Though 17 victories in two football seasons aren’t bad, Texas A&M envisioned much more when luring coach Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State.
Since then, Fisher has produced a couple of top-10 recruiting classes. That’s impressive, but A&M is paying Fisher handsomely to produce top-10 teams.
This could be the year he delivers. The youthful Aggies of 2019, who had six true freshmen in the starting lineup, have grown into an experienced, senior-laden unit.
Improvement is needed, of course. The offensive line, secondary and pass rush must be bolstered. Senior quarterback Kellen Mond is good but needs to raise his level of play. If strides are made in those areas, Texas A&M could become a top-10 team and legitimate championship contender.
Previewing Texas A&M's Offense for 2020
Mond accumulated 3,398 yards of total offense in 2019 to rank second in the Southeastern Conference. Still, some feel he regressed. That’s up for debate, but there’s little doubt he needs to be better for the Aggies to become championship contenders. Quicker reads, fewer interceptions and more runs would suffice.
The running game projects to be in good shape with physical sophomore Isaiah Spiller likely to get most of the carries. He started his freshman season as a backup but finished with 946 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Converted receiver Ainias Smith and speedy incoming freshman Devon Achane provide big-play capability.
Big-play threats are also needed at receiver. A&M managed only 10 pass plays that covered 30 yards or more last season. Senior Jhamon Ausbon had six of those. There’s no shortage of candidates to take over starting roles. Senior Camron Buckley has been steady in a backup role throughout his career, while sophomores Caleb Chapman and Dylan Wright are ready to challenge for significant playing time. Tight end is quite literally in good hands with sophomore Jalen Wydermyer, who had 32 catches and a team-leading six touchdowns as a freshman. Also, redshirt freshman Baylor Cupp returns from a broken leg that sidelined him all of last season.
The offensive line remains a major area of concern. A&M has allowed 69 sacks over the past two seasons and last year often struggled to run block in short-yardage situations. Four starters are back up front, but changes could be in store. Sophomore Kenyon Green may shift from right guard to left tackle, which is his natural position. That would result in Dan Moore Jr. changing positions and moving into a backup role. Right tackle Carson Green and left guard Jared Hocker aren’t likely to move, but improvement is needed from both. Center is a problem that must be solved. Ryan McCollum was expected to start there last season until suffering a ruptured disc in offseason workouts. He got minimal work at center and guard. If fully recovered, he may be the solution at center. If not, sophomore Luke Matthews, younger brother of former All-America tackle Jake Matthews, or redshirt freshman Layden Robinson could fill that role.
Previewing Texas A&M's Defense for 2020
A year ago, A&M was ranked among the nation’s top 30 in total defense. The Aggies could be better this season, although star tackle Justin Madubuike must be replaced. Senior Jayden Peevy, who has NFL potential, figures to step into that spot. He posted 34 tackles and 2.5 sacks in a backup role as a junior. Tackle Bobby Brown III is hoping that losing a few pounds to get down to 320 will make him better.
A bigger concern is bolstering a mediocre pass rush. Agile sophomore Demarvin Leal, who shifted from tackle to end, should help boost the sack total. Incoming freshmen Fadil Diggs and Donell Harris could immediately move into the defensive end rotation.
Not long ago, linebacker play was abysmal. That’s not the case anymore. Buddy Johnson and Anthony Hines III are coming off solid showings in their first seasons as full-time starters. Both posted more than 70 tackles and nine stops for lost yardage. Still, they need to improve. A&M allowed 67 running plays of at least 10 yards.
Upgrades are needed in a secondary that allowed too many big plays. Highly touted incoming freshmen Jaylon Jones and Antonio Johnson Jr. and junior college transfer cornerback Brian George will help. Getting cornerback Elijah Blades back from shoulder surgery is a boost, too. Safety Demani Richardson is a budding star.
Previewing Texas A&M's Specialists for 2020
The return units will be good, perhaps outstanding. Smith averaged almost 12 yards on 16 punt returns last season. He often seemed one step away from scoring. Achane will bring great speed to kickoff returns. Kicker Seth Small is reliable inside 50 yards. Australian Nik Constantinou faces the task of replacing All-America punter Braden Mann.
An experienced roster that includes a senior QB, the leading rusher, receiver, four starting offensive linemen, and top four tacklers has raised expectations for 2020. So has a schedule that’s much less imposing with Colorado and Vanderbilt replacing Clemson and Georgia. A&M aspires for greatness. That requires beating great teams. Last season, the Aggies only won games they were supposed to win. Do that in 2020 and a 9–1 or 10–0 record in late November is a real possibility. But then Alabama and LSU loom.