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Kevin Sumlin's Texas A&M is finally experienced. With this schedule, does that matter?

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The Aggies enter a hot seat season with some much-needed roster stability. That's good, because 2016's schedule includes eight projected top-25 teams.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. On a loop

Sure, the 2012 team was headlined by freshmen. Quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans were stars beyond their age and gave Kevin Sumlin's Aggies upside they wouldn't have otherwise had. Manziel won the Heisman as a redshirt freshman, and A&M won 11 games in its SEC debut.

Here's what else that 2012 team had: experience. The running backs were a junior (Ben Malena) and a senior (Christine Michael). The receivers complementing Evans (Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu) were seniors. The line was led by a senior (Patrick Lewis) and two immensely talented juniors (Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews).

The defense had seniors Spencer Nealy and Jonathan Mathis. The linebacking corps was loaded with seniors. The secondary had seniors (Steven Terrell and Dustin Harris) and a junior (Toney Hurd Jr.).

The young players provided upside, but they were able to thrive because of the structure.

The stability has vanished. The 2013 and 2014 defenses were ridiculously inexperienced, with recent star recruits and quite a bit of turnover drastically tamping down upside. And after Manziel left, the leadership on offense has been desperately young.

Sophomore Kenny Hill began 2014 as the starting quarterback, then got usurped by true freshman Kyle Allen and transferred. Allen began 2015 as the starter but saw his playing time limited by true freshman Kyler Murray. Freshmen and sophomores made up five of the top six receivers in 2014 and three of the top four in 2015. Meanwhile, the running game has been underutilized.

The last few years have been one giant "whole less than the sum of its parts" experience, and it's gotten worse. After finishing second in S&P+ in 2012, the Aggies have fallen to 12th in 2013, 30th in 2014, and 42nd in 2015.

Only a couple of years after being rumored for NFL jobs and supposedly taking over the state, Sumlin finds himself on one hell of a hot seat. Immediate success sets an impossible bar, and he has gotten further from it.

But if he is to be saved in 2016, it will be with experience. His offensive line has very little of it, but juniors and seniors have infiltrated the two-deep. Senior grad transfer Trevor Knight is the likely starting quarterback. Juniors James White and Keith Ford could carry the running backs. Eight of the top nine returning wideouts are either juniors or seniors. And a defense that improved dramatically under coordinator John Chavis is loaded with experience at each level.

Texas A&M will boast one of the best pass defenses in the country, and while Knight was far from impressive in most of his last two seasons at Oklahoma, he will have one of the more seasoned skill units in the SEC. There are still landmines galore -- a questionable line, a still-shaky run defense, a schedule that features eight projected top-25 opponents -- but one of the largest recent problems won't be one anymore.

Because of recruiting and returning production, A&M is projected to improve by quite a bit in 2016, back to 25th in S&P+. But per S&P+ the Aggies have a better than 50 percent chance of winning in only four games and are projected to win only 6.7. There are four virtual tossups and two likely wins among the first six games on the schedule; I, uh, recommend they win some of those.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 34 | Final S&P+ Rk: 42
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep vs. Arizona State 50 38-17 W 84% 96% +21.8 +17.5
12-Sep Ball State 110 56-23 W 85% 99% +10.7 +3.0
19-Sep Nevada 97 44-27 W 86% 98% -6.1 -17.0
26-Sep vs. Arkansas 11 28-21 W 73% 65% +3.2 -0.5
3-Oct Mississippi State 16 30-17 W 93% 99% +2.4 +6.0
17-Oct Alabama 1 23-41 L 54% 14% -10.7 -14.0
24-Oct at Ole Miss 5 3-23 L 17% 0% -15.0 -14.0
31-Oct South Carolina 88 35-28 W 76% 91% -8.0 -9.5
7-Nov Auburn 33 10-26 L 17% 2% -30.7 -23.5
14-Nov Western Carolina N/A 41-17 W 58% 95% -13.0
21-Nov at Vanderbilt 83 25-0 W 97% 100% +21.9 +18.0
28-Nov at LSU 10 7-19 L 35% 8% -2.8 -6.5
30-Dec vs. Louisville 39 21-27 L 35% 9% -2.9 -4.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 30.4 55 22.7 30
Points Per Game 27.8 71 22.0 28

2. Nosedive, part 2

In 2014, Texas A&M started 5-0 while playing magnificent football; the Aggies' average percentile performance was 94 percent, as good as you'll see for a five-game span. The final seven games: 42 percent with a 2-5 record.

