Hopes have been high in College Station since the 2013 season with the 12th Man waiting for Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin to replicate and surpass an 11-2 debut campaign that saw the Aggies take down Alabama and Johnny Manziel hoist a Heisman Trophy.
But after five consecutive seasons of ho-hum results on the field, the Aggies issued walking papers for Sumlin in favor of Jimbo Fisher. Fisher heads to Texas with an ACC and national championship pedigree, stoking the flames of hope and expectations in Aggie Nation for similar results.
The march to a championship in Year 1 for Fisher and staff seems improbable, but a favorable home schedule should ensure the team a better finish than the 7-6 (4-4 in the SEC) campaign turned in a year ago.
Here is Texas A&M’s 2018 schedule, ranked from easiest game to toughest matchup.
12. Aug. 30 vs. Northwestern State
Hardly a fun opener for Texas A&M fans to see their new coach in action, but a stepping off point against a team like Northwestern State is ideal for Jimbo Fisher and company. The Demons struggled through a 4-7 season in 2017 out of the FCS’ Southland Conference.
This one should be over before the halfway point of the first quarter.
11. Nov. 17 vs. UAB
Not too often does one get to say watch out for UAB, but in 2018, watch out for UAB. The Blazers were a much-improved team in 2017 under second-year head coach Bill Clark. UAB surprised many, finishing 8-5 overall and 6-2 in Conference USA’s West Division.
The Blazers were no match for Florida in The Swamp falling 36-7 last season, but they return eight starters on offense, including running back Spencer Brown. The defense is questionable up front but loaded with experience in the back seven.
10. Sept. 15 vs. ULM
The Warhawks’ 4-8 record last season is very misleading. They went 4-4 in the Sun Belt, but also took on the likes of Memphis, Auburn, and Florida State in non-conference play. After suffering five close losses early in the schedule, ULM lost several tight games down the stretch.
Besides, Texas A&M the Warhawks also get their shot against Ole Miss on Oct. 6. They will be geared up for both.
9. Oct. 6 vs. Kentucky
A familiar echo reverberates through Lexington, “Is this the year?” Mark Stoops is slowly but surely changing the culture with the Wildcats. After winning just two games in his first season, UK is coming off of back-to-back 7-5 campaigns. For 2018, Kentucky has 15 starters returning, including 1,300-yard rusher Benny Snell Jr., but will have a new quarterback.
This game could be a coin toss considering how each team is faring entering into this cross-conference affair. Texas A&M will have faced Alabama on the road and Arkansas in Arlington, Texas, while Kentucky will have matched up against Mississippi State and South Carolina back-to-back.
8. Sept. 29 vs. Arkansas (in Arlington, Texas)
Funny how things change. The Hogs could not beat the Aggies with Kevin Sumlin running a spread while operating a pro-style set under former head coach Bret Bielema. Now Jimbo Fisher takes the field in a pro-style set and the Hogs are moving to a spread under new head coach Chad Morris.
This is a must-win game for Fisher. Texas A&M could be 2-2 with losses to Clemson and Alabama at this point even before going into the heart of its SEC schedule. Not continuing the Aggies’ dominance over the Razorbacks is not how Fisher wants to get his tenure started.
7. Nov. 10 vs. Ole Miss
Since Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012, many may be surprised to find out that this series has been split 3-3. The Aggies return seven starters on defense, but this unit will be challenged by the combination of quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and wide receiver A.J. Brown. Ta’amu was brilliant replacing an injured Shea Patterson last season, which is one reason why Patterson is now at Michigan.
Both teams will be in the midst of their conference slates when they meet in College Station. Ole Miss will have just played Arkansas, Auburn and South Carolina while Texas A&M will have just finished a three-game road trip against the Gamecocks, Mississippi State and those same Tigers. Slight edge to the Rebels on the schedule front, but will that even matter?
6. Oct. 27 at Mississippi State
If new Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead is as brilliant of an offensive mind as advertised, the Bulldogs will pull off a surprise or two in 2018. MSU is loaded with returning talent on both sides of the ball. If senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald can bounce back from the ankle injury he suffered in last year’s Egg Bowl, Mississippi State could be a dark horse in the SEC West. Either way, the Bulldogs are another team that the Aggies must watch out for this season.
MSU could limp into this one after facing Kentucky, Florida, Auburn and LSU in consecutive games. But with Louisiana Tech on tap after the Aggies, the Bulldogs should be focused and ready to make a statement at home.
5. Oct. 13 at South Carolina
The defense carried the Gamecocks in 2017, getting timely turnovers while holding opponents to 20.7 points per game, good for fifth in the SEC. This season, the offense should carry the load with eight starters back including quarterback Jake Bentley. Bentley will get his best wide receiver, Deebo Samuel, back from injury and has a host of other targets to throw to, including Bryan Edwards, OrTre Smith and Shi Smith.
The Aggies managed a hard-fought, 24-17 win over the Gamecocks last season, but they may not be so lucky this time on the road.
4. Nov. 24 vs. LSU
LSU could have easily been slotted between Arkansas and Ole Miss, but Jimbo Fisher needs to close out his first season in style avoiding the November slump suffered year after year under Kevin Sumlin. The Tigers are a big question mark on offense with a new coordinator, Steve Ensminger, while breaking in both a new quarterback and running back. There is talent in Baton Rouge, but can head coach Ed Orgeron get the best out of his roster?
Texas A&M nearly stole a win away from LSU in Death Valley last season before falling 21-17. This meeting has the makings of a slugfest.
3. Sept. 8 vs. Clemson
Just when Jimbo Fisher thought he had put tough ACC opponents in the rearview mirror, along comes Clemson. The Tigers have a streak of seven consecutive double-digit-win seasons and enter 2018 a heavy favorite to get back to the College Football Playoff. Simply put, Clemson has become a team no one really wants to see on its schedule.
Clemson will be ready for this one opening the season with Furman and with Georgia Southern after the Aggies. Losing this non-conference game will sting, but not as bad as falling to the best in the SEC West.
2. Nov. 3 at Auburn
Auburn may be just as talented as Alabama this year, but everyone is gunning for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, making this contest perhaps slightly overlooked. Playing in Jordan-Hare Stadium is a challenge, and this one will be no exception for Texas A&M. Making matters worse, this is the last of a three-game stretch of road contests for the Aggies that also includes South Carolina and Mississippi State. Ouch!
1. Sept. 22 at Alabama
Jimbo Fisher’s first road game with the Aggies comes in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Even if Texas A&M loses at home to Clemson two weeks prior, that game’s not as important as this one. Alabama is one of the reasons why Texas A&M gave Fisher $75 million to leave Florida State.
The Aggies have lost five in a row to the Crimson Tide, but had their best showing last season (losing 27-19) since beating them in 2012. Kevin Sumlin’s success and failures are Fisher’s measuring sticks until he can forge his own path. How will the Aggies open SEC play under their new head coach?
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-- 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.