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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|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||7||1st Down Rk||7|
|Q2 Rk||3||2nd Down Rk||6|
|Q3 Rk||10||3rd Down Rk||3|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|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.
|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%|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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.
|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|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||73||1st Down Rk||56|
|Q2 Rk||45||2nd Down Rk||73|
|Q3 Rk||33||3rd Down Rk||66|
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.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|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|
|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)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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)|
|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|
|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)|
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.
|Drew Kaser||6'3, 210||Jr.||44||47.4||7||14||17||70.5%|
|Taylor Bertolet||5'9, 185||Jr.||97||62.6||47||1||48.5%|
|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%|
|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|
|Special Teams F/+||21|
|Field Goal Efficiency||25|
|Punt Return Efficiency||52|
|Kick Return Efficiency||111|
|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
|28-Aug||at South Carolina||7|
|4-Oct||at Mississippi State||26|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||20.3% (13)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||7|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||1 / 1.4|
|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.