Football season is ever so close, and by now you have or will be inundated by depth charts, predictions and a glut of information on any team you want to learn about.
Well, here’s some more of that in a little different package, as I go “out on the limb” about all 14 SEC teams with a look at each:
Today: Texas A&M Aggies
2014: 8-5, 3-5 SEC; beat West Virginia 45-37 in the Liberty Bowl
1) Get defensive
Texas A&M very effectively solved half of the SEC puzzle in the three seasons since it joined the league. In fact, A&M has been a trendsetter in a way on offense and helped improve the league’s reputation on that side of the ball, thanks to coach Kevin Sumlin’s high-octane scheme in those first three seasons.
Half-solved puzzles leave a lot to be desired, though, and that’s why it’s absolutely vital that the Aggies show some signs of progress on defense soon to be more than a middle-of-the-pack program in the loaded SEC West.
Sumlin addressed that by jumping into the middle of a messy divorce between LSU and John Chavis, and in fact would be pegged as the other woman in the real world. Chavis brings a long and mostly proven SEC resume with so many years at Tennessee and with the Tigers. But at the end of both tenures, his defenses became predictable and glaringly vulnerable in late-game situations.
A fresh start with what seems to be a talented and veteran defense (eight starters are back) might be exactly what Chavis needed, but a legitimate question is, has the rest of the SEC already developed a blue print for his scheme, regardless of which color of jersey his players are wearing?
2) Keep doing what you’re doing
As badly as the Aggies need to turn the worm on defense, there’s absolutely no reason to change a single thing on offense. The only teams that have slowed A&M down much in Sumlin’s first three seasons are LSU, with Chavis as the defensive architect; Missouri, which has quietly carved out a spot as one of the SEC’s best defenses; and Alabama last season (the Crimson Tide’s 59-0 victory last year was the worst loss ever by a Sumlin team).
In 2014, those three clubs held A&M to an average of 197.3 yards of total offense, with the Aggies churning out 532.8 against their 10 other foes. This fall will be the second season as the starter for quarterback Kyle Allen and that should bode well for more consistency, even against the league’s defensive stalwarts. There are also no shortage of battle-tested skill-position options for Allen to choose from.
3) Get playmakers involved and keep them busy
Recruiting has leapt forward under Sumlin’s staff and it’s time to see if some of those big names can be the kind of players who take the Aggies from good to great. Receivers Ricky Seals-Jones (49 receptions, 465 yards, 4 TDs) and Speedy Noil (46-583-5) produced very solid numbers in the passing game last season, but they simply have to be more explosive.
Pass-rushing maniac Myles Garrett was huge with 11.5 sacks and 10 QB pressures, but he has to emerge as more of a factor on the edge vs. the run – especially against the read-option/spread offenses A&M will encounter. Likewise, defensive backs Devonta Burns and De’Vante Harris have to help the Aggies ramp up their numbers on turnovers forced: A&M picked off only five passes in 431 opponent pass attempts a year ago.
4) Make home sweet again
Three of Texas A&M’s losses a year ago came at Kyle Field to Ole Miss (35-20), Missouri (34-27) and LSU (34-27) – all when the A&M offense scuffled a bit. That trend has to change, and with a 2015 home slate that features Mississippi State, Alabama, South Carolina and Auburn, the chance looms large for the Aggies to nab a handful of signature wins. A&M’s home stadium can be a very intimidating place, especially now with the additions and larger capacity. But the execution on the field has to match whatever intensity the “12th Man” can stir up.
If the Aggies intend to be a serious factor in the West this fall, going 4-0 in those games is a must.
5) Deliver a statement right off the bat
Yes, the SEC schedule is the biggest focus for A&M and should be. However, getting the season off on the right foot against Arizona State this week would be an attention-getter for them and perhaps the rest of the conference as well.
The Sun Devils’ frenetic offense will put the new-look the Aggies’ defense to an immediate test and if they can be stingy enough to produce a victory in Week 1, that’s a huge launching pad for what lies ahead and culminates with a neutral-site league opener against Arkansas at AT&T Stadium up the road in Arlington, Texas.
This might be A&M’s most tell-tale season opener in Sumlin’s tenure.