In 2015, it was nearly the same story.

  • First 5 games:
    Record: 5-0 | Average percentile performance: 84% (~top 20) | Yards per play: A&M 6.5, Opp 5.3 (+1.2)
  • Last 8 games:
    Record: 3-5 | Average percentile performance: 49% (~top 65) | Yards per play: Opp 5.5, A&M 5.0 (-0.5)

Some combination of injury and opponents adjusting to young players have caused the same issues in back-to-back years. The defense mostly held up last year, which should be seen as immensely exciting, but the offense's collapse resulted in a total restart.

Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was sent away, replaced by UCLA's Noel Mazzone; Allen and Murray transferred away, with Allen providing a damning critique on the way out the door:

"I think the culture was a big part of it, and I think that stems from Johnny's era there. ... They [could] do that and still win games because they had Johnny … and five offensive linemen playing in the NFL right now. ... A lot of people were riding off that, ‘I can do whatever the hell I want and win on Saturday.'"

Your good traits create your bad ones. Sumlin's ability to bring swagger to the 2012 team reinforced his reputation as a players' coach. But young players need more discipline than A&M's have had. We'll see if this offensive reset has the same effect that his hire of Chavis did a year ago.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.18 106 IsoPPP+ 101.4 60
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.0% 47 Succ. Rt. + 106.7 46
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.0 30 Def. FP+ 26.9 17
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.0 100 Redzone S&P+ 101.2 72
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 28.1 ACTUAL 24 -4.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 50 55 46 60
RUSHING 66 16 14 29
PASSING 39 81 77 79
Standard Downs 46 42 52
Passing Downs 74 51 82
Q1 Rk 16 1st Down Rk 56
Q2 Rk 37 2nd Down Rk 58
Q3 Rk 119 3rd Down Rk 33
Q4 Rk 50

3. A Mazzone offense

Mazzone has put together one of the more unique careers in college football. He has served as a coordinator under Tommy Tuberville, Dennis Erickson, Chuck Amato, Ed Orgeron, and Jim Mora. He has coached Deuce McAllister, Cadillac Williams, Steven Jackson, Philip Rivers, Brock Osweiler, Brett Hundley, and Josh Rosen.

Mazzone has been at the helm of powerful run-first attacks, dual-threat attacks, and precision pass-first units. He has led fantastic offenses (sixth in Off. S&P+ at NC State in 2003, eighth at UCLA in 2014) and dreadful ones (100th at Ole Miss in 1995, 73rd at NC State in 2004, 115th at Ole Miss in 2005).

Mazzone's 17 years as a coordinator have featured enough aspects that it's hard to define what a Mazzone offense is. Most recently he crafted a reasonably efficient attack around a true freshman (Rosen).

His 2015 UCLA attack ran only 53 percent of the time on standard downs and 23 percent on passing downs -- an even more pass-heavy approach than what A&M had last year. But the Bruins were built well around quick passing and accuracy. The top two targets (Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte) each had success rates at 54 percent or higher, and No. 3 target Darren Andrews caught 67 percent of his targets out of the slot. Halfbacks and fullbacks combined for about five to six targets per game with a 72 percent catch rate as well.

In Knight's best moments, efficiency has been his strongest trait. In an 11-game span that included the final three games of 2013 and the first eight of 2014, Knight completed 62 percent of his passes at a relatively impressive 13.1 yards per completion. Passer rating: 140.4.

Knight was done in at OU by injury, a thin receiving corps, and eventually the emergence of Baker Mayfield. He is not as good as his incredible 2014 Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama would suggest, but Mazzone's system might offer him the best possible chance to succeed. And the simple fact that Knight does bring experience could be a tremendous asset.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Kyle Allen 160 283 2210 17 7 56.5% 22 7.2% 6.7
Kyler Murray 72 121 686 5 7 59.5% 8 6.2% 4.9
Jake Hubenak 6'3, 215 Jr. NR 0.7000 40 75 399 3 1 53.3% 6 7.4% 4.4
Trevor Knight
(Oklahoma)
6'1, 215 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9008 22 40 305 2 2 55.0% 2 4.8% 7.0
Conner McQueen 5'10, 175 Sr. NR NR








