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The big 2014 Texas A&M football guide: The next Aggie generation takes over

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Texas A&M has enough experience, especially on the offensive line, to assure that the bar doesn't fall too low in this post-Manziel universe. Still, the Aggies will have a young quarterback facing a brutal schedule. That sets the bar around 8-4.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Year 0 A.M.

The one constant among college stars: they always leave. Billy Cannon left LSU. Archie Manning left Ole Miss. Herschel Walker left Georgia. Bo Jackson left Auburn. Derrick Thomas left Alabama. Peyton Manning left Tennessee. Tim Couch left Kentucky. Fred Smoot left Mississippi State. Jay Cutler left Vanderbilt. Darren McFadden left Arkansas. Chase Daniel left Missouri. Tim Tebow left Florida. Jadeveon Clowney left South Carolina.

And Johnny Manziel left Texas A&M.

In two turbulent years as the Aggies' starting quarterback, Manziel threw for 7,800 yards, rushed for 2,100*, threw or ran for 93 touchdowns, won the Heisman Trophy, and led A&M to 20 wins, the most for the Aggies in a two-year span since 1997-98. For most of two coaching tenures (Dennis Franchione, Mike Sherman) and the final act of a third (R.C. Slocum), A&M's perceptions of its own grandeur weren't exactly aligned with the reality of its results. Manziel was the face of the two teams that not only lived up to those perceptions but raised them to a new, incomprehensibly silly, awesome level.

Two years ago, A&M was a perpetual underachiever. Now the Aggies are Texas' dominant recruiting force, with Kevin Sumlin picking and choosing from Texas high school talent and co-opting all of the shine that the University of Texas has lost in recent years. Sumlin's own coaching strengths had as much to do with A&M's success as Manziel's absurd talent, and it would take rather massive underachievement to prevent the Aggies from becoming a consistent top-15 presence in years to come. But will 2014 represent a step into the future or a reset, a new year zero?

Manziel's gone. All-American receiver Mike Evans is gone. Top draft pick Jake Matthews is gone. All three starting linebackers are gone. Most of the blue-chip talent Sumlin has attracted is only now entering either the first or second year in the program.

A&M is not going to win 11 games in 2014, as it did in 2012, but the level of success this fall will set the bar for years to come. With the talent at hand, a seven- or eight-win season would probably result in a top-20 preseason ranking next year. But if the Aggies fare well with a first-year quarterback and another young front seven -- to the tune of, say, nine or 10 wins -- then you'll be watching a team destined for top-10 projections and "darkhorse title contender" talk next summer.

Sumlin is a confident guy who is building a confident program in his, and Manziel's, image. He's already lost a decent chunk of his stellar 2013 recruiting class, but he's got another fresh haul this year, and he'll have another one next year. In the toughest division in college football, his Aggies have more than held their own, even with a disappointing nine-win campaign last year. The ceiling for A&M in 2014 isn't as high as it will be in 2015 or 2016, but he and Aggies have a chance to make a statement in the coming months, to take advantage of being overlooked for one of the last times. Will they succeed?

* Think about that. He left school having almost averaged a 4,000/1,000 season, passing and rushing. Remember when 2,000/1,000 was amazing?

2. "At first glance A&M looked like a penitentiary"

Once or twice a year, I stumble across a reason to recall and re-read Bear Bryant's Sports Illustrated column from 1966. It is a doozy. It is gossipy, revealing, and self-deprecating, and it contains a passage that seems almost surreal at this point:

I went off and left Kentucky with the second best squad I ever had. Blanton Collier came in there the next year and had a winner. We had the new home and all those goodies, and it broke Mary Harmon's heart. Worse than that, when she got off the plane at College Station, Texas she turned white.

Texas A&M is a great educational institution with rich traditions, but at that time it was the toughest place in the world to bring players to because nobody wanted to go there. Don Meredith told me before he went to SMU, "Coach, I'd love to play for you if you were only someplace else."

At first glance A&M looked like a penitentiary. No girls. No glamour. And those darn Aggies make the worst enemies there are. You get two of them together and you get big talking. They are proud of that school, you better believe it. I nearly died when I saw what I was getting into. I remember what Dr. Tom Harrington, the chancellor, told me. He said, "Paul, this place will grow on you," and he was right.

