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Texas A&M's loaded with talent. Can the Aggies handle a monstrous schedule?

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Kevin Sumlin's got blue-chippers and hired one of the country's best defensive coordinators. Is that enough to stay afloat in the SEC West?

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Aggies in flux

A&M fans never hesitate to tell you how talented their team is. It is often true, often not, but that isn't the point. Aggie Confidence never wavers.

Kevin Sumlin looks, walks and talks like a badass. He oozes confidence and hypnotizes you even when he is simply delivering the same coachspeak you hear from everybody else.

Sumlin's staff was exciting: air raid disciple Kliff Kingsbury as offensive coordinator, Jim Tressel disciple Mark Snyder on defense. And because the bones of this program were solid, Sumlin was in position to deliver the one thing A&M didn't have: late-game confidence.

I wrote that more than two seasons ago, after A&M's classic upset of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Everything about Sumlin's presence made perfect sense in his first season. A team that couldn't close games in 2011 suddenly could. Sumlin's Aggies were an unstoppable killing machine on offense and had a defense athletic enough to make the right plays. A&M went 11-2, peaking with not only a win over eventual national champion Alabama, but an incredible Cotton Bowl performance over an Oklahoma that finished ninth in the F/+ rankings. Thanks to the late heights, A&M finished second in F/+.

The defense stumbled in 2013 thanks to the loss of all-world playmaker Damontre Moore and most of the rest of the front seven. The defense was too young, but the wins continued. Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans made A&M's offense even scarier -- second in Off. S&P+ in 2012, first in 2013 -- and only tight losses to Alabama and Auburn marred an 8-2 start. At that point, Sumlin was 19-4 and recruiting well enough to envision the Aggies as fixtures in the top 10, despite life in the nation's toughest division.

Since then, Texas A&M is 9-7. Losses to LSU and Missouri ended Manziel's career on a frustrating note, and while the defense improved in 2014, it wasn't enough. With youth all over and not nearly enough discipline, A&M slipped to 8-5 and 42nd in F/+.

Swagger only matters when you've got your other bases covered. Sumlin signs great recruiting classes and plays his star recruits early. But when combined with some off-the-field issues, this has resulted in a two-deep too young to succeed, even by the standards of a program that produced the first redshirt freshman Heisman winner.

A&M is in flux. Because of the highs, the Aggies are still a top-15 program in five-year averages and have been recruiting at a top-10 level. But no one has much faith in them.

The Aggies boast an offense that is young but all sorts of dangerous, and Sumlin hired one hell of a defensive coordinator to right that ship: longtime LSU D.C. John Chavis. The last time so many of us wrote the Aggies off, they won 11 games. There is upside for another surprise, even if every other team in the SEC West has similar upside.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 42
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
28-Aug at South Carolina 38 52-28 W 92% 33.2 99%
6-Sep Lamar N/A 73-3 W 98% 46.8 100%
13-Sep Rice 86 38-10 W 96% 39.7 100%
20-Sep at SMU 127 58-6 W 98% 48.1 100%
27-Sep Arkansas 9 35-28 W 87% 26.3 85%
4-Oct at Mississippi State 13 31-48 L 25% -15.9 0%
11-Oct Ole Miss 5 20-35 L 40% -6.2 5%
18-Oct at Alabama 2 0-59 L 4% -39.7 0%
1-Nov UL-Monroe 97 21-16 W 58% 4.9 72%
8-Nov at Auburn 7 41-38 W 57% 4.1 29%
15-Nov Missouri 20 27-34 L 60% 5.9 43%
27-Nov LSU 22 17-23 L 50% -0.1 22%
29-Dec vs. West Virginia 40 45-37 W 88% 27.5 97%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 37.6 18 27.3 58
Points Per Game 35.2 28 28.1 77

2. Sometimes stats and eyeballs see the same thing

Five games into last season, the tone was different. Despite the turnover on offense, the Aggies were rolling behind new quarterback Kenny Hill. On the opening Thursday, they went on the road and emasculated a South Carolina team many thought of as a top-10 team.

And after laying waste to three lower-level teams (including a Rice squad that would win eight games), they survived an overtime battle with an Arkansas team that turned out to be quite good. The offense was averaging 51 points per game and 8 yards per play, and a remade defense was allowing 15 and 5. And while some of that had to do with the schedule, even the opponent-adjusted numbers were sold.