Nick Starkel 6'3, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8671








Hank Hughes 6'0, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7893








Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Tra Carson RB 243 1165 7 4.8 3.8 39.9% 2 2
Keith Ford (Oklahoma) RB 5'11, 215 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9873 71 392 5 5.5 4.9 43.7% 3 3
James White RB 6'0, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8917 55 196 1 3.6 2.4 34.5% 0 0
Kyler Murray QB 45 387 1 8.6 6.9 62.2% 3 1
Kyle Allen QB 43 258 2 6.0 4.1 51.2% 8 2
Brice Dolezal RB 38 191 1 5.0 2.9 47.4% 0 0
Kwame Etwi RB 5'9, 195 So. NR NR 21 151 0 7.2 8.7 38.1% 1 0
Christian Kirk WR 5'11, 200 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9886 11 54 0 4.9 2.2 54.5% 3 3
Jake Hubenak QB 6'3, 215 Jr. NR 0.7000 9 53 0 5.9 2.0 66.7% 2 1
Kendall Bussey RB 5'9, 200 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8856
Trayveon Williams RB 5'9, 190 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8949
Rakeem Boyd RB 6'0, 195 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8752







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Christian Kirk WR 5'11, 200 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9886 129 80 1009 62.0% 28.2% 7.8 65.9% 45.0% 1.63
Josh Reynolds WR 6'4, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8746 85 51 907 60.0% 18.6% 10.7 64.7% 52.9% 1.77
Ricky Seals-Jones WR 6'5, 240 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9869 75 45 560 60.0% 16.4% 7.5 52.0% 49.3% 1.35
Speedy Noil WR 5'11, 192 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9951 46 21 226 45.7% 10.0% 4.9 63.0% 39.1% 1.15
Kalvin Cline
(Va. Tech)
TE 6'4, 230 Jr. NR NR 39 26 321 66.7% 9.7% 8.2 66.7% N/A N/A
Tra Carson RB 33 29 183 87.9% 7.2% 5.5 51.5% 39.4% 1.20
Damion Ratley WR 6'1, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8661 32 15 200 46.9% 7.0% 6.3 65.6% 34.4% 1.78
Jeremy Tabuyo WR 5'11, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8460 15 9 102 60.0% 3.3% 6.8 60.0% 53.3% 1.33
Edward Pope WR 6'4, 171 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8970 12 8 65 66.7% 2.6% 5.4 50.0% 50.0% 0.94
Sabian Holmes WR 6 2 5 33.3% 1.3% 0.8 50.0% 16.7% 0.50
Boone Niederhofer WR 6'0, 207 Sr. NR NR 4 2 7 50.0% 0.9% 1.8 75.0% 25.0% 0.61
Jamal Jeffery WR 5'9, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8767 2 2 -1 100.0% 0.4% -0.5 50.0% 0.0% 0.00
Tanner Schorp TE 6'3, 245 Jr. NR NR
Frank Iheanacho WR 6'6, 220 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9589
Kemah Siverand WR 6'1, 195 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8995
Greer Shetler TE 6'4, 215 RSFr. NR NR
Quartney Davis WR 6'2, 181 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9383
Aaron Hansford WR 6'2, 210 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9318
Clyde Chriss WR 6'0, 175 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9191

4. No excuses for this receiving corps

Knight will have a deeper receiving corps at his disposal than he ever has before.

Over the last two years, Josh Reynolds has averaged 11 yards per target and caught 105 passes for 1,792 yards. Christian Kirk is coming off of a high-usage freshman season with decent numbers. Speedy Noil played about like Kirk as a freshman before suffering through a sophomore slump of sorts last year. Ricky Seals-Jones is an enormous, if inconsistent, redzone target. Virginia Tech transfer Kalvin Cline is lengthy and lanky. Edward Pope averaged 11.1 yards per target in 2014 before struggling last year. And now there's another batch of four-star freshmen attempting to pierce the two-deep.

In terms of pure upside, it's hard to top this unit. A highlight reel would make this look like the best receiving corps in the country. But consistency has been an issue, and taking passes from ultra-young quarterbacks hasn't helped that. We'll see if a steady hand like Knight, plus another year of experience for everyone involved, can help.

