When No. 12 Texas A&M takes the field against the visiting Texas State Bobcats on Thursday, college football fans will quickly learn about the state of the Aggies in 2019. A&M is coming off an impressive 2018 season, finishing 9-4 (5-3 SEC) with an end-of-season No. 16 AP ranking after wiping out NC State (52-13) in the Gator Bowl. The Bobcats were an afterthought a year ago with a 3-9 (1-7 Sun Belt) record. The offensive performance for the Bobcats was statistically among the worst in the nation, but a couple of new additions in San Marcos with a stout returning defense could make for an interesting season opener for A&M.
Had nothing changed in San Marcos from last season, you could consider this contest a "layup win" for A&M. But Texas State has a new head coach in offensive-minded Jake Spavital and an offensive coordinator in Bob Stitt who is known for his innovation. Last season, the Bobcats could muster only 330 total yards per game while averaging 20 points per outing against lower-tier FBS foes. With Spavital, Stitt, and transfer quarterback Gresch Jensen from Montana, Texas State fans can expect their team to put up a fight on Thursday.
A&M was one of the hottest teams in college football at the end of the 2018 season, winning four straight, including a memorable seven-overtime victory against then-No. 8 LSU (74-72) in the regular-season finale. Many of the key pieces of the explosive A&M offense return, including four offensive linemen and quarterback Kellen Mond, an All-SEC candidate. Mond excelled in Year 1 in head coach Jimbo Fisher’s offense, throwing for 3,107 yards and 24 scores with seven rushing touchdowns. The receiving corps for the Aggies is as talented as any in the SEC, giving reason to believe this group will once be among the nation's top 15 in total offense.
Texas State at No. 12 Texas A&M
Kickoff: Thursday, Aug. 29 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Texas A&M -33.5
When Texas State Has the Ball
During the first quarter, you can expect a lot of missed assignments and some sloppy play for the Bobcats offense and for the Aggies defense. A&M may have an idea of what Spavital and company will run, but this will be the first showing of the new Bobcats offense, leading to more reactionary plays instead of instinctively reading what is happening. Texas State has an opportunity to surprise a young and inexperienced A&M defense that returns just four starters.
The A&M defense will be down a significant talent in returning starting cornerback Debione Renfro (suspension). Senior corner Charles Oliver should get the start in Renfro’s absence. Another potential leverage point for Bobcats quarterback Gresch Jensen is A&M’s safeties. Sophomore Leon O’Neal Jr. is expected to start, as is true freshman Demani Richardson. If the Bobcats can confuse the Aggies secondary early, some easy points might be up for grabs.
While the Texas State receivers may not stack up talent-wise with A&M’s, there is a wealth of experience in the group. Seven of the top targets from a year ago are back, led by Jeremiah Haydel, who averaged 20 yards per reception during his sophomore season. The Bobcats' interior linemen are returning starters, but watch the play at left and right tackle. Expect A&M to bring the heat off the edge early and often to pressure Jensen into poor throws.
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
While A&M may have one of college football’s best offenses, the Bobcats could have the best defense no one knows about — yet. Texas State returns 10 starters from a group that finished 53rd in the nation in total defense, limiting teams to 384 yards per game. This may not seem significant to A&M loyalists, but keep in mind how poor the Bobcats offense was last season. If this defense is not on the field the entire game, they may hold up to the challenge.
The SEC is a line-of-scrimmage conference, and the Aggies have the hogs up front to get the job done. The line is anchored by redshirt junior center Ryan McCollum, who is on the Rimington Trophy preseason watch list, with Dan Moore Jr. at left tackle, Jared Hocker at left guard and Carson Green at right tackle. The play at right guard should attract attention with the start expected to go to five-star true freshman Kenyon Green. Can the Bobcats' 3-4 defense hold up to the pounding from A&M’s linemen for four quarters?
All eyes will be on Mond’s performance in the pocket, but the running game offers intrigue. If A&M’s front line controls the line of scrimmage, it will not matter much who is taking the handoffs. But the game serves a greater purpose — finding a replacement for 1,700-yard rusher Trayveon Williams going into conference play. Jashaun Corbin (hamstring) has the most returning experience but could be pushed for playing time by incoming talent as the game evolves.
Knowing that in Texas State’s seven-year existence at the FBS level, the high point has been a seven-win season (2014), A&M fans expect a rout of their in-state little brothers on Thursday. The 33.5-point spread suggests that A&M will lay it on, but don’t be surprised if Texas State can keep it close through the first half. If Spavital does not get too cute with the play calling and Jensen does not shrink under the challenge, this might be more of a game early on than many have predicted.
Another caution for A&M is not to get caught looking ahead. After warming up against the Bobcats, A&M must go on the road to face defending national champion Clemson on the Tigers’ home turf. If Mond and company press early trying to end the game in the first quarter without getting into a flow, again, this could become more of a game than anticipated. After falling 28-26 at home against Clemson last season, the Aggies are ready for a rematch, but they must take care of business first in Week 1 at home.
Prediction: Texas A&M 45, Texas State 17
— 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.