The Arkansas win required magic -- A&M trailed by 14 in the fourth quarter and needed a 59-yard bomb with two minutes left to force overtime -- and the magic ran out. Opponents got a read on Hill, and the defense reverted to 2013 form. Against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Alabama, the Aggies were outscored by a 142-51 margin, allowing 7.1 yards per play and averaging 4.9.

A&M totally collapsed.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 5 games): 94% (~top 8 | record: 5-0)
  • Average Percentile Performance (next 7 games): 42% (~top 75 | record: 2-5)

The Alabama game was the nadir, and while it required luck, the Aggies upset Auburn a couple of games later (Auburn lost two fumbles inside the A&M 30 in the final six minutes). Still, while the offense began to find its footing under freshman Kyle Allen, prompting Hill to transfer, the defense never came around. Missouri and LSU rushed for a combined 719 yards, and the regular season ended with consecutive home losses.

The bowl game was a bright spot. After a slow start, the defense made stops during a 31-10 run, and Allen completed 63 percent with four scores against a strong WVU secondary. Still, the 5-0 start begot a 3-5 finish, and A&M headed into the offseason with issues.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.90 40 IsoPPP+ 126.0 20
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.8% 20 Succ. Rt. + 118.9 14
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 27.1 11 Def. FP+ 104.0 26
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.2 5 Redzone S&P+ 112.8 33
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.6 ACTUAL 20 -0.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 32 18 12 20
RUSHING 84 26 12 35
PASSING 12 14 15 17
Standard Downs 20 10 19
Passing Downs 25 26 24
Q1 Rk 21 1st Down Rk 13
Q2 Rk 9 2nd Down Rk 10
Q3 Rk 23 3rd Down Rk 29
Q4 Rk 11

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Kenny Hill
214 321 2649 23 8 66.7% 14 4.2% 7.6
Kyle Allen 6'3, 210 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9950 118 192 1322 16 7 61.5% 12 5.9% 6.1
Conner McQueen 5'10, 175 Jr. NR NR
Jake Hubenak 6'3, 195 So. NR 0.7000
Kyler Murray 5'11, 185 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9862

3. The Allen experiment better work (and probably will)

[Update: To the surprise of very few, Kyle Allen was named the starter over Kyler Murray.]

Even if you remove the output from the two cakey games (Lamar and SMU), Hill's full-season stats were better than Allen's. Without those games, Hill's completion percentage was 66 percent to Allen's 61. He averaged 11.6 yards per completion to Allen's 10.9. He threw touchdowns less frequently (6.2 percent to Allen's 8.1), but he threw interceptions less frequently (2.6 percent to 3.7) and took fewer sacks.

And without the cake games, Hill faced tougher defenses, too. Allen faced LSU (ninth in Def. S&P+) and Missouri (15th), but Hill faced Ole Miss (first), Alabama (third), and Arkansas (sixth).

This isn't to say that Hill is better than Allen, or that dumping Hill following A&M's wretched 59-0 loss to Alabama was a panic move. But while we all assumed Allen might end up starting, Sumlin appeared to have something special in Hill, too. Hill is now sitting out a transfer year at TCU.

Being blessed with two good quarterbacks can be a curse. You probably can't get away with playing both of them, and one is probably going to leave. Five games into 2014, Hill was a legitimate Heisman candidate. He was on pace for 4,500 passing yards, 40 touchdown passes, and nearly 400 rushing yards. And despite A&M's October funk, Hill threw for 400 yards in a comeback effort against a great Ole Miss defense.

Hill showed some questionable judgment and got suspended in November, and Sumlin decided to hitch up to Allen for the coming seasons. Allen's pedigree suggests that will be a perfectly smart move. But the decision to let Hill leave puts an extra level of pressure on everybody. Hill's really good; Allen better be great.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Tra Carson RB 6'0, 240 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8786 124 581 5 4.7 3.5 40.3% 0 0
Brandon Williams RB 6'0, 205 Sr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9921 87 379 3 4.4 3.1 39.1% 1 0
Trey Williams RB
82 560 7 6.8 7.0 46.3% 1 0
Kenny Hill QB
38 269 0 7.1 7.1 47.4% 3 1
James White RB 6'0, 220 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8917 22 153 3 7.0 4.1 54.5% 0 0
Kyle Allen QB 6'3, 210 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9950 17 113 1 6.6 3.2 64.7% 2 1
Brice Dolezal RB 5'9, 180 Sr. NR NR 15 104 1 6.9 6.8 46.7% 0 0
Jay Bradford RB 5'11, 196 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9016
Kendall Bussey RB 5'9, 200 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8856







