Elijah Blades and the rest of a stout secondary return from a defense that finished in the top 10 last season
A team cannot get any closer to college football's proverbial goal line than the Texas A&M Aggies did in 2020 without all the accouterments coming with the success. The Aggies posted a 9-1 (8-1 SEC) season-ending run as the fourth-ranked team in the nation after venting out some (41-27) frustration against then-No. 13 North Carolina in the Orange Bowl. The roadblocks to the championship rounds were Alabama and the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.
As head coach Jimbo Fisher enters his fourth season in College Station, might he be able to return the Aggies to elite status again in 2021?
To replicate the success, Fisher and Co. only have to remain one of the most balanced offenses in the nation, a year after producing 205.1 rushing and 234.1 passing yards per game. The offense was the SEC's fourth-best, lighting up the board with 32.6 points per game on average.
What might be easier to reproduce is defensive coordinator Mike Elko's SEC-leading unit. A&M was tops in the conference, ninth-best in the country, holding teams to 317.3 yards per game. If this side of the ball can hold up again, this is a championship-caliber defense.
With NCAA waivers allowing seniors to return for an extended year after the impact of COVID-19, A&M has a rare opportunity for grizzled college experience at key positions.
1. The schedule
Without regard for the roster, A&M enthusiasts can look at the 2021 schedule and pencil down five wins to start the year. That sixth game, Alabama comes to town. The Crimson Tide will be depleted on offense after a mass exodus of players to the NFL. But their defense is going to be elite. The following game will be no picnic in Columbia, facing a resurgent Missouri squad. The final two road games of the year in Oxford and Baton Rouge will be challenging. This time around, a one-loss SEC West team could head to Atlanta in December.
2. Continuity on the staff
Having Fisher calling the shots brings stability to the program, but more importantly having Elko and offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey back for their fourth campaigns helps tighten the reload on the roster. The continuity also helps in breaking down the opposition to better focus on the game plan week to week without the coordinators having to familiarize themselves with squads like Alabama for the first time on the fly.
A problem spot for a repeat one-loss regular season will be on offense, especially along the offensive line, but Elko's defense could once again be the best in the SEC. The team will miss tackle Bobby Brown III along with leading tackler linebacker Buddy Johnson, but the rest of this unit will be back. In the secondary, corners Elijah Blades and Myles Jones along with safeties Keldrick Carper and Leon O'Neal Jr. keep their jerseys. Fingers are crossed on Travon Fuller retaining his address in College Station for added depth. Offsetting the loss of Brown on the line is the return of tackle Jayden Peevy and end Michael Clemons. Outside backer Aaron Hansford should bring some cohesion in the box for A&M.
— 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.