Coach Kevin Sumlin’s fifth season is a big one. If Texas A&M gets to nine or 10 wins, he won’t have to worry about the hot seat. But if they crank out a 7-6 season, it probably won’t be his seat to heat any longer.
He has improved his coaching staff and has a good roster, but there are enough questions to keep College Station wondering well into the season.
BACKFIELD: There is a sense of optimism around this unit, but that optimism is built on potential and not much actual evidence. This unit doesn't have to be great for A&M to succeed in 2016; it just can't be the reason Texas A&M loses games. Graduate transfer QB Trevor Knight needs to limit mistakes and give his playmakers the chance to make plays. The running backs, headed by Keith Ford, need to get the must-make yardage, keep A&M ahead of the chains and bust a big run when they can. But for the love of hullabaloo, hold onto the ball. Do that, and A&M will win games.
RECEIVERS: The Aggies are so talented and versatile at receiver that the only thing that will stop them is bad schemes. This receiving corps should not be shut down by anybody. Christian Kirk is a star and he gets ample help from Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones. There's also Speedy Noil, Damion Ratley and Edward Pope. TE Kalvin Cline is a grad transfer from Virginia Tech, and he could be a red zone weapon.
LINE: Jim Turner is considered a high-level line coach, but he isn't a miracle-worker. The departure of Mike Matthews and Germain Ifedi will be felt this season as a mostly young and inexperienced line looks to mesh. LT Avery Gennesy has a chance to garner All-SEC notice, but there are issues elsewhere. Redshirt freshman Erik McCoy is likely to take over at center and he has a good upside. This is a potential problem area.
LINE: The discussion starts with junior Myles Garrett, the best pass-rusher in college football. He and Daeshon Hall are a formidable duo and there also is solid depth at end. The middle is young, but full of real talent and athleticism. Daylon Mack, Kingsley Keke, Zaycoven Henderson and Hardreck Walker lend hope that the run defense will be greatly improved. It is critical that A&M gets that done so Garrett and Co. will get the chance to pin their ears back and create the game-changing plays they'll need to win big SEC games.
LINEBACKERS: Big plays have gutted Texas A&M in major moments of late, and a lot of them have been caused by poor linebacker play. A&M needs a few linebackers who can quickly read and react to a play. It seems simple, but the problem has been there for years. Sophomore Richard Moore played well in the second half of the 2015 season, but he isn't big or durable enough to do it alone. Sophomore Otaro Alaka and seniors Claude George and Shaan Washington are on the spot to produce.
SECONDARY: The Aggies went from 83rd nationally in pass defense in 2014 to fourth in '15, which means something major happened. That "something" was a mixture of a scheme change by coordinator John Chavis (more press coverage) and the emergence of Armani Watts, Justin Evans and Donovan Wilson. A&M has to replace two corners, though, and if the run defense isn't a sieve again, the secondary will be tested far more often this season. But while there are questions here, they're relatively small.
Big-time punt and kick returners seemingly are a dime a dozen on this roster, so that's not a problem. But kicker and punter are an issue. A&M has to replace All-SEC players at both positions.
The Aggies have started 5-0 in each of the past two seasons, only to falter down the stretch. Games six and seven this season? Tennessee and Alabama. (At least there is an off-week between the games.) That two-game stretch likely will determine the course of Texas A&M's season. It's also time to start playing better at Kyle Field, and with UCLA, Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU heading to College Station, this would be the season to start doing so. The Aggies have played a bit better away from home (18-7) than at home (18-9) under Sumlin.
Facts and figures
Last season: 8-5 overall, 4-4 in SEC; lost to Louisville in Music City Bowl
Past five years, overall: 43-22
Past four years, SEC: 17-15
Past 10 years, overall: 78-51
Past 10 years, SEC: N/A
(You can follow Cavender Neutze on Twitter @neutz9)
© 2016, Cavender Neutze. All rights reserved.
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