Granted, "They are proud of that school, you better believe it," feels like a gross understatement. But it's amusing to realize that, almost 60 years after being "the toughest place in the world to bring players to because nobody wanted to go there," A&M is signing top-10 recruiting classes. Now Sumlin just has to prove he can turn those classes into wins in a post-Manziellian world.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 23
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug Rice 69 52-31 W 54.6 - 34.1 W
7-Sep Sam Houston State N/A 65-28 W 43.3 - 31.8 W
14-Sep Alabama 2 42-49 L 65.9 - 37.8 W
21-Sep SMU 84 42-13 W 41.6 - 25.3 W
28-Sep at Arkansas 87 45-33 W 36.9 - 38.5 L 15.0
12-Oct at Ole Miss 28 41-38 W 44.6 - 30.2 W 13.7
19-Oct Auburn 4 41-45 L 42.5 - 28.9 W 14.2
26-Oct Vanderbilt 50 56-24 W 53.2 - 20.8 W 15.0
2-Nov UTEP 119 57-7 W 40.8 - 11.7 W 17.6
9-Nov Mississippi State 33 51-41 W 49.3 - 34.8 W 20.8
23-Nov at LSU 17 10-34 L 20.3 - 27.0 L 16.6
30-Nov at Missouri 14 21-28 L 27.1 - 25.0 W 14.3
31-Dec vs. Duke 41 52-48 W 53.1 - 42.2 W 10.0
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +24.0% 1 -5.1% 86 +2.3% 21
Points Per Game 44.2 5 32.2 95
Adj. Points Per Game 44.1 2 29.8 85

3. The problems were obvious

Johnny Manziel was a little bit banged up in 2013, and that, combined with the fact that A&M's losses doubled from two to four, leads us to the perception that the Aggie offense wasn't as potent as it had been in 2012. Granted, there were some sketchy moments late in the year, when the Aggies scored a total of 31 points and averaged a mortal 5.3 yards per play against LSU and Missouri.

But for the season as a whole, A&M matched its previous output, following up a No. 1 finish in Off. F/+ in 2012 by doing the same in 2013.

If you remember anything about A&M last fall, of course, you realize the problem came on the other side of the ball. A&M's 2012 breakthrough came not only because it had the best offense in the country, but also because it had a top-15 defense (according to Def. F/+). It ... did not in 2013. The Aggie defense was quite poor out of the gates, improved to above average down the stretch, then fell apart in the first half of the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): A&M 48.5, Opponent 33.5 (plus-15.0)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): A&M 46.1, Opponent 25.3 (plus-20.8)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 3 games): A&M 33.5, Opponent 31.4 (plus-2.1)

For the season, A&M fell all the way to 86th in Def. F/+, but if there's a silver lining, it's that the D did indeed improve over the last half of the season (bowl aside). After allowing 8.6 yards per play to Alabama, 7.3 to Arkansas' one-dimensional attack, and 6.7 to FCS Sam Houston State, A&M allowed 4.3 to Vanderbilt, 3.3 to UTEP, and a mediocre-but-not-terrible 6.6 to Mississippi State, LSU, and Missouri down the stretch. If the Aggies were returning quite a few of the reasons for that improvement, I would say this bodes well for the future. But the combination of graduation and unexpected offseason attrition will almost certainly hold the Aggies back in 2014.

Still, A&M's offense was good enough to still lead the Aggies to nine wins, with losses only to four teams in the F/+ top 17, three away from home. For a "disappointing" season, that's not bad.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.23 25 IsoPPP+ 113.9 12
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 55.5% 1 Succ. Rt. + 128.2 3
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 25.5 3 Def. FP+ 107.4 6
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.0 11 Redzone S&P+ 135.6 3
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.6 ACTUAL 21 +2.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 4 3 3 2
RUSHING 45 4 3 17
PASSING 7 4 2 2
Standard Downs 2 3 11
Passing Downs 3 3 30
Q1 Rk 7 1st Down Rk 7
Q2 Rk 3 2nd Down Rk 6
Q3 Rk 10 3rd Down Rk 3
Q4 Rk 1

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Johnny Manziel 300 429 4114 37 13 69.9% 20 4.5% 8.9
Matt Joeckel 22 37 293 2 0 59.5% 0 0.0% 7.9
Kenny Hill 6'1, 215 So. 4 stars (5.9) 16 22 183 1 0 72.7% 1 4.3% 7.9
Kyle Allen 6'3, 205 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)

4. A top-5 offense again in 2015

In 2015, Texas A&M will, in theory, return a blue-chip starting quarterback (either Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen), some combination of blue-chip senior running backs, and two blue-chip sophomore receivers (Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil). The Aggies will have to replace more on the offensive line than we're used to seeing (of the five returnees with starting experience, three are seniors), but it's easy to talk yourself into A&M having a terrifying offense next fall. (And yes, there could always be attrition, injuries, busts, and other reasons why these blue-chippers don't end up playing like it.) What we don't know is how quickly the Aggies might get there.

