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Texas A&M – 2018 SEC Preview

Texas A&M – 2018 SEC Preview

Jim Collins once said,” Good is the enemy of great.” This was the stigma of the Texas A&M Aggies under former head coach Kevin Sumlin: consistently mediocre in the post-Manziel era and never able to get to the SEC title game.

That could all change under new head coach Jimbo Fisher, a man who is a “culture” in and of himself.

Fisher, a two-time National Champion at Florida State, brings a winning mentality to the Aggies, who have not been able to compete in the SEC West since Johnny Manziel’s sophomore season. Fisher will have the benefit of a lot of returning talent and experience in his first season with the Aggies. The team is anchored by an offensive line which returns four of five starters and a defensive unit that returns nine starters, although they do lose All-SEC and third team All-American Armani Watts.

Aggie Offense

Coach Jimbo Fisher announced Kellen Mond, shown here in 2017, as the Aggies’ starting QB. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty) Images

The Aggies bring back both of last season’s quarterbacks, Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond. Starkel returns after throwing for 1,793 yards and 14 touchdowns to 6 interceptions in only 7 games. Mond threw for 1,297 yards with 7 touchdowns to 6 interceptions in 9 games, and he also ran for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns as the starting quarterback after Starkel went down with an injury in the opening game of last season. Though Coach Fisher announced Mond as his starting quarterback, a healthy Starkel should still compete for the spot.

With the return of celebrated running back Trayveon Williams, the Aggies will rely heavily on their ground game. Look for Williams, entering his junior year, to play a big role this season and to be a dark-horse Heisman contender. Last season, he ran for 798 yards and 8 touchdowns and will enter 2018 with 1,855 career yards and 16 scores. He is one of just three returning RBs in the nation with multiple 200-yard rushing games vs. Power 5 opponents during their careers. (Bryce Love of Stanford and Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin are the other two.)

RB Trayveon Williams (5) shown here in 2017, runs the ball against Arkansas. (Photo credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

The Aggies take a hit in their wide receiving corps, including the loss to the NFL of star wideout and return man Christian Kirk. Last season, Kirk finished with 71 receptions for 919 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Gone, also, is number two receiver Damion Ratley who notched 30 receptions for 694 yards and 6 touchdowns. The upside, however, is the return of sophomore Jhamon Ausbon, a 6-2 220-pound wide receiver who started 13 games for A&M last season.

Another possible playmaker at wide receiver could be Kendrick Rogers, a 6-5 sophomore who did not see much playing time last season, but who showed out in the spring game. He is also a potential bright spot for the corps.

The Aggies also bring in some well-recognized recruits from the state of Texas with 4-star WR Jalen Preston from Manvel and 4-star WR Caleb Chapman from Friendswood.

In the past the Aggies have not utilized the tight end position much in the passing, but under Coach Fisher that will change. Jace Sternberger, a tight end transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma Community College, has already been named to the Mackey Award Watch List (given to the best collegiate tight end) and was also voted Spring Game MVP, catching 8 passes for 147 yards and 2 touchdowns. Given the Aggies’ lack of experience at the WR position, Coach Fisher will try to get the ball into Sternberger’s hands.

Erik McCoy (64) returns for his third season as the Aggies’ starting center. (Photo: Aggie Athletics)

The Aggies return all but one starter on the offensive line. At left tackle the Aggies will lean on sophomore Dan Moore, a 6-5, 317-pounder who will replace three-year starter Koda Martin. Martin is taking his talents to Syracuse after a heat stroke during the Aggie Spring Game.

At left guard is reliable 6’5 310 pound Keaton Sutherland, who started in every game for the Aggies last season, while 6-4, 315-pound Erik McCoy anchors the offensive line at center for the third season in a row. Connor Lanfear, at 6-6 305-pounds, battles it out with the 6-5, 318-pound Jared Hocker for right guard.

Finally, at right tackle, Carson Green, who played in 11 games in his freshman season, has broken out and taken hold of the starting tackle spot. Green is a 6-6 300-pounder who played in 11 games as a freshman last season.

Aggie Defense

The Fightin’ Texas Aggies bring back an experienced and talented group on defense, beginning with defensive end Landis Durham. In his first season as a starter, Durham led the SEC in sacks with 11 and 10 tackles for loss, so look for him to anchor the defensive front.

