HOOVER, Ala. – Pop quiz time. Name this SEC West team:
• It had a quality offense last year.
• It had a terrible defense last year.
• In the off-season, it hired a defensive coordinator with a proven track record in the SEC.
But Andy, you may be saying, you wrote about Auburn yesterday. Can’t you spread the coverage wealth?
This isn’t a column about Auburn, though. This is a column about the other SEC West team with a good 2014 offense, a horrible 2014 defense and a prodigious offseason expenditure on a defensive coordinator. You know, the one that isn’t getting any SEC title buzz. Auburn’s numbers were a little better last year (10th in the nation in offensive yards per play and 76th in the nation in defensive yards per play versus 27th in the nation in offensive yards per play and 97th in the nation in defensive yards per play), but Texas A&M’s situation is similar.
In the spring, we discussed the difference new defensive coordinator John Chavis might make in College Station. It isn’t all that different from the difference Will Muschamp might make in Auburn. And just as new Tigers starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson could add a new dimension to that offense, the maturation of Aggies sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen—who already has a win at Jordan-Hare Stadium on his resume—could make Texas A&M even better on that side of the ball.
Unless Allen doesn’t win the starting job.
Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin reiterated Tuesday that Allen will have to beat out freshman Kyler Murray for the job. This is Sumlin’s standing policy. Newcomers get a chance to compete. Early in preseason camp, the quarterbacks will split first-team reps. “Around two weeks out from the first game, you have to start changing the reps,” Sumlin said. “Instead of it being 50/50, it’s going to be upwards of 70/30.”
The assumption is Allen will be the one on the 70% end. After all, Kenny Hill’s transfer left Allen to take all the first-team reps in the spring, and back in April, Allen seemed quite comfortable in the role. “The team looks to me as a leader,” he said then. “Now they know. They’ve got one guy they can look to, and they know I’m going to be there all the time.”
But Allen will have to fight off a player who went 43–0 as a starter with three state titles in the Lone Star State’s largest classification. Murray was so good at Allen (Texas) High that he’ll spend part of this week in Los Angeles at the ESPYs to be honored as the Gatorade national high school player of the year. “That’ll give Kyle another week on him,” Sumlin cracked.
In writing about Auburn and Johnson on Monday, I embedded a YouTube clip of Johnson in high school. The resemblance to a certain recent Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn was uncanny. Remember that and watch this high school footage of Murray.
That certainly bears a resemblance to a certain recent Heisman winner from Texas A&M. Murray, who would have been a high baseball draft pick had he not opted out in May, has come to College Station to play. He’s found an incumbent just as determined to keep the position. “It’s not like Kyler didn’t know Kyle Allen was the MVP of the bowl game,” Sumlin said. “That didn’t stop him. He’s coming to compete. That’s what makes both of those guys who they are. Kyle is the same way.”
Sumlin wouldn’t even rule out playing both quarterbacks—something Sumlin has avoided in his career. “We’ve never started off with a rotation,” Sumlin said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t do it.”
It also doesn’t mean they will. Most likely, Sumlin and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital will choose a starter during camp. That will lead to a difficult conversation like the one they had with Allen last year when they chose Hill to start the season opener at South Carolina. “When Jake and I walked in and told him he was not going to start and Kenny was going to start, he was devastated,” Sumlin said. Sumlin recalled on Tuesday the advice he subsequently gave Allen. “The hardest thing for you to do right now is just to go somewhere and lay it down. Because you’re still one play away from playing,” Sumlin said. “Anything can happen. You will really regret if you have not prepared and we send you in that game against South Carolina on the road. For a young player, that’s the hardest thing to do.”
Sumlin said Allen initially didn’t handle that responsibility well. But that improved with time, and when Hill’s midseason suspension thrust Allen into the starting spot, the Scottsdale, Ariz., native took the job and never gave it back. This spring, Allen seemed convinced he’ll be the one to lead the Aggies onto the field when they open against Arizona State in Houston on Sept. 5. He’ll have to win that honor in camp, but the competition—or possibly the combination of the two quarterbacks—could make the Aggies’ offense even more potent.
If it is, and if Chavis can resurrect the Wrecking Crew—the second if is much bigger than the first—then the Aggies could be good enough to compete for their first SEC West title since joining the league. They might prove we chose incorrectly when we selected our trendy team from the pair of good 2014 offense/bad, 2014 defense/new defensive coordinator twins.