Reading tea leaves (which basically means watching stretch lines and drill order) tells us sophomore Kenny Hill might have a small lead over five-star freshman Kyle Allen in the quarterbacks battle; and sure, it seemed like Jameil Showers had a lead on Manziel two years ago, right up until Sumlin named Manziel the starter. But whoever wins will have all the physical skills in the world, not to mention one hell of a line, three reasonably experienced running backs, three efficiency receivers (Malcome Kennedy, LaQuvionte Gonalez, Sabian Holmes), and the aforementioned Seals-Jones and Noil. But he'll probably make his share of rookie mistakes, following a good set of plays/drives/games with a sketchy one. But aside from the line, his supporting cast will only get better next year.

In a Sumlin offense, however, the quarterback is the key. In six years as a head coach at Houston and A&M, Sumlin is 55-23 -- 20-6 with Manziel, 32-10 with All-American Case Keenum at UH, and 3-7 with others. And fair or not, you could point out that he inherited both Keenum and Manziel and didn't actually recruit them himself. If Hill or Allen turns into a star, that will be his first homegrown success at the position.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Johnny Manziel QB 124 899 9 7.3 4.1 64.5%
Ben Malena RB 115 562 10 4.9 3.0 45.2%
Tra Carson RB 6'0, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 62 329 7 5.3 4.6 40.3%
Trey Williams RB 5'8, 195 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 58 407 6 7.0 6.0 48.3%
Brandon Williams RB 6'0, 200 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 44 269 1 6.1 4.8 56.8%
Brice Dolezal RB 5'9, 180 Jr. NR 21 79 0 3.8 1.7 38.1%
Kenny Hill QB 6'1, 215 So. 4 stars (5.9) 6 39 0 6.5 3.6 66.7%

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Mike Evans WR 99 69 1394 69.7% 21.1% 72.2% 14.1 591 13.8 234.2
Malcome Kennedy WR 6'0, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 85 60 658 70.6% 18.1% 70.4% 7.7 -36 7.3 110.5
Derel Walker WR 74 51 818 68.9% 15.8% 65.2% 11.1 221 11.8 137.4
Travis Labhart WR 70 51 626 72.9% 14.9% 64.5% 8.9 45 10.3 105.2
LaQuvionte Gonzalez WR 5'10, 165 So. 4 stars (5.8) 33 21 240 63.6% 7.0% 70.8% 7.3 -16 6.2 40.3
Ben Malena RB 25 21 190 84.0% 5.3% 70.8% 7.6 -34 7.3 31.9
Sabian Holmes WR 5'11, 175 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 21 17 210 81.0% 4.5% 70.0% 10.0 25 9.4 35.3
Trey Williams RB 5'8, 195 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 10 10 54 100.0% 2.1% 60.0% 5.4 -45 5.1 9.1
Edward Pope WR 6'4, 180 So. 4 stars (5.8) 9 9 65 100.0% 1.9% 33.3% 7.2 -24 8.0 10.9
Ja'Quay Williams WR 8 4 71 50.0% 1.7% 50.0% 8.9 16 6.1 11.9
Jeremy Tabuyo WR 5'11, 180 So. 3 stars (5.6) 7 5 21 71.4% 1.5% 33.3% 3.0 -37 2.3 3.5
Cameron Clear TE 6'6, 277 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 5 4 42 80.0% 1.1% 75.0% 8.4 -2 9.9 7.1
Ricky Seals-Jones WR 6'5, 235 RSFr. 4 stars (6.0) 4 3 84 75.0% 0.9% 100.0% 21.0 50 11.7 14.1
Kyrion Parker WR 6'2, 200 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Brandon Alexander TE 6'6, 266 Jr. 3 stars (5.7)
Josh Reynolds WR 6'4, 190 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Speedy Noil WR 5'11, 190 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)
Frank Iheanacho WR 6'6, 220 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

5. High floor, high ceiling

Plenty of teams recruit at an elite level, and not all of them develop those kids properly. So just because A&M has a boatload of former four- and five-star recruits doesn't guarantee success. Obviously. But if the starting quarterback of choice is at least competent in 2014, then we've seen just enough out of the supporting cast to get excited. Plus, there are just enough known quantities to keep both ceiling and floor high.

