Ainias Smith wants more carries in 2021. Then again, maybe it's receptions. Thus the life of a player without a set position.
Texas A&M's do-it-all weapon from 2020 is set to showcase his skills as a junior. Smith is one of six offensive starters returning to College Station for the start of the new campaign.
Offense wins games, right? Well, last season the defense led the way. That side of the ball will be out for blood once more, but Smith can see the offense taking another step in the right direction.
"Whether it's with the pass game, run game, I feel like we can go ahead and break like one-play touchdowns easily," Smith said this week. "We definitely have the potential to do it, but it's going to be a great fall camp. It's going to be a great year."
The Aggies, now three days into fall camp, enter the new season with perhaps their highest expectations since joining the SEC in 2012. The only other time the Aggies entered a season with as much hype or more hype was 2013 with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel leading the way.
A&M finished 9-1 last year, with their lone loss coming to Alabama in Week 2. They finished fourth in the AP poll after a win over North Carolina in the Orange Bowl — their highest finish since the national championship run of 1939.
Jimbo Fisher went to the Orange Bowl in Year 3 as Florida State's head coach. The next season, he brought the Seminoles a national title. Is that the case for A&M in Year 4 under Fisher?
“We didn’t come back just to come back,” senior defensive Michael Clemons said. “We came back to win the national championship. … We went 9-1 and everything, but I feel like we can win the national championship. I want to be a part of it.”
Fisher agreed with the statement.
“That’s why I’m here, and that’s why we’re here,” Fisher said of living up to the national title hype. “We have all the resources to do it, the program to do it, and the support to do it. Now it’s just making sure we do it.”
A&M will get an extra boost defensively thanks to the likes of the NCAA's eligibility ruling. With last season being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, any senior was welcome to return for an extra year.
Clemons should be in an NFL training camp. Instead, he returns for another go-around at Kyle Field. As do defensive tackle Jayden Peavy and cornerback Myles Jones.
“I just mean we went 9-1, and we’re trying to go undefeated,” Clemons explained. “With the mentality we have, we’re further along than we’ve ever been, and we’ve continued to get better. We’re real close.”
Close is an understatement. The Aggies once again are expected to finished second in the SEC West behind Alabama. Most believe an 11-1 season is plausible, minus the loss coming in Week 6 at home to the Crimson Tide.
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Defensive coordinator Mike Elko could have something to say there. He returns nine defensive starters, with two players having starting experience as well. The only downside is will they be ready for Week 1?
Nose tackle McKinnley Jackson remains away from the program following his arrest last week. Linebacker Andre White Jr. is in a battle with Edgerrin Cooper, a 2020 commit from Louisiana.
The more competition, the better the Aggies' chances against the defending national champs or any team on the schedule.
“At the end of the day, Alabama is not the first game, not the second, not the third,” tight end Jalen Wydermyer reminded. “We’ve got to keep going and not worry about Bama until it’s Bama week.”
A&M still has other games ahead in the SEC West. Mississippi State will be more equipped in Week 5 under Mike Leach's air-raid system than it was last fall. Auburn returns Bo Nix and Tank Bigsby in the backfield. Heck, Lane Kiffin can steal the show with his offense at Ole Miss.
The Rebels defense showing up? That's a question for another day.
Naturally, it all comes down to beat Alabama. They're fresh off another national title and are standard in the SEC. Nick Saban needs one more title to dethrone former A&M/Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant for the most in program history.
Maybe the Aggies to hold them off for at least another year. Or maybe, it's the start of a new dynasty for a program in a state known for football.
"No matter who your opponent is … your opponent becomes faceless," Fisher said. "It’s not disrespectful to them, but you can only control what you can control.
“That’s the standard in which you approach a game, how you prepare for a game, and how you then perform in a game. We’re in the process of doing that.”
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