The new College Football Playoff is supposed to encourage schools to schedule better nonconference games, as teams try to beef up their schedule strength to earn one of the playoff’s coveted four spots at season’s end.
On Thursday, Texas A&M and UCLA announced that they’ll play each other during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Other schools have announced future marquee nonconference opponents, including Texas A&M vs. USC, Notre Dame vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Michigan State and LSU vs. Oklahoma.
Here are five other nonconference games I’d like to see in the future:
When Meyer was still coaching at Florida, the Crimson Tide and Gators played in two of the most anticipated SEC championship games. The No. 2 Gators beat the No. 1 Tide 31-20 in 2008, and then the Tide turned the tables on No. 1 UF with a 32-13 win in 2009.
Alabama and Ohio State have played only three times in history, with the Tide winning each time, most recently in a 24-17 victory in the 1995 Citrus Bowl.
2. Texas vs. Texas A&M: Perhaps the biggest casualty in conference realignment, Texas and Texas A&M haven’t played each other since the Aggies bolted the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011 season. Sadly, there are no plans for the in-state rivals to play again in future regular seasons.
The Aggies and Longhorns played each other 118 times from 1894 to 2011, with their annual meeting traditionally being played on Thanksgiving Day. UT won nearly twice as many games as the Aggies (76-37-5), including nine of the last 12 meetings.
With former Louisville coach Charlie Strong taking over at Texas, and Kevin Sumlin building the Aggies into an SEC powerhouse, the game would also pit two of the sport’s best African-American coaches against each other.
3. Oregon vs. Baylor: Two of the game’s most explosive offenses -- and two of its best-dressed teams -- would undoubtedly light up the scoreboard if they ever played. In fact, the contest would probably look more like a track meet.
Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have become the Ducks of the Southwest, with their hurry-up, spread offense and myriad flashy uniforms closely resembling what Chip Kelly and then Mark Helfrich built at Oregon. The Bears and Ducks follow the same blueprint on offense: play fast and score fast.
We hoped to see this matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last season, but alas, it didn’t happen. Oregon and Baylor have never met on the gridiron.
4. Michigan vs. USC: Two of the sport’s traditional heavyweights have faced each other eight times in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, but only twice during the regular season -- in 1957 and 1958.
The Trojans won the last three meetings in the Rose Bowl, 32-18 in 2007, 28-14 in 2004 and 17-10 in 1990. USC has won six of the past seven meetings overall and holds a 6-4 advantage all-time.
We might have seen this matchup during the regular season if a Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling partnership hadn’t fallen apart in 2012.
5. Georgia vs. Florida State: UGA coach Mark Richt was a longtime assistant under legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden before taking over the Bulldogs, and he recently poached defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt off the Seminoles’ staff.
The Bulldogs and Seminoles go head-to-head for a lot of recruits every year, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher upgraded his roster by effectively recruiting South Georgia and Atlanta.
The Bulldogs and Seminoles have played 11 times and only once since 1984 -- UGA defeated FSU 26-13 in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Georgia leads the all-time series, 6-4-1.
- Many of the NFL's elite attended Alabama's pro day yesterday, including coaches Chip Kelly, Marvin Lewis and Sean Payton. There, they saw former offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio state his case for a clean bill of health and former quarterback AJ McCarron shrug off the notion of pressure, saying "this is easy."
- Jake Holland and his 46 tackles are gone from Auburn's linebacker corps this spring. Here's a breakdown of the rest of the position group.
- Why doesn't college football have an early signing period? The AJC asked a few notable coaches for their opinions, including Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Tennessee's Butch Jones.
- The offensive guard position is a point of contention in Baton Rouge these days. Evan Washington is running with the first-team now, but he hasn't been the only one. The race to replace Trai Turner is an open competition.
- Tennessee defensive tackle Danny O'Brien says he's learned from his offseason arrest. In fact, he said he's glad it happened, and it's a lesson he'll take with him forever.
- Maty Mauk is Missouri's No. 1 quarterback, but that's not written in stone. "It's all about competition," said coach Gary Pinkel.
- Andre Dubose, who sustained a season-ending knee injury last season, was granted a sixth year of eligibility at Florida.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M and UCLA have agreed to a home-and-home series in 2016 and 2017, the schools announced Thursday.
The Aggies will host the Bruins at Kyle Field -- which is undergoing a $450 million renovation that is scheduled for completion in 2015 -- on Sept. 3, 2016, and UCLA will host Texas A&M at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Sept. 2, 2017. UCLA has never played at Kyle Field; the Aggies haven't played a regular-season game in California since 1992 against Stanford.
Both programs have risen in the past two years. The Aggies are 20-6 in two seasons under Kevin Sumlin, and the Bruins are 19-8 since Jim Mora took over prior to the 2012 season. Both coaches were rewarded with new contracts late last year.
The teams have met four times, splitting the series 2-2. The most recent meeting came in 1998; the previous three were all before 1960.
"We are very pleased this series was able to come together and provides our program with an exciting, premier nonconference matchup against UCLA," Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman said in a statement. "UCLA brings one of the top programs from the West Coast to the redeveloped Kyle Field in Aggieland, and for our Aggie team and the 12th Man to have the chance to play in the Rose Bowl is a historic opportunity."
UCLA also announced it has rescheduled its home and home with Rutgers to accommodate the Texas A&M series and agreed to a series with San Diego State for 2019 and 2020. The Bruins and Scarlet Knights will now play in 2020 and 2021.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
That's down from four head-coaching changes the previous year. In fact, Mason will be the 38th different head coach to coach in a game for one of the current SEC schools since the start of the 2004 season.