First, you do have a trio of junior running backs -- big Tra Carson and two former blue-chippers, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams; they combined for almost 13 carries per game and 6.1 yards per carry in backing up the steady but replaceable Ben Malena last year. And in the aforementioned Kennedy, Gonzalez, and Holmes, you've got three wideouts who combined for almost 11 targets per game and a 71 percent catch rate.

With that sextet of upperclassmen (well, Gonzalez is a sophomore, but the other five are juniors and seniors), A&M won't have to rely on Seals-Jones (who had three catches for 84 yards against Rice before getting hurt and missing the rest of the season), Noil, and big JUCO receiver Josh Reynolds, all of whom could begin the year as starters. No matter how much hype we've read about Seals-Jones being the next Mike Evans and Noil becoming an immediate big-play and return threat, that doesn't need to happen. But if it does, then A&M's going to be deadly, and soon.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 124.9 3.64 4.03 51.4% 71.4% 16.0% 145.6 2.4% 6.2%
Rank 3 6 12 2 45 18 20 12 55
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jake Matthews LT 46 Consensus All-American, 1st All-SEC
Jarvis Harrison LG 6'4, 330 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 30
Cedric Ogbuehi LT 6'5, 305 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 30
Mike Matthews C 6'2, 290 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 13
Germain Ifedi RT 6'5, 325 So. 3 stars (5.7) 13
Garrett Gramling LG 6'6, 310 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 2
Shep Klinke LG 0
Ben Compton C 6'4, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0
Joseph Cheek RG 6'7, 310 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0
Jeremiah Stuckey LT 6'4, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0
Ryan Lindblade RT 6'7, 305 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0
Avery Gennesy LT 6'5, 305 Jr. 4 stars (5.8)
Jermaine Eluemunor RG 6'4, 315 Jr. 4 stars (5.8)
Zach Ledwik OL 6'5, 282 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

6. No Matthews, no problem

Texas A&M ranked second in Adj. Line Yards and 53rd in Adj. Sack Rate in 2012. The Aggies had to replace top draft pick Luke Joeckel and four-year starting center Patrick Lewis ... and ranked third and 20th last year. Part of that was due to Manziel making more quick passes and trying to dial down the video-game play-making craziness a bit (the frequency of the craziness, anyway), and part of that was due to a lovely set of running backs. Still, the Aggies lost a pair of irreplaceable linemen and improved their line stats.

So you'll forgive them if they think they can move on from the loss of four-year starter and All-American Jake Matthews, too. And you'll forgive me for assuming they're right. A&M returns its other four starters, including Jarvis Harrison and Everybody's Next All-American Cedric Ogbuehi, who have combined for 60 starts. They also return well-seasoned backups Garrett Gramling and Ben Compton, plus a pair of four-star JUCO transfers (Avery Gennesy, Jermaine Eluemunor).

They lose Matthews, and they still might have the best line in the SEC. Life is hard.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.24 102 IsoPPP+ 96.2 87
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.2% 98 Succ. Rt. + 99.2 56
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 32.2 22 Off. FP+ 104.5 17
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.9 115 Redzone S&P+ 99.4 62
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.1 ACTUAL 22.0 +1.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 111 71 56 79
RUSHING 111 77 77 61
PASSING 97 62 42 97
Standard Downs 68 55 100
Passing Downs 75 68 61
Q1 Rk 73 1st Down Rk 56
Q2 Rk 45 2nd Down Rk 73
Q3 Rk 33 3rd Down Rk 66
Q4 Rk 106

7. Wounds, self-inflicted and otherwise

Injuries, youth, and idiocy have combined to hurt the Aggie defense pretty significantly over the last year. It has done the same in the offseason.

First, the former: A&M played 23 regulars on defense (defined here as players who averaged at least 1.0 tackles per game). Of those 22, seven played in all 13 games: rush end Daeshon Hall, linebacker Nate Askew, backup linebacker Jordan Mastroviovanni, safeties Howard Matthews and Toney Hurd Jr., and corners Deshazor Everett and Tramain Jacobs. The front seven just had no chance, playing tons of freshmen and sophomores and dealing with tons of shuffling. The results were predictable: A&M ranked 77th in Rushing S&P+, 69th in Adj. Line Yards, and 109th in Adj. Sack Rate. After rush end Damontre Moore finished with 12.5 sacks in 2012, Hall, Gavin Stansbury, and Tyrell Taylor combined for just three.

