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College Football Preview 2014-2015: 23. Texas A&M Aggies

Trey Williams
23. Texas A&M Aggies

Coach: Kevin Sumlin (3rd year)
2013-2014 Record: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)
August 28th @ South Carolina
September 6th vs. Lamar
September 13th vs. Rice
September 20th @ SMU
September 27th vs. Arkansas
October 4th @ Mississippi State
October 11th vs. Ole Miss
October 18th @ Alabama
November 1st vs. Louisiana-Monroe
November 8th @ Auburn
November 15th vs. Missouri
November 27th vs. LSU

Despite having one of the nation's most explosive and high-scoring offenses, the Aggies took a step back in their second year inside the SEC because of one thing: one of the worst defenses in the history of the SEC. The unit was undersized and inexperienced and was a big reason why the Aggies fell to both Auburn and Alabama, two games they had a shot at. Although Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans both left early for the NFL, Kevin Sumlin has the Aggies on a roll, and the team should once again be in the hunt in the SEC West.

Backfield: The inevitable time came when Johnny Manziel made the jump to the next level and the Aggies suffered another loss when presumed starter, Matt Joeckel, transferred to TCU. Now, the battle is down between two quarterbacks, Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen, to fill the big shoes Manziel left in College Station. Hill, a sophomore, saw some action last year and seems to fit the offense very well; he is a spread offense style QB who can make plays with his huge arm and legs. Allen, a true freshman, is the top incoming quarterback recruit in the nation and has the potential to really develop into a star. Allen isn't slow, but he doesn't lack the explosiveness that Hill does and he hasn't seen one snap against a proven SEC defense. Both played pretty well this spring but it appears to be a dead heat between them and Sumlin may not decide until deep into fall camp. Texas A&M will rely more on the run game this year than last, especially with the talent returning in the backfield. Junior Tra Carson is a bruising back who showed a lot of promise last season, scoring 7 touchdowns. Trey Williams is an explosive playmaker who is the perfect complement to Carson. Expect Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams to also make some plays; the former five-star recruit was dubbed the next Adrian Peterson when he first showed up for the Sooners.

Receivers: No receiver inside the SEC was as important to his team as Mike Evans was to the Aggies, with the possible exception of Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews. Evans used his long, athletic frame to haul in 69 receptions for 1,394 yards, averaging 20.2 yards every reception. With him making plays for Tampa Bay now, Sumlin and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital will need senior Malcome Kennedy to step up in a big way. Kennedy isn't the big play threat that Evans was, but he is a reliable option in the intermediate passing game. Redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones is ready for a breakout 2014-2015. The 6'5" playmaker can do damage in so many different ways and he will take over for Evans as the team's deep ball threat. Speedy junior Sabian Holmes is also back for Texas A&M along with incoming true freshman Speedy Noil. Noil is exactly what his name describes, a speedy game-changing receiver. Senior Cameron Clear is relatively limited as a receiver but he has the chance to be a security blanket for however starts for the Aggies. Clear could prove to be a big option in the red zone, using his 6'6" body to burrow through defenders.

Offensive Line: Texas A&M won't gain a reputation for a team that produces a ton of talent in the trenches, but for the second straight year they had an offensive linemen drafted in the Top 10 of the draft. Jake Matthews has a big-time linemen who had great versatility and was the anchor to the line last season. Senior Cedric Ogbuehi could be the next Aggie linemen to be a big NFL prospect, he will likely spend his time at left tackle this next season. Along with Ogbuehi, senior Jarvis Harrison is also back, he should also play on the left side at guard. Jake's brother, Mike enters his junior season and he will start at center. Junior Joseph Cheek gives the offensive line even more size and experience. With four starters back and a ton of experience, the O-Line could be the best in Texas A&M history and quite possibly the best in the SEC and the nation. It could even surpass the great offensive lines "Johnny Football" ran behind that included Luke Joeckel and Matthews. This unit will be pivotal in helping whoever starts at quarterback, they won't have much success if opponents are in their face all the time.