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 122 3.32 3.96 43.5% 62.1% 15.6% 93.6 7.0% 7.3%
Rank 5 10 6 19 90 11 71 103 62
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Germain Ifedi RT 13 37
Mike Matthews C 13 36
Joseph Cheek RG 13 21
Avery Gennesy LT 6'5, 310 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9069 13 13
Keaton Sutherland LG 6'5, 300 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9201 8 8
Jeremiah Stuckey LG
5 5
Koda Martin RT 6'6, 300 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8697 0 0
Jermaine Eluemunor RG 6'4, 320 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9144 0 0
J.J. Gustafson C
0 0
Connor Lanfear LG 6'6, 320 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9181 0 0
Ryan Lindblade RT
0 0
Tank Davis LT 6'4, 295 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8631 0 0
Erik McCoy C 6'4, 310 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8402

Brayden Talbert C 6'5, 300 RSFr. NR NR

Justin Dworaczyk OL 6'6, 280 RSFr. NR NR

Kellen Diesch OL 6'5, 275 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9480

Austin Anderson OL 6'4, 280 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8792

5. Nobody get hurt

It can be difficult to judge offensive lines in the SEC because of the quality of the competition, but A&M's line graded pretty well in the opponent-adjusted Adj. Line Yards rating. The Aggies were fifth in the country, mostly because they kept the backfield clean. Even when A&M rushers struggled, they weren't losing yardage. Considering the youth in the passing game, the Aggie run game should have been utilized more.

That said, the Aggies stunk in short-yardage situations, a.k.a. the only time they were likely to actually lean on the run. Power success rate isn't adjusted for opponent, but 90th is bad regardless. They converted only about five of eight short-yardage attempts.

Running backs Keith Ford and James White are big enough to be solid in these situations, but no matter how good or bad the line was last year, it's starting over to some extent. Those responsible for only 21 of last year's 65 starts are back, and while there are plenty of former star recruits in the pipeline -- seniors Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor, sophomores Keaton Sutherland and Connor Lanfear, freshmen Kellen Diesch and Austin Anderson -- depth could be a significant issue. A&M is only a couple of injuries away from leaning on either freshmen, walk-ons, or both.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.25 66 IsoPPP+ 113.1 31
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.7% 40 Succ. Rt. + 113.6 26
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 30.3 56 Off. FP+ 31.1 37
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.6 14 Redzone S&P+ 115.1 20
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.8 ACTUAL 18.0 -4.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 51 25 26 31
RUSHING 108 82 60 89
PASSING 4 2 3 3
Standard Downs 39 52 33
Passing Downs 13 3 26
Q1 Rk 83 1st Down Rk 35
Q2 Rk 10 2nd Down Rk 62
Q3 Rk 47 3rd Down Rk 8
Q4 Rk 10

6. Opponents knew to run

The collapse of the offense distracted us from some serious defensive redemption in College Station. Texas A&M ranked 87th in Def. S&P+ in 2013 and 58th in 2014 but improved back to 30th last fall. And while the run defense was still quite bad, last year's No. 82 Rushing S&P+ ranking is still better than 2014's No. 119 finish.

Chavis spent 14 seasons as Tennessee's coordinator and another six at LSU, and he brought a particularly Chavis defense to town last fall. The Aggies improved against the run and were dynamic against the pass. They allowed only a 111.9 passer rating and improved over the course of a given game: Four of opponents' 10 touchdown passes came in the first quarter.

Chavis picked his spots well, too -- on fourth downs, opponents were only 1-for-12 for seven yards and two interceptions.

You did not want to fall behind the chains against this defense because of the combination of awesome pass rush (ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall: 34 tackles for loss, 19.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles) and dynamic secondary.

Unfortunately for A&M, opponents didn't have to pass all that much. They got away with running 68 percent of the time on standard downs and 39 percent on passing downs because the run defense was still a dramatic weakness.

A&M was able to get a strong push in short-yardage situations, and Garrett, Hall, tackle Daylon Mack, and linebackers Shaan Washington and Richard Moore all had at least six non-sack tackles for loss, which is indicative of an invasive run defense. But glitches were still prominant: A&M allowed 98 rushes of at least 10 yards, 123rd in FBS.

Almost all of the front seven returns, which certainly can't hurt. But the pressure is on -- the secondary returns quite a few exciting pieces, but that will only matter so much until opponents are actually forced to pass.

