Optimism in College Station is once again high after first-year head coach Jimbo Fisher brought Texas A&M's offense into the upper echelon of college football's ranks with dramatic improvement also on defense during the 2018 season. The end result was a two-game improvement in the win column, ending the 2018 campaign 9-4 overall, 5-3 in the SEC. Now that Fisher and company have the attention of the SEC West, will the squad be able to take the next steps towards a division title, an SEC championship, and a College Football Playoff berth?
Three Reasons Why Texas A&M Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. Kellen Mond — quarterback
In the modern era of college football, the play in the pocket for any program can be directly linked to wins and losses. Luckily for the Aggies, they have one of the top returning starters in the SEC in Mond. As a sophomore, Mond doubled his stat line from the 2017 season passing for 3,107 yards with 24 touchdowns. He increased his completion percentage from 52 to 57 and threw just three more interceptions (9) despite 188 more pass attempts. If that was not impressive enough, he also rushed for 474 yards and seven scores.
Mond will miss his favorite target in tight end Jace Sternberger but may have a receiving corps that can challenge Alabama on the talent scale. Four of Mond’s top receivers return in Quartney Davis, Jhamon Ausbon, Camron Buckley, and Kendrick Rogers. This group will be even more dangerous in 2019. Look out for true freshman tight end Baylor Cupp. Cupp is an amazing athlete with great hands capable of filling the void left by Sternberger.
On one hand the schedule does not play into A&M's favor but on the other hand, it might. On the bright side, the Aggies only have four games outside of the Lone Star State. The downer, three of the four teams faced on the road (Clemson, Georgia, and LSU) have the talent to challenge for a national title this season. The Aggies' toughest home game is against Alabama, another difficult obstacle to overcome.
If the football gods shine on A&M to a 10-2 regular season, splitting games between Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, and LSU, especially if the end of season road games in Athens and Baton Rouge are split or wins, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee may have seen enough of A&M to consider them one of the four spots, even if the Aggies don't play in the SEC Championship Game. Also worth noting is that A&M has two bye weeks this year, Week 6 and Week 10.
3. Offensive line
Never underestimate the importance of talent and experience along the offensive line. Another reason the 12th Man should be happy going into the 2019 schedule is the return of four starters in the offensive trenches. A reminder, this same front helped Trayveon Williams put together an All-SEC season in 2018 with 1,760 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground.
While Williams is testing his skills in the NFL, A&M has quality replacements in Jashaun Corbin, incoming transfer Cordarrian Richardson (UCF), and true freshman, four-star running back Isaiah Spiller. The cohesiveness of the line also will help Mond pick apart defenses by giving him ample time to throw to the embarrassment of riches on the outside.
Three Reasons Why A&M Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2019
Part of A&M's great turnaround in 2018 was the presence of a senior-laden defense to anchor coordinator Mike Elko's scheme. The defense went from 78th nationally to 32nd, allowing 60 fewer yards per game. The other noticeable difference was allowing six fewer points per game on average. Entering the 2019 season, Elko has just four starters back.
All is not lost on defense, as the Aggies have a lot of talent on defense, albeit a squad full of inexperienced juniors and sophomores. Justin Madubuike is the anchor along the line with talent around him in fellow tackles Bobby Brown and Jayden Peevy. Expect end Michael Clemons to have a breakout season; he has the size, athleticism, and speed to be an All-SEC performer. The secondary and linebacker unit will benefit from a talented front four.
For those who have a glass-half-empty outlook on life, the schedule is what may keep A&M from reaching the playoff. While A&M came within two points of perhaps the biggest upset of the year, nearly taking down eventual national champs Clemson (28-26), that game was at Kyle Field. The 45-23 loss to Alabama was never close with the Tide holding a 31-13 lead at halftime. In an optimistic turn, A&M did beat LSU 74-72 in seven overtimes but also accomplished that at home.
One thing that helps in the Clemson and Alabama showdowns, both are sandwiched between winnable games. The end of season run of facing South Carolina at home then Georgia and LSU on the road would even have Alabama and Clemson fans worried if the shoe was on the other foot.
3. Seeing everything a second time around
One thing that worked in Fisher's favor last season was being the new kid on the SEC block. The element of surprise will be lost in 2019 after being able to catch the opposition off guard at times the first time around. There's no doubt that offensive and defensive coordinators throughout the conference went over game tapes on the Aggies' 2018 season noting tendencies and play calls on various downs and distances.
Fisher is a national championship-winning coach, he knows what he is doing. But it may take a couple more years along the recruiting trail before he can stock the roster with talent replicating his 2013 season with Florida State culminating with a BCS National Championship Game win over Auburn (34-31).
The growth Texas A&M experienced in Year 1 with Jimbo Fisher at the helm was off the charts; far better than expected. The potential shown could lead one to unfairly overhype the Aggies in Year 2. The offense Fisher will put on the field has national top-10 potential with four offensive linemen back, amazing skill at receiver, and a junior quarterback coming into his own. One tipping point of the season will be an effective ground game against tough defenses like what Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, and LSU will furnish. The other unknown that could sink the potential of the Aggies is the defense. There is talent in College Station, but is that talent ready to shut down Georgia and LSU in back-to-back games to finish a grueling season?
A 10-2 regular season for A&M would be amazing and could be enough to push this squad into the playoff even if the Aggies did not make the SEC Championship Game. Another view at a great season would be a 9-3 finish meaning one of three giants were laid down, but not enough to make the dance this year. Winning nine games seems far more likely with an unproven defense and a team still learning to win on the road. If all the juniors on this squad return for the 2020 run, the Aggies might be the team to beat in the SEC West.
Athlon's Projected Final Ranking: 10
Athlon's Projected Final Record: 8-4 (5-3 SEC)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 7.5
5Dimes projected Over/Under Odds: 7.5
— 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.