Now, the latter: Stansbury transferred to Houston. Nose guard Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne, both starters as true freshmen last fall, were arrested and dismissed. Last year's growing pains were supposed to pay off with experience and depth in 2014, and they still could; Hall is still just a sophomore (even if he's a "rush end" looking for his first sack), as are ends Tyrone Taylor and Jay Arnold, tackle/road grader Hardreck Walker, and linebackers Mastrogiovanni and Shaan Washington (who's out a few weeks with injury). Tackle Alonzo Williams and end Julien Obioha are juniors. Plus, while this doesn't help with experience levels, a new batch of former blue-chippers could join the rotation sooner than later: five-star freshman Myles Garrett, high-four-star redshirt freshman Justin Manning, and high-four-star true freshmen Qualen Cunningham, Deshawn Washington, Zaycoven Henderson, and Otaro Alaka.

Still, A&M has gone from five returning starters in the front seven to two. That's not a good look, and it might take until 2015 for the experience levels to get to a level that allows for success.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 98.3 3.41 3.91 46.2% 53.3% 17.8% 70.8 4.4% 3.2%
Rank 69 118 117 117 6 83 109 66 121
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Gavin Stansbury RUSH 10 38.0 5.0% 3.0 3.0 0 0 0 0
Julien Obioha DE 6'4, 265 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 27.0 3.6% 5.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Daeshon Hall RUSH 6'6, 260 So. 4 stars (5.8) 13 20.5 2.7% 3.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Isaiah Golden NG 12 20.0 2.7% 3.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Alonzo Williams DT 6'4, 296 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 11 17.5 2.3% 2.5 2.5 0 3 0 0
Ivan Robinson DT 6'3, 290 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 11 17.0 2.3% 2.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Tyrone Taylor DE 6'3, 257 So. 3 stars (5.6) 10 10.0 1.3% 3.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Jay Arnold DE 6'4, 284 So. 3 stars (5.6) 9 9.5 1.3% 3.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Kirby Ennis DL 4 3.5 0.5% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Hardreck Walker NG 6'2, 300 So. 4 stars (5.8) 9 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tyrell Taylor RUSH 6'4, 235 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 2 2.5 0.3% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Justin Manning DT 6'1, 300 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9)
Myles Garrett DE 6'5, 255 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)
Qualen Cunningham DE 6'3, 247 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)
Deshawn Washington DT 6'3, 290 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)
Zaycoven Henderson NG 6'1, 310 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Steven Jenkins WLB 11 66.5 8.8% 5.5 1.0 0 3 1 0
Darian Claiborne MLB 12 59.0 7.8% 7.0 1.5 1 0 2 0
Nate Askew SLB 13 31.5 4.2% 4.5 1.5 3 1 0 0
Donnie Baggs SLB 6'1, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 20.5 2.7% 3.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Shaan Washington SLB 6'3, 235 So. 3 stars (5.6) 12 18.0 2.4% 4.0 3.0 0 0 1 0
Jordan Mastrogiovanni MLB 6'3, 244 So. 3 stars (5.7) 13 16.5 2.2% 1.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Tommy Sanders WLB 6'2, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 11 14.0 1.9% 3.0 0.0 2 0 0 0
A.J. Hilliard WLB 6'2, 230 So. 3 stars (5.7)
Reggie Chevis MLB 6'1, 255 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Otaro Alaka LB 6'3, 225 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Howard Matthews BS 6'2, 210 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 67.0 8.9% 2.5 0 3 6 1 0
Deshazor Everett CB 6'0, 193 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 54.5 7.2% 2 0 2 7 0 1
De'Vante Harris CB 5'11, 175 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 11 49.0 6.5% 2.5 0 1 8 0 0
Toney Hurd Jr. NB 13 46.0 6.1% 2 2 1 1 1 0
Clay Honeycutt FS 6'2, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 8 34.0 4.5% 1.5 0 1 1 0 0
Floyd Raven Sr. FS 6'2, 200 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 9 29.5 3.9% 0.5 0 0 2 0 0
Tramain Jacobs CB 13 28.0 3.7% 1 0 1 8 0 0
Alex Sezer Jr. NB 5'9, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 13 8.0 1.1% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Noel Ellis NB 5'10, 180 So. 4 stars (5.8) 8 5.0 0.7% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Sam Moeller FS 5'11, 186 Jr. NR 13 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jonathan Wiggins BS 6'3, 218 So. 3 stars (5.5) 9 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tavares Garner CB 6'0, 183 So. 4 stars (5.8) 7 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Devonta Burns FS 6'0, 214 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)
Victor Davis CB 6'0, 191 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Nick Harvey DB 5'10, 180 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)
Armani Watts DB 5'11, 190 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Hey, we finally joined Facebook!