At defensive tackle, we have former 5-star recruit Daylon Mack. Though Mack has underperformed somewhat during his tenure with the Aggies, he is blossoming under new defensive coordinator Mike Elko and could potentially have a big season for the Ags. If Mack can live up to the hype that once surrounded his name, he’ll provide a big bonus for the Aggie defense. Kingsley Keke, a three year, battle-tested starter, occupies the other DT position and accounted for 45 tackles last year. With this experienced and very deep defensive line, the Aggies should be in great position to stop the run as well as get to the quarterback.

Multi-year starter Otaro Alaka anchors the linebacker position and will be a big difference-maker this year. The weak side linebacker is a big, physical 6’3 240. This past season he ranked third on the team in tackles, totaling 72, and second on the team in sacks with 5.5. Alaka also led the team in TFL with 12. With his size, Alaka will be used in the Ags’ blitz packages.

Texas A&M linebacker Tyrel Dodson (25) reacts after stopping Mississippi State on a third down during the first quarter of their 2017 matchup in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

At middle linebacker the Aggies return esteemed player Tyrel Dodson who led the team in tackles last year with 105, ranking him number 5 in the SEC in 2017. He also recorded 11 TFL, 5.5 sacks and 3 interceptions. Dodson became the first A&M sophomore to reach 100 tackles in nearly 20 years. Look for these two linebackers to have All-SEC type seasons under Coach Fisher. Sophomore Buddy Johnson returns as strong-side linebacker. Although not the powerhouse that Alaka and Dodson are, Johnson will be a solid contributor. As a freshman, he racked up 19 tackles in 11 games, so look for Johnson to be a solid contributor next to these two stars.

Despite some solid returnees at defensive back, the position is one of the hardest-hit areas for the Aggies, punctuated by the loss of safety Armani Watts, an All-SEC and third-team All-American player. Watts will be replaced by proven safety Donovan Wilson, a senior who suffered a season-ending injury during last year’s opener. The Aggies have a lot riding on how both he and free safety Derrick Tucker perform. Tucker, a returning starter who accounted for 55 tackles last year, is poised to have another big year. The experience at the safety position will help the Aggies limit big plays, unlike in years past.

Helping solidify the Aggie defense will be Charles Oliver and Debione Renfro. At 6’2 190, cornerback Renfro will use his physical play to help the Aggies on the outside. Totaling 54 tackles last year, Renfro looks to be another big part of the Aggie defense. At the other CB spot is Charles Oliver, who was tied last season for the lead in pass breakups. At the nickel CB will be Deshawn Capers-Smith. At 6-2 192-pounds, Capers-Smith is a strong, physical corner who will shut down the slot position.

So despite having lost one of their best players from last year in Watts, the Aggies also return several experienced players and hope to capitalize on that experience against some of the top teams in the SEC.

Special Teams

At special teams, the Aggies lose talented punter Shane Tripucka but replace him with kickoff specialist Braden Mann, who is a very versatile kicker. Returning at kicker will be Daniel LaCamera, one of the top kickers in the SEC. The Aggies lost a great returner in Christian Kirk, and, as of right now, receiver Roshauud Paul and Clyde Chriss are the favorites to replace him. These two are regarded as among the fastest on the team, but will they be able to replace Kirk’s dynamic kick-return ability? Only time will tell.


If the offensive line takes advantage of its experience, including the return of Erik McCoy as a three-year starter at center, and if the defensive backs can limit big plays, the Aggies should be able to make some real noise in the SEC.

Under the leadership of coach Jimbo Fisher — and with the talent and experience the Aggies bring back on both sides of the ball, it is possible for A&M to combat that most dangerous of enemies–the acceptance of being good–andbecome great instead. I hope Jim Collins is watching.

Luke Meadows

Luke Meadows

Luke Meadows is a student at Allen Academy in Bryan, TX. He loves most all sports, but football is his favorite. He plays football, basketball, soccer and participates in some track and field events. He broke Allen’s Shot Put record last year and received the Coach’s Award in football. Luke is a also Black Belt and Sensei with Rick Short Martial Arts BCS. Luke plans to pursue a career in sports broadcasting after college.

About The Author

Luke Meadows

Luke Meadows is a student at Allen Academy in Bryan, TX. He loves most all sports, but football is his favorite. He plays football, basketball, soccer and participates in some track and field events. He broke Allen’s Shot Put record last year and received the Coach’s Award in football. Luke is a also Black Belt and Sensei with Rick Short Martial Arts BCS. Luke plans to pursue a career in sports broadcasting after college.

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