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Malcome Kennedy WR
85 53 611 62.4% 17.2% 64.7% 7.2 -33 7.0 89.7
Josh Reynolds WR 6'4, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8746 78 54 885 69.2% 15.8% 60.3% 11.3 241 11.2 130.0
Speedy Noil WR 5'11, 187 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9951 73 46 583 63.0% 14.7% 68.5% 8.0 25 7.9 85.6
Ricky Seals-Jones WR 6'5, 235 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9869 68 49 463 72.1% 13.7% 58.8% 6.8 -117 6.8 68.0
Edward Pope WR 6'4, 180 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8970 41 30 454 73.2% 8.3% 58.5% 11.1 100 11.1 66.6
Boone Niederhofer WR 6'0, 207 Jr. NR NR 40 29 293 72.5% 8.1% 65.0% 7.3 -50 7.6 43.0
Sabian Holmes WR 5'11, 175 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8439 31 13 197 41.9% 6.3% 71.0% 6.4 24 6.1 28.9
Trey Williams RB
17 16 105 94.1% 3.4% 47.1% 6.2 -77 5.9 15.4
Tra Carson RB 6'0, 240 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8786 12 9 78 75.0% 2.4% 50.0% 6.5 -28 6.4 11.5
Jeremy Tabuyo WR 5'11, 191 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8460 11 7 102 63.6% 2.2% 90.9% 9.3 17 5.9 15.0
Brandon Williams RB 6'0, 205 Sr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9921 11 9 65 81.8% 2.2% 63.6% 5.9 -39 5.5 9.5
LaQuvionte Gonzalez WR
8 5 77 62.5% 1.6% 87.5% 9.6 16 6.3 11.3
Cameron Clear TE
5 5 34 100.0% 1.0% 100.0% 6.8 -22 N/A 5.0
Frank Iheanacho WR 6'6, 225 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9589 4 2 23 50.0% 0.8% 50.0% 5.8 -2 5.9 3.4
Jamal Jeffery WR 5'9, 175 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8767 3 2 12 66.7% 0.6% 33.3% 4.0 -12 5.8 1.8
Brandon Alexander TE 6'6, 238 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9036
Damion Ratley WR 6'1, 190 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8661
Christian Kirk WR 5'11, 200 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9886
Jordan Davis TE 6'4, 262 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9079
Kemah Siverand WR 6'1, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8995

4. Keep your eye on the ball

A&M receivers were their own worst enemy. For every confirmation of upside, there was a dropped pass, and inconsistency (plus a change in QB) meant the Aggies seemed to have a different go-to receiver every game.

Malcome Kennedy caught 30 passes in the first four games and 23 in the next nine. Josh Reynolds caught five passes for 125 yards against Missouri, then two for 16 against LSU. Speedy Noil caught 18 passes in three October games and 13 in four November games. Ricky Seals-Jones caught 17 passes against Mississippi State and Ole Miss and 12 passes thereafter. Edward Pope caught four passes for 151 yards and two huge scores against Arkansas, then more than two in a game just once the rest of the year.

Despite the loss of Kennedy, A&M boasts a foursome of receivers who have all produced huge games and who combined to average 9.2 yards per target with a 69 percent catch rate. With a blue-chip quarterback, that appears to be everything you could want in a spread passing attack. But consistency needs to show up.

A few more big plays in the run game wouldn't hurt. Hill was a nice bonus, and while Allen picked his spots, he wasn't a threat to scramble for more than six or seven yards. While Tra Carson and Brandon Williams were efficient -- 40 percent of their carries gained at least five yards -- they didn't break many big rushes. A&M had only 17 carries of 20-plus yards, 60th in the country; that's not bad, but it still dragged the ratings down.

This is going to be at least a good offense. Even while losing Manziel and Evans and going through quarterback drama, the Aggies ranked 18th in Off. S&P+. But good isn't elite.