8. The secondary should come around

The glitches were typically significant -- aggression frequently backfired -- but A&M's secondary was a step ahead of the front seven last year, and with more experience, that should remain the case in 2014. Four seniors (three safeties and corner Deshazor Everett) are back to lead the way, along with junior corner De'Vante Harris, and while bowl game hero Toney Hurd Jr. is gone, experience is a strength. Meanwhile, blue-chip freshman Nick Harvey could be ready for a role.

The whole defense was less than the sum of its parts last year; a total lack of continuity played a role in that, but it's hard to say how much of one. We'll probably find out in 2014.  Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder has had one great year and one terrible year in charge of the defense, and this fall will break the tie.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Drew Kaser 6'3, 210 Jr. 44 47.4 7 14 17 70.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Taylor Bertolet 5'9, 185 Jr. 97 62.6 47 1 48.5%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Josh Lambo 6'0, 220 Jr. 50-51 5-6 83.3% 3-4 75.0%
Taylor Bertolet 5'9, 185 Jr. 23-26 1-2 50.0% 1-1 100.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Trey Williams KR 5'8, 195 Jr. 28 25.2 0
LaQuvionte Gonzalez KR 5'10, 165 So. 8 20.5 0
De'Vante Harris PR 5'11, 175 Jr. 11 6.7 0
Travis Labhart PR 5 11.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 21
Field Goal Efficiency 25
Punt Return Efficiency 52
Kick Return Efficiency 111
Punt Efficiency 20
Kickoff Efficiency 9
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 56

9. Strong legs in abundance

Despite a mediocre-at-best return game, A&M's special teams unit graded out well overall thanks to the legs. Drew Kaser was asked to punt barely three times per game, but he was incredible, averaging over 47 yards per kick with a high rate of fair catches. He would outkick his coverage from time to time (A&M allowed 10.7 yards per punt return, 98th in the country), but you can live with that with this level of field-flipping.

Meanwhile, Taylor Bertolet booted touchbacks nearly two-thirds of the time on kickoffs, and after Bertolet showed some shakiness as a pace-kicker, Josh Lambo took over and did fine.

All the legs are back this fall. That's excellent news for A&M's field position game.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
28-Aug at South Carolina 7
6-Sep Lamar NR
13-Sep Rice 85
20-Sep at SMU 76
27-Sep vs. Arkansas 53
4-Oct at Mississippi State 26
11-Oct Ole Miss 24
18-Oct at Alabama 2
1-Nov UL-Monroe 106
8-Nov at Auburn 8
15-Nov Missouri 22
27-Nov LSU 12
Five-Year F/+ Rk 20.3% (13)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 7
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 1 / 1.4
TO Luck/Game -0.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 10 (5, 5)

10. Stock up in September

Last year's A&M preview was titled "How the hell do you top that?" We know now that the answer was "You don't." You don't replace Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, either.

But while there are just enough question marks to bump A&M below the top tier in the SEC West, and while there is enough youth to ensure that every batch of strong plays is followed by a mistake, I think we might be bumping A&M down a bit too far this year.

The offense won't be the best in the country, but it'll probably be a top-20 unit. And while there are reasons to doubt the defense, the odds of an injury crisis similar to 2013 are small, and the floor should be quite a bit higher. The 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes aren't ready to take over just yet, but there's enough experience -- at running back, at receiver, in the secondary, on the defensive line, and especially on the offensive line -- to ensure a pretty high-quality product.

A&M isn't winning 11 games this year, but you can set the bar pretty high. Of course, when I say that, I'm talking about A&M on paper, not A&M in the win column.

The Aggies will need to play at a top-20 level just to reach 8-4. After christening the SEC Network with a trip to South Carolina, they will have a chance to build confidence and stock up on wins in September; that's a good thing, as six of the final seven opponents are projected 26th or better. The Aggies will probably have to split those six just to win eight games, and while I think they'll hit that mark, they probably won't exceed it.

There's no shame in that, but if A&M wants to continue dominating in Texas recruiting as it has of late, there will need to be another huge season in the coming years.