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 101 2.96 3.58 42.6% 54.1% 23.3% 142.5 5.6% 12.0%
Rank 56 81 102 109 11 23 10 46 7
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Myles Garrett DE 6'5, 262 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9992 13 48.0 6.3% 19.5 12.5 1 2 5 0
Daeshon Hall DE 6'6, 260 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9256 13 37.5 4.9% 14.5 7.0 0 2 2 0
Daylon Mack DT 6'1, 335 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9915 13 23.5 3.1% 9.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Zaycoven Henderson DT 6'1, 300 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9118 11 22.0 2.9% 6.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
Alonzo Williams DT 13 18.0 2.3% 6.0 1.0 0 2 1 0
Julien Obioha DT 10 18.0 2.3% 3.5 1.5 0 2 1 0
Jarrett Johnson DE 6'3, 260 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8916 13 15.0 2.0% 3.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Qualen Cunningham DE 6'3, 240 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9289 13 14.0 1.8% 3.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Hardreck Walker DT 6'2, 290 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8938 8 7.5 1.0% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Kingsley Keke DT 6'3, 315 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8913 13 5.0 0.7% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
James Lockhart DE 6'3, 260 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9384 4 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Reggie Chevis DT 6'1, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8641
Justin Madubuike DE 6'3, 245 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9714








7. No excuses for the line

The upside is obvious. Garrett is maybe the scariest defensive end in college football, and Mack, also a former blue-chipper, held his own as a freshman for the most part. Now, for the first time in basically four years, there is experience to go with the high ceiling.

That also means there are no more excuses. Granted, there are a couple of openings on the two-deep at tackle, where Alonzo Williams and Julien Obioha have departed, but a starting four of Garrett, Hall, Mack, and Zaycoven Henderson could be fantastic, the end position has plenty of depth, and at worst a veteran tackle like Hardreck Walker could fill in in the middle. Monstrous sophomore Kingsley Keke has excellent speed for his size and looked pretty good in the spring.

There are also no excuses at linebacker. Injuries were a massive problem here last year, as of the six LBs to average at least 1 tackle per game, only Washington lasted all 13 games. The effect was obvious when you look at A&M's big-play numbers.

With a healthy Otaro Alaka and Richard Moore this time around, A&M should be able to match attacking talent with a propensity for fewer breakdowns.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Shaan Washington WLB 6'3, 235 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8507 13 55.0 7.2% 7.5 1.0 0 4 1 0
A.J. Hilliard MLB
9 41.5 5.4% 4.0 1.0 0 1 1 0
Richard Moore SLB 6'0, 210 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8833 8 31.0 4.0% 7.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Claude George MLB 6'2, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8640 11 14.0 1.8% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Josh Walker MLB 6'1, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9068 11 13.0 1.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Riley Garner WLB 6'3, 220 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8398 13 12.0 1.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Otaro Alaka WLB 6'3, 240 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9273 3 7.0 0.9% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Dwaine Thomas SLB 6'2, 230 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8370 10 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tyrel Dodson LB 6'2, 235 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8796








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Armani Watts FS 5'11, 200 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9160 13 104.5 13.6% 6 0 1 2 2 0
Justin Evans SS 6'1, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8762 12 62.5 8.2% 1 0 1 3 0 0
Donovan Wilson NB 6'1, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8224 13 49.5 6.5% 8.5 2 5 3 3 0
Brandon Williams CB 13 31.5 4.1% 1 0 0 7 0 0
De'Vante Harris CB 13 28.0 3.7% 1 0 2 8 0 0
Nick Harvey CB 5'10, 180 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9698 13 24.0 3.1% 2 0 0 4 0 0
Justin Dunning FS 6'4, 225 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9388 11 16.5 2.2% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Noel Ellis NB 5'10, 185 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9078 12 13.5 1.8% 1 1 0 1 0 0
Devonta Burns FS 13 12.0 1.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sam Moeller DB 13 12.0 1.6% 0 0 0 1 1 0
Alex Sezer Jr. CB 5'9, 180 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8433 12 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Victor Davis CB 6'0, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8697 6 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 3 0 0
DeShawn Capers-Smith CB 6'0, 190 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8722 7 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Priest Willis
(UCLA)
CB 6'2, 200 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9800
Larry Pryor SS 6'0, 205 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9294
Roney Elam CB 6'2, 180 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9164
Travon Fuller DB 6'0, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9095
Charles Oliver DB 6'2, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9039
Ikenna Okeke DB 6'3, 200 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8761

8. A sudden lack of cornerbacks

A&M ranked second in the country in Passing S&P+ last year and returns almost every safety. The combination of Armany Watts, Justin Evans, and nickel back Donovan Wilson in the back should convince opponents to keep the ball on the ground, even if A&M's pretty good at defending the run, too.