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 116.1 3.32 2.93 44.1% 78.4% 15.6% 136.6 4.3% 4.2%
Rank 17 17 96 20 9 19 24 55 13
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Cedric Ogbuehi LT 43 All-American, 2014 2nd All-SEC
Jarvis Harrison LG
39
Mike Matthews C 6'2, 290 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9094 24
Germain Ifedi RT 6'5, 325 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9069 24
Garrett Gramling LG
12
Joseph Cheek RG 6'7, 311 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8600 9
Ben Compton RG
3
Avery Gennesy LT 6'5, 300 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9069 0
Jermaine Eluemunor RG 6'4, 315 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9144 0
Jeremiah Stuckey LG 6'4, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8403 0
Ryan Lindblade RT 6'7, 308 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 0
Koda Martin LT 6'6, 302 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8697
Keaton Sutherland LG 6'5, 301 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9201
Connor Lanfear OL 6'6, 305 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9181
Trevor Elbert OL 6'6, 320 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9051

5. It's been a while since we had to worry about the A&M offensive line

The line personified the offense last year: good, but not up to the standard of previous years. A&M had a nearly unimpeachable line in 2012-13, and while the Aggies boasted another All-American tackle last year (Cedric Ogbuehi), the product regressed a hair.

It could be the same story in 2015. Ogbuehi and three-year starting guard Jarvis Harrison are gone, and while three players with starting experience return (57 career starts), including potential All-American center Mike Matthews, A&M might have to settle for top-30 rushing numbers instead of top-10.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.83 52 IsoPPP+ 96.5 78
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 45.8% 108 Succ. Rt. + 95.3 87
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 30.6 56 Off. FP+ 101.0 51
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.3 53 Redzone S&P+ 109.6 33
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.0 ACTUAL 13.0 -6.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 104 79 79 78
RUSHING 111 119 110 117
PASSING 83 24 37 20
Standard Downs 90 92 91
Passing Downs 50 45 51
Q1 Rk 78 1st Down Rk 86
Q2 Rk 75 2nd Down Rk 47
Q3 Rk 103 3rd Down Rk 99
Q4 Rk 16

6. Hello, Chief

Chavis plus the air raid?

Tennessee's defense ranked sixth in Def. S&P+ in 2008, the final season before both head coach Phil Fulmer and defensive coordinator John Chavis were let go. The Volunteers have yet to rank in the top 10 again.

Chavis left for LSU and produced five top-10 rankings in six seasons. His Tiger D was as close to a spread-proof unit as any, and it was consistently dominant against Sumlin's offense. In three games against Chavis, Sumlin's Aggies averaged 15 points per game and 4.7 yards per play.

Naturally, when Sumlin let coordinator Mark Snyder go, Chavis' name came up. And A&M offered enough money to woo Chavis away from Baton Rouge.

On paper, this is perfect. Chavis produces top-10 defenses and will inherit talent that, from a recruiting perspective, is nearly on par with LSU's. He's got nine former four- or five-star recruits on the line, two at linebacker, and eight in the secondary. And youth shouldn't be as much of an issue.

Still, Snyder didn't suddenly become a terrible coach. The now-former D.C. was able to produce elite defenses at Ohio State and top-25 units at USF, and he pushed a lot of the right buttons in his first season in College Station. But his defense was a complete pushover against the run last year, and that might not be suddenly rectified.

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 89.1 3.57 3.26 45.5% 73.3% 15.0% 112 4.2% 10.2%
Rank 108 126 65 123 99 118 37 78 21
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Myles Garrett DE 6'5, 260 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9992 12 41.0 5.4% 14.0 11.5 0 1 0 0
Alonzo Williams DT 6'4, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8658 13 37.0 4.9% 5.5 4.0 0 1 0 0
Julien Obioha DE 6'4, 270 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8721 13 32.5 4.3% 5.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Hardreck Walker DT 6'2, 300 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8938 13 26.0 3.4% 0.5 0.0 0 3 0 0
Daeshon Hall DE 6'6, 260 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9256 13 19.5 2.6% 6.0 4.5 0 0 0 0
Ivan Robinson DT
7 17.5 2.3% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Zaycoven Henderson DT 6'1, 290 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9118 11 8.5 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jarrett Johnson DE 6'3, 255 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8916 11 6.5 0.9% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jay Arnold DT
11 6.5 0.9% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Darrell Jackson DE 6'5, 235 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8333 4 6.5 0.9% 3.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Qualen Cunningham DE 6'3, 240 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9289 12 6.5 0.9% 2.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Justin Manning DT 6'1, 300 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9665 5 2.5 0.3% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Reggie Chevis DT 6'1, 280 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8641
Deshawn Washington DT 6'3, 285 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9333
Daylon Mack DT 6'1, 340 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9915
James Lockhart DE 6'3, 250 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9384
Kingsley Keke DT 6'3, 319 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8913








