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College Football Preview 2019: 15. Texas A&M Aggies

15. Texas A&M Aggies

A solid debut for Jimbo Fisher and A&M should set up for an even better 2019 and beyond

Kellen Mond
Offense: After holding off Nick Starkel for the starting quarterback job, Kellen Mond put together an impressive 2018 campaign. He finished the year with 3,107 yards and 31 total touchdowns, seeming to play his best football against best opponents (430 yards against Clemson). Mond is now returning for his junior season and he should continue to flourish under Jimbo Fisher, who is well-respected around the college football landscape as a "QB guru".

A huge year from running back Trayveon Williams helped him rise to third on Texas A&M's all-time rushing chart, with 3,615 yards in his Aggie career. Williams decided to leave for the pros a year early, meaning A&M must now replace 1,760 yards and 18 touchdowns. A host of candidates will now compete for the feature back role, including sophomore Jashaun Corbin, converted QB Vernon Jackson and UCF transfer Cordarrian Richardson. Corbin is certainly the favorite after gaining 346 yards a season ago. With that being said, Richardson is a real wild card as a speedster and open field demon who the Aggies should use creatively. Expect Mond to also be a factor as a runner, as he recorded 474 yards with his legs last fall.

Want even more reason to be excited about what Mond can do this year? He'll have nearly every big name receiver returning to help him out, with four of his top five back. That list includes a host of juniors, namely Quartney Davis, Jhamon Ausbon and Kendrick Rogers Jr. Davis is going to be the No. 1 guy as the top returning wide out, catching 45 passes for 585 yards and seven scores. Ausbon missed some time in '18 but now appears fully healthy, while Rogers struggles with drops but is a big red zone target at 6'4". Expect the Aggies to also feature Camron Buckley & Hezekiah Jones, who are also juniors.

Fisher has always put a real emphasis on tight ends in his offense and that did not change in his first season in College Station. Jace Sternberger proved to be a revelation as a junior college transfer, recording 832 receiving yards and ten touchdowns before becoming a third-round NFL Draft selection. The Aggies will sorely miss him, but there are serious expectations for incoming freshman Baylor Cupp. Cupp is a four-star prospect out of Brock, Texas who wowed scouts in high school and should see a ton of action right away.

Playing in the physical SEC West, having a strong offensive line is key, which should bode well for Texas A&M in 2019. There are three starters returning and good depth overall, as 69 career starts are back in total. The left side of the unit seems to be the real strength, with junior guard Jared Hocker back, as well as left tackle Dan Moore. Don't be surprised if newcomer Kenyon Green challenges for snaps from the get-go at either tackle spot as a consensus five-star recruit.

Even though the Aggies lose their two biggest offensive pieces in Williams and Sternberger, this offense should be very strong this fall. Mond should cement himself as one of the best the SEC has to offer, and he has a lot of help in front of him and surrounding him. It would not be surprising if A&M once again averages 36 points per game, if not more.

Defense: Defensive coordinator Mike Elko has proven to be a very impactful hire for Texas A&M and it should pay even larger dividends in 2019. This defense will feature a very strong defensive front, while the secondary welcomes in some talented newcomers.

Even though the Aggies will miss long-time defensive tackle Daylon Mack up the middle, the real strength of the D-Line will be the interior. Junior Justin Madubuike is a very talented pass rusher for his size and position, managing 5.5 sacks last fall. He is too quick for most linemen to get hands on and he is also extremely intelligent. Sophomore nose guard Bobby Brown is also a great athlete, as he has a 32 inch vertical leap, despite weighing in at 330 pounds. The bigger question for A&M will be at the end position, where two starters must be replaced. Senior Michael Clemons has a chance to breakout coming back form injury, although the other starter is unclear at the moment. Freshman Demarvin Leal was in for the spring and looked great, so he'll challenge for snaps.

While the defensive front will help A&M overcome some deficiencies at linebacker, this group could still be a slight concern. The good news is that sophomore Anthony Hines, a talented playmaker off the edge, should be fully back and healthy after missing nearly all of 2018. He will be joined by senior Charles Oliver, who made the move to the "Rover" position over the off-season. Oliver will be used a lot in coverage, where he really excels, swatting nine passes a year ago. Beyond that, A&M has a lot of talent, but most of it is unproven at this point. Elko and the rest of this staff will need some younger pieces to step forward.

The Aggies were still prone to letting up the big play through the air at times in 2018, although this secondary has the potential to really improve going forward. There are three corners that could legitimately start, namely junior Debione Renfro, junior Myles Jones and JUCO transfer Elijah Blades. Jones looked really good down the stretch for A&M last fall, while Blades looks the part of an SEC defensive back. Derrick Tucker is slated to start at strong safety, although his production fell off, from 55 tackles in '17 to 27 in '18 despite more starts. The free safety spot will likely be up for grabs into fall camp and possibly beyond. Sophomore Leon O'Neal has a ton of talent and showed flashes last season, but he could be pushed by fellow sophomore Brian Johnson or newcomers.

Once the Achilles Heel of the program, Texas A&M has really shored up the defensive side of the ball and things are looking up for '19 and the future. The D-Line looks and plays like an SEC unit and the pass defense should see improvement across the board with more experience and even more youthful talent entering the fray. It would not be surprising to see Elko put together another strong year before searching for a head coaching job somewhere in the next off-season.

Special Teams: Having a punter that can flip field position is such a luxury in the world of college football and the Aggies have just that in Braden Mann. Mann had a 51.0 punt average in 2018, which was an FBS record. He'll be especially key in low-scoring SEC affairs. The kicker position isn't quite as much of a strength, although sophomore Seth Small appears to have plenty of potential.

Bottom Line: Coming off a nine win campaign that included a bowl beatdown of NC State, there seems to be a lot of momentum for Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies. There already is tons of talent on this roster and Fisher continues to hit the recruiting trail hard, which means we will likely see some freshmen playing key snaps this season. With that being said, this is still a team with healthy experience throughout the roster, including the ever-important quarterback position. That will certainly be a huge X-factor for a team that plays in such an unforgiving division. Yet, for all the positives and hype around the program right now, one significant issue stands in the way for a real Aggie breakthrough: the schedule. A&M gets Alabama and Auburn at home, but must go on the road against Clemson, Georgia and LSU. You could make the argument that is three Top 5 opponents all away from home which is a daunting task for any team. I still expect Texas A&M to be very competitive in the SEC West, but the schedule is just too much to seriously think this team could make some type of Playoff jump. However, hovering around nine to ten wins and making a quality bowl is completely within the realm of possibility.

Team Projections
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-3 SEC)
Offensive MVP: QB Kellen Mond
Defensive MVP: DL Justin Madubuike
Breakout Player of the Year: RB Jashaun Corbin
Impact Freshman: TE Baylor Cupp

Five-Year Trend
2014: 8-5 (3-5 SEC)
2015: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)
2016: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)
2017: 7-6 (4-4 SEC)
2018: 9-4 (5-3 SEC)

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