Watts, Evans, and Wilson combined for 15.5 tackles for loss, seven interceptions, eight break-ups, and five forced fumbles last year, a majority of which came from Wilson. Chavis has been as good as almost any coach in the country at employing an aggressive nickel back, and Wilson took to the position like a duck in water.

Of course, you still need cornerbacks. And without Brandon Williams and De'Vante Harris, A&M appears a bit lacking in known quantities. Nick Harvey returns, Victor Davis was successfully aggressive in a reserve role, and UCLA transfer Priest Willis offers an experienced hand. But Williams and Harris combined to defense 17 passes; you don't have to be a spectacular cornerback to take advantage of this pass rush and safety play, but corner could still be an issue here until otherwise noted.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Drew Kaser 60 47.5 9 12 18 50.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Taylor Bertolet 71 62.6 32 1 45.1%
Daniel LaCamera 6'4, 220 So. 4 63.0 2 0 50.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Taylor Bertolet 38-38 12-16 75.0% 10-15 66.7%
Daniel LaCamera 6'4, 220 So. 3-3 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Christian Kirk KR 5'11, 200 So. 20 19.3 0
Speedy Noil KR 5'11, 192 Jr. 11 21.9 0
Christian Kirk PR 5'11, 200 So. 14 24.4 2
Speedy Noil PR 5'11, 192 Jr. 2 8.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 38
Field Goal Efficiency 49
Punt Return Success Rate 34
Kick Return Success Rate 87
Punt Success Rate 54
Kickoff Success Rate 13

9. Can Kirk kick, too?

Between Kirk and Noil, A&M has two of the scariest return men in college football. Kirk was absurd in punt returns last year, and Noil was consistently strong in kick returns in 2014. Kirk's punt returns alone make this a solid special teams unit, but A&M must now replace two big legs: those of punter Drew Kaser and kicker Taylor Bertolet.

Bertolet was scattershot on shorter kicks (making two-thirds of your long field goals is great, but making only three-quarters of your shorter field goals is below average), and Kaser occasionally outkicked his coverage (A&M was third in punting average and 98th in punt return average), but they were assets. New kicker Daniel LaCamera and punter Shane Tripucka will struggle to match the upside of those they're replacing, though consistency could help.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep UCLA 12 -0.5 49%
10-Sep Prairie View A&M NR 45.7 100%
17-Sep at Auburn 24 -3.5 42%
24-Sep vs. Arkansas 17 -2.8 44%
1-Oct at South Carolina 63 6.2 64%
8-Oct Tennessee 9 -1.0 48%
22-Oct at Alabama 1 -17.8 15%
29-Oct New Mexico State 117 29.4 96%
5-Nov at Mississippi State 21 -4.6 39%
12-Nov Ole Miss 7 -3.0 43%
19-Nov UTSA 116 29.1 95%
24-Nov LSU 2 -8.4 31%
Projected wins: 6.7
Five-Year F/+ Rk 33.2% (13)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 13 / 10
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -6 / -5.3
2015 TO Luck/Game -0.3
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 65% (59%, 72%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 7.8 (0.2)

10. Another fast start would be stupendous

Last year's schedule provided a pretty interesting litmus test. A lot of writers saw the Aggies as a potential top-10 team, and if that's what you were projecting, the schedule set up perfectly: A&M was scheduled to only leave the state of Texas three times, got Alabama and Auburn at home, etc.

Others saw A&M as a borderline top-20 or top-25 team; I was in this camp. I saw a schedule that featured seven projected top-25 teams, called it "brutal" in the headline of last year's preview, and got some pushback.

In the end, the schedule only featured five top-25 teams, but I'm guessing by any definition, "brutal" applies to this year's schedule. Granted, there are still only four trips out of state, but for a team looking desperately for stability, the early going includes quite a few trying games: a visit from UCLA, a trip to face equally desperate Auburn, the annual Arkansas game in Jerry World. A visit from Tennessee caps the first half of the season, and a trip to Tuscaloosa starts the second half.

A&M faces a schedule with four likely wins and six games with win probability between 39 and 49 percent. A fast start and strong season are certainly on the table, especially if experience leads to the Aggies exceeding projections on offense. But wow, is this a tricky schedule. And wow, is this year's Hotseat Bowl on September 17 in Auburn going to be interesting.