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Shaan Washington SLB 6'3, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8507 10 45.5 6.0% 4.0 2.0 0 1 0 0
Justin Bass SLB
13 43.5 5.7% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Otaro Alaka WLB 6'3, 231 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9273 12 27.0 3.5% 3.5 0.0 0 2 2 0
Donnie Baggs SLB
13 20.0 2.6% 4.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Jordan Mastrogiovanni MLB
10 19.0 2.5% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Josh Walker MLB 6'1, 235 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9068 10 18.0 2.4% 1.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Tommy Sanders WLB
11 9.5 1.2% 3.5 2.0 0 3 0 0
A.J. Hilliard MLB 6'2, 245 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8749 1 3.0 0.4% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Claude George WLB 6'2, 236 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8640
Richard Moore SLB 6'0, 215 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8833








7. How quickly can you fix one of the nation's worst run defense?

Overall, Chavis is going to need time to mold the young Aggie front into a coordinated group that gets the most out of its athleticism. He's also going to need to remake the roster by grabbing more coverage players, allowing him to outnumber the run and pack the middle of the field with big athletes.

At LSU, Chavis was aided in that process by Les Miles' hard-nosed culture, which includes one of the most brutish versions of manball offense the modern game has seen. Every day, Chavis' top-notch athletes went up against massive run game personnel, which won't be the case in College Station. Will that matter?

-- Ian Boyd

Texas A&M allowed 5.9 yards per carry on first downs and 6.3 yards per carry in tie games. The Aggies' No. 119 Rushing S&P+ ranking put them behind New Mexico (No. 118), UNLV (No. 117), Miami-Ohio (No. 113), ODU (No. 111), and Idaho (No. 108).

With plenty of size and all the recruiting stars you could want, the Aggies couldn't maintain gaps or discipline, and any run game with a pulse could pierce with ease. And for as well as A&M invaded the line of scrimmage in pass situations -- Myles Garrett had 11.5 sacks, and A&M ranked 21st in passing downs sack rate -- the Aggies were one of the worst in the country at making run stops behind the line.

A&M has all the size and speed you would want. Garrett was woefully undisciplined against the run, but his upside is absurd. Tackle Alonzo Williams is 305 pounds but has enough quickness to have made four sacks, and there could be a decent mix of experience (Williams and end Julien Obioha are seniors, and leading linebacker Shaan Washington is a junior) and ridiculous upside (Garrett, freshman tackle Daylon Mack, sophomore linebacker Otaro Alaka, freshman linebacker Richard Moore, etc.) in the front.

It's almost impossible to imagine A&M's run front won't improve with Chavis in charge. But how quickly?

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Deshazor Everett CB
13 65.0 8.5% 4.5 0 1 7 0 0
Howard Matthews FS
13 62.5 8.2% 2.5 0 0 8 0 0
Armani Watts SS 5'11, 195 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9160 13 48.5 6.4% 2 0 3 8 0 0
Devonta Burns SS 6'0, 211 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8700 13 44.0 5.8% 1 1 0 1 2 0
De'Vante Harris CB 5'11, 190 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9509 10 42.5 5.6% 1.5 0 1 5 0 0
Floyd Raven Sr. SS
13 22.5 3.0% 0 0 0 1 1 0
Donovan Wilson SS 6'1, 205 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8224 10 18.0 2.4% 3 0 0 0 0 0
Victor Davis CB 6'0, 195 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8697 12 16.0 2.1% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Nick Harvey CB 5'10, 180 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9698 13 12.0 1.6% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Sam Moeller FS 5'11, 191 Sr. NR NR 13 7.0 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Alex Sezer Jr. CB 5'9, 180 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8433 12 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Clay Honeycutt FS
9 4.0 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tavares Garner CB 6'0, 183 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8755 4 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Noel Ellis NB 5'10, 185 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9078
Justin Evans SS 6'1, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8762
Justin Dunning DB 6'4, 215 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9388
Larry Pryor DB 6'0, 195 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9294
Rodney Elam DB 6'2, 173 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9164

8. Fine against the pass

When opponents did feel the need to pass, it was mostly fine for A&M. The pass rush was a strength, and A&M's No. 24 ranking in Passing S&P+ wasn't due entirely to sacks. The senior-freshman combo of Howard Matthews and Armani Watts was solid when the ball was in the air (combined: 4.5 tackles for loss, 19 passes defensed), and corners Deshazor Everett and De'Vante Harris were decent.

