very difficult with road games against Penn State, LSU, and Arkansas before heading to College Station.
Week 11 – Nov. 12 at Ole Miss (Oxford, Miss.)
It's amazing that the Aggies only have two conference games left and are just now leaving the friendly confines of the Lone Star State for a second time to face an SEC foe. Ole Miss is another wild card entering the 2021 season. Lane Kiffin wowed all with his offense in Year 1, producing an average of 39.2 points per game. Unfortunately, his defense was just as generous, surrendering 38.3 points per contest. Expect Kiffin to call on his offense to put the pressure on the opposition to keep up.
Week 12 – Nov. 20 vs. Prairie View A&M (College Station, Texas)
This is a "get paid to get slayed" game for the Panthers from the FCS ranks. Prairie View A&M went 2-1 this spring with three other games called off. This one should be over well before halftime.
Week 13 – Nov. 27 at LSU (Baton Rouge, La.)
If LSU and A&M have had the seasons desired, meaning both have defeated Alabama, this one could be for all the SEC West marbles. LSU will be deep and much improved over the 5-5 disaster turned in last fall. If the Crimson Tide have continued to roll, this game could still have postseason ramifications, including one more opportunity to impress the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.