In its first season with coach Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M posted nine victories, ended years of futility against LSU, finished second in the SEC West and stopped a three-year losing streak in bowl games.
That was more than enough for Fisher's first year in College Station to be considered a success. Defining success in his second year, however, might be more difficult.
Quarterback Kellen Mond, a proven group of receivers, a relatively experienced offensive line and a potentially dominant defensive front return to form the nucleus of another strong team.
Yet, holes must be filled at running back, tight end, linebacker and in the secondary. Further, the Aggies must negotiate a treacherous schedule that features powerful Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and LSU. Three of those games are on the road.
Previewing Texas A&M's Offense for 2019
Mond aims to make the progression from effective quarterback to one of the SEC's elite. Last season, he ranked fourth in the SEC in total offense with 3,581 yards. He was at times spectacular and at times frustrating. More consistency is needed in his second season in Fisher’s offense.
The wide receiver corps returns intact, led by Quartney Davis, who had 45 catches and seven touchdowns. Jhamon Ausbon is steady, and Kendrick Rogers has a flair for spectacular grabs but has been inconsistent.
All-American Jace Sternberger's departure to the NFL left a void at tight end. Heralded true freshman Baylor Cupp could be his immediate successor. If not, sophomore Glenn Beal likely gets the call.
The Aggies look to replace All-SEC running back Trayveon Williams with sophomore Jashaun Corbin, who showed an explosive dimension in a reserve role. Also, 230-pounder Cordarrian Richardson, a transfer from UCF, will add a boost of power to the running game.
They will operate behind an offensive line that paved the way for Williams to gain a school-record 1,760 yards. Junior tackles Dan Moore Jr. and Carson Green and junior guard Jared Hocker are proven. Ryan McCollum, who made seven starts at guard, will shift to center to replace standout Erik McCoy. Redshirt freshmen Marcus Jenkins and Luke Matthews or five-star freshman Kenyon Green vie for the other guard spot.
Previewing Texas A&M's Defense for 2019
The task facing defensive coordinator Mike Elko is maintaining a run defense that was among the best the country in 2018 while upgrading a pass defense that ranked 12th in the SEC.
Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, who posted 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss, is the only full-time returning starter among the front seven. Yet Madubuike still has a lot of help on the front four. Sophomore tackle Bobby Brown III seems ready for a breakout year, and Jayden Peevy would start almost anywhere else.
More questions exist at defensive end, though 6-foot-5, 272-pound junior Micheal Clemons has recovered from a foot injury that sidelined him last season. He returned to practice late in the year, and reports were he was virtually unblockable. Sophomore Tyree Johnson showed flashes as a backup in his debut season and drew praise throughout the spring. Five-star freshman Demarvin Leal is expected to make an immediate impact, too.
There is much more concern at linebacker, where junior Buddy Johnson, with four career starts and 47 career tackles, has the most experience. Sophomore Anthony Hines III has great ability but is coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him almost all of last season. Ikenna Okeke, a converted safety, is also coming back from injury.
The Aggies addressed the depth issue at linebacker by bringing in five freshmen and shifting Aaron Hansford from tight end.
On the back end, cornerbacks Debione Renfro and Charles Oliver and safety Derrick Tucker must rebound from subpar performances. The Aggies can glean encouragement from junior cornerback Myles Jones showing progress late in the season and sophomore safety Leon O'Neal Jr. having a strong showing in the Gator Bowl. Also, cornerback Clifford Chattman is finally available after missing the last two seasons. Help is also on the way from highly ranked recruits.
Previewing Texas A&M Specialists for 2019
All-America punter Braden Mann set several NCAA records en route to the Ray Guy Award. Sophomore kicker Seth Small isn't as reliable. He made his first five attempts but was erratic thereafter. Roshauud Paul is solid on punt returns, while Corbin averaged 30.1 yards on kickoff returns. Corbin's listed as a starting running back, so he may give up the role.
Mond should be better in his second season under Fisher. Consequently, the offense should be improved, too. Though defensive concerns are real, the Aggies likely will be fine if linebackers Johnson and Hines stay healthy. Improvement is expected in the secondary because... well, because it couldn't get much worse. But there is an influx of talent there, and help from a more explosive pass rush is expected. The Aggies could legitimately have a stronger team. However, duplicating last year's nine wins will be difficult against perhaps the nation’s most challenging schedule.