There are two main problems. First, unless the run defense improves dramatically, the pass defense only matters so much. Second, Matthews and Everett are gone. Watts could be a stud, and Harris and safety Devonta Burns give the Aggies a senior presence. But what else does A&M have?

As Ian wrote, Chavis' ability to combine a stout run front with what seemed like 17 defensive backs flying around the ball was what made his LSU defenses so dangerous. A&M has three proven DBs and is relying entirely on potential after that. Sophomores Donovan Wilson, Nick Harvey, Victor Davis, and Noel Ellis all have untapped upside, and a new trio of four-star freshmen arrives. But can the Aggies avoid a dropoff without its two leaders?

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Drew Kaser 6'3, 210 Sr. 62 44.1 6 22 22 71.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Taylor Bertolet 5'9, 190 Sr. 78 63.1 42 2 53.8%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Josh Lambo 59-59 10-10 100.0% 3-5 60.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Speedy Noil KR 5'11, 187 So. 27 23.9 0
Trey Williams KR 17 24.8 0
Speedy Noil PR 5'11, 187 So. 15 12.0 0
Nick Harvey PR 5'10, 180 So. 4 15.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 33
Field Goal Efficiency 23
Punt Return Efficiency 53
Kick Return Efficiency 91
Punt Efficiency 36
Kickoff Efficiency 51
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 7

9. Few worries in special teams

Speedy Noil didn't score any return touchdowns but proved dangerous enough (and, as a freshmen, predictably inconsistent) to assume that A&M is set in this regard. Plus, while opponents had a few decent returns, Drew Kaser's punts and Taylor Bertolet's kickoffs were sufficiently deep. If Bertolet is ready to be more consistent as a place-kicker (he was all over the place in 2012-13), this special teams unit should be fine. It was in the top 40 last year, and everybody but place-kicker Josh Lambo is back.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep vs. Arizona State 24
12-Sep Ball State 100
19-Sep Nevada 82
26-Sep vs. Arkansas 12
3-Oct Mississippi State 21
17-Oct Alabama 1
24-Oct at Ole Miss 6
31-Oct South Carolina 31
7-Nov Auburn 5
14-Nov Western Carolina NR
21-Nov at Vanderbilt 83
28-Nov at LSU 8
Five-Year F/+ Rk 34.7% (13)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 8 / 18
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -7 / -1.5
2014 TO Luck/Game -2.1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (8, 8)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 7.5 (0.5)

10. Step 1: Find groove. Step 2: Keep it this time.

What a schedule. Texas A&M faces eight teams projected 31st or better, which means if the Aggies are a top-35 team, they could still struggle to reach a bowl.

There's hope for a fast start, though. A&M doesn't leave the state of Texas until mid-October, and while Arizona State and Arkansas are potentially awesome neutral-field opponents, at least those games are in Houston and Arlington. Win those tossup games, beat Ball State and Nevada, and get revenge on Mississippi State -- all doable -- and you're 5-0 when Alabama comes to town.

The Aggies have plenty of pieces. They've got a blue-chip quarterback who played his best game the last time we saw him. Their receiving corps is loaded with both production and upside. Their offensive line is at least good. Their pass rush should be as good as or better than last year's. And while their secondary isn't deep, the starters should be strong. And they just brought in one of the nation's most proven defensive coordinators.

That sounds like a top-25 team, doesn't it? But can the run defense improve enough? A No. 25 ranking might only put you sixth in the SEC West.

The 2012 season was the best and worst thing that could have happened to Sumlin. It proved what A&M is capable of, something that has only been backed up by strong recruiting. But the potential-to-production ratio has fallen. This year, with this schedule, would be a good time to even that ratio.