Defensive Line: If the defense is going to improve at all, getting pressure on the quarterback will be paramount. Also, a greater emphasis must be placed on rush defense, as the Aggies were 110th in rushing yards allowed per game in 2013. Senior end Gavin Stansbury is ready to make a bigger impact after he had a solid last season, reeling in 3 sacks and 47 tackles. On the other end, expect junior Julien Obioha also to make a larger impact. Both aren't necessarily the biggest or fastest defenders on the field but they find ways to make an impact and they have high motors. They should be taking the bulk of the defensive snaps but expect incoming end Myles Garrett to see some opportunities as well. Garrett is one of the most talented players to ever sign with Texas A&M and he already has prototypical NFL size. He is a relentless monster who can pile up sacks; his senior year of high school he recorded 20.5 sacks. At the tackle spots, expect sophomore Isaiah Golden to improve dramatically and also expect to see freshman Zaycoven Henderson make some plays. At the moment, the front seven is average (pretty weak for SEC standards) but the future is definitely bright. Garrett has the chance to be the next Jadeveon Clowney and another freshman end, Qualen Cunningham could be a future stud in College Station.

Linebackers: Perhaps the major reason why the defense was so bad last year in every important category was the linebacker corps, where Sumlin relied heavily on three true freshman. Sophomore Darian Claiborne played very well for a freshman thrust into a starting role; he recorded 89 total tackles and 7 tackles for loss. With more games under his belt expect even bigger things from Claiborne who could quickly grow into one of the nation's best linebackers. Senior Donnie Baggs had a pretty disappointing 2013 but he should see improvement. Baggs had 30 tackles, but didn't make the impact many people were expecting of him. He moves very well and can make big plays but lacks the overall consistent play to play ability he needs. The likely third starting linebacker will be sophomore Jordan Mastrogiovanni, a player with great size and a relentless motor. He might not put up the numbers that Claiborne may, but he has major upside and could be able to put some pressure on opponents.
Deshazor Everett

Secondary: This appears to be the strength of this team as nearly every important contributor returns in the defensive backfield. That includes two seniors, Deshazor Everett and Howard Matthews, who both had strong last seasons. Everett, a ball hawk at cornerback, had 73 tackles and two interceptions in 2013 and should even build on it more. He has always been a great athlete but he has become stronger and won't get pushed around anymore; he could really have a good season. Matthews is the team's top returning tackler after racking up 90 tackles, while also compiling 3 interceptions and returning one of those picks for a touchdown. Matthews, who should likely start at strong safety, has great versatility, he can make plays in so many different ways. He is a pretty solid coverage player but his strength lies in his ability to blitz and get into the backfield and disrupt opponents. Senior Floyd Raven is back at the free safety spot after he had a decent 2013. He doesn't have any notable strengths but his experience should be important and he can contribute at times. Junior De'Vante Harris returns and will most likely be the starter at the other cornerback spot. Harris is a little bit undersized and he still isn't that strong of a tackler but he should show some significant improvement after a pretty weak last season.

Special Teams: This appears to be another one of the Aggies' strengths as both kicker Josh Lambo and punter Drew Kaser return. Kaser had a great 2013 and could be a Ray Guy candidate entering his junior year. Lambo meanwhile, emerged into quite a reliable option and showed real promise; he won the game for Texas A&M when he connected on a field goal to beat Ole Miss. The Aggies have a number of dangerous returners including Trey Williams, a speedster.

Now matter who the starter is at quarterback they should have enough talent surrounding them to keep the Aggies very competitive inside the SEC. If the defense improves with more experience and some more playmakers (Garrett) this team could definitely still be a title threat. It is a transition year, and a brutal schedule that will kick off with South Carolina will certainly test Texas A&M. But, the future is very bright and this is a team that could still surprise people.

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