To make the College Football Playoff, Texas A&M will probably need to go -- at worst -- 3-1 against the following four opponents: South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn and LSU. That’s a big ask for a team that will have a first-year starter at quarterback (sophomore Kenny Hill or freshman Kyle Allen) and a defense that was one of the SEC’s worst in 2013. So, why do the Aggies have a chance? Because they’ve got a deep backfield running behind another likely top-10 NFL draft pick at left tackle in Cedric Ogbuehi, for whom the Aggies spent $50,000 of the program’s NCAA Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund budget on an insurance policy premium to keep Ogbuehi from entering the ‘14 draft. They have two potential matchup nightmares in tight end Cam Clear, who can scoot despite a weight that hovers around 275, and redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones, a 6’5”, 240-pounder who arrived as a receiver but will likely get the Jimmy Graham treatment as a flexed-out tight end.
Meanwhile, the defense can’t get any worse than it was last year, when coordinator Mark Snyder inserted unprepared true freshmen into games against top-15 foes. Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin dismissed three potential starters this offseason following arrests, but despite the attrition, the defense should be better because so many players were tossed to the wolves last season. A prime example is 235-pound sophomore Jordan Mastrogiovanni, who was overwhelmed at times as a freshman but who settled in at middle linebacker this spring. If Mastrogiovanni and his fellow young veterans have improved, the Aggies have a fighting chance in the SEC West.
Opposing coach's take
Their best defense last year was Johnny Manziel -- they would score so many points, the defense kind of fed off the offense. If they got up two touchdowns, they could pin their ears back and take some risks. When they were able to
do that, it worked well. When they weren’t able to, when teams matched them score for score, it became a problem. They gave us a lot of movement up front, a lot of stunts, but physical running teams are their kryptonite. You can line up and pound their butts.
Manziel was the architect of the offense. They didn’t do a lot of complicated things; he could make so much happen after the play broke down. Without him they’ll have more difficulty. They did have a good run game, and they always have a really good offensive line. [Cedric] Ogbuehi looks like the next great one. They’ll rely more on the fundamentals, but they’ve got the talent to do that.
When freshman defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson’s father visited with Snyder in late February, Snyder shared some encouraging news: The 4XL football pants the Aggies special ordered for the 6’1”, 330-pound Henderson were expected to arrive any day. Now properly outfitted to accommodate his gap-clogging girth, Henderson might wind up being the most impactful member of a freshman class that includes receiver Speedy Noil, whose best attribute is self-explanatory, and defensive end Myles Garrett, who has the physique of a senior. Henderson showed in spring practice that he is quick relative his heft and strong enough to stall double-teaming offensive linemen. He should make running against the Aggies far more difficult than it was last year, when they allowed an average of 5.4 yards a carry.
The Aggies can’t ease in their youngsters. Texas A&M opens at South Carolina, which hasn’t lost at home since 2011. If the Aggies can beat the Gamecocks, they should be in the SEC West hunt when they visit Alabama on Oct. 18. Even if they win that game, they’ll still have to survive a rough closing kick (at Auburn, Missouri, LSU).
||at South Carolina
||Arkansas (in Arlington, Texas)
||at Mississippi State