Even in the volatile world of the SEC, that's a ton. But change is a part of this league's fabric. With 11 of the 14 head coaches making $3 million or more per year, there is no such thing as a five-year plan anymore. Some would argue there's not even a four-year plan.
One assistant, Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, left for a head-coaching gig at Florida Atlantic. His former colleague with the Hogs, Chris Ash, left his post as co-defensive coordinator for the same job at Ohio State.
Georgia's entire defensive staff has a new look, triggered largely by Todd Grantham's move to Louisville as defensive coordinator. Former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt replaces Grantham along with three other new defensive assistants.
Alabama coach Nick Saban has his fourth different offensive coordinator since coming to Tuscaloosa in 2007. Lane Kiffin, who's no stranger to the SEC after his turbulent 14 months as Tennessee's head coach in 2009, will call the Tide's plays in 2014.
One of the most critical hires was at Florida, where offensive coordinator Kurt Roper comes over from Duke with the mission of resurrecting the Gators' offense.
Here's a rundown of the coaching changes (head coaches and position coaches only; number of new coaches in parentheses):
Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Bo Davis, defensive line
Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Chris Rumph, defensive line coach
Greg Brown, secondary
- Kevin Steele moves onto the field as inside linebackers coach and will serve as special assistant to the head coach. He was the Tide's player personnel director last season.
- Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will coach the secondary after coaching linebackers last season.
Robb Smith, defensive coordinator/secondary
Clay Jennings, secondary
Rory Segrest, defensive line/specialists
Chris Ash, defensive coordinator
Charlie Partridge, defensive line
Taver Johnson, secondary
- Randy Shannon was promoted to senior associate head coach.
Kurt Roper, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Mike Summers, offensive line
Coleman Hutzler, special teams coordinator
Brent Pease, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Tim Davis, offensive line
Jeff Choate, special teams/outside linebackers
Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator/secondary
Tracy Rocker, defensive line/weak-side linebackers
Mike Ekeler, inside linebackers/special teams
Kevin Sherrer, strong-side linebackers/nickel backs
Todd Grantham, defensive coordinator
Chris Wilson, defensive line
Kirk Olivadotti, inside linebackers
Scott Lakatos, secondary
Craig Naivar, special teams/safeties
Bradley Dale Peveto, special teams/safeties
Jeff Grimes, offensive line/running game coordinator
Bradley Dale Peveto, special teams coordinator
Greg Studrawa, offensive line
Thomas McGaughey, special teams coordinator
MISSISSIPPI STATE (1)
Brian Johnson, quarterbacks
Les Koenning, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
TEXAS A&M (1)
Terry Joseph, secondary
Marcel Yates, co-defensive coordinator/secondary
- Jake Spavital will call plays in 2014 as offensive coordinator. He was the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last season.
- Clarence McKinney moves back to running backs after calling the plays last season as offensive coordinator.
Derek Mason, head coach
Karl Dorrell, offensive line/quarterbacks
David Kotulski, defensive coordinator/inside linebackers
Marc Lubick, receivers
Keven Lightner, offensive line
Gerry Gdowski, tight ends
Brett Maxie, secondary
Kenwick Thompson, outside linebackers
Frank Maile, defensive line
James Franklin, head coach
John Donovan, offensive coordinator/running backs
Bob Shoop, defensive coordinator/safeties
Ricky Rahne, quarterbacks
Herb Hand, offensive line
Josh Gattis, receivers
Brent Pry, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
Sean Spencer, defensive line
George Barlow, secondary
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M has only had a week's worth of spring practice. There are still many months to come until the Aggies are even close to naming a starting quarterback, but the battle to become the next signal-caller in Aggieland is in full swing.
How did it look after five practices?
"I've seen a bunch of guys that are pretty good," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "There's a great competition."
Each of the three candidates -- senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen -- have been able to rotate turns working with the first team throughout the early practices and each have made progress, according to Sumlin.
"Kenny is a lot more focused right now and is doing some good things. The young guy [Allen] has come in and is making strides every day. You don't expect him to be where those guys are at this point."
While each has their strengths, you won't find any with the scrambling ability that their predecessor, Johnny Manziel, had. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner's elusiveness separated him from other quarterbacks. Joeckel, Hill and Allen better resemble the prototype that fits the offense Sumlin and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital have spent the last six years working in.
"These types of quarterbacks that we have here are similar to what I had at West Virginia and Oklahoma State, and you've just got to utilize their strengths and take advantage of what they do best," Spavital said. "They're obviously probably going to be more pocket-passer guys, but I think some of them are mobile enough to maybe get some things out there on the perimeter."
Each quarterback is at a different stage in terms of how much of the offense they've been given, Sumlin said. For Joeckel and Hill, that's an advantage. For Allen, who has been on campus since January as an early enrollee who signed with the 2014 recruiting class, inexperience is the primary hurdle right now.
"He's got to learn the offense," Sumlin said of Allen. "We have to put him in a position where he can be successful with not giving him the whole menu and letting him play in a style that benefits him and where he's comfortable. Realistically, Matt should have everything. Kenny should have a little less than everything and [Allen] should have a lot less than both those guys at this point. We're a third of the way through [spring]. He shouldn't have everything. He'll get more and more as we go and we'll be able to assess a little bit more. After five practices I think all of those guys are right where you thought they'd be."
- Missouri opened spring practice on Tuesday looking to build on the momentum of a 12-2 record last season.
- Spring practice got started at Vanderbilt, and with it the quarterback derby began as well. Presumed starter sophomore Patton Robinette looks to fend off redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary.
- Pro Football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton has been compared to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and is among Johnny Football's many advocates, calling him "a quarterback savant."
- LSU's first day in pads revolved around the "Big Cat drill," and there was a minor scuffle between DE Lewis Neal and OL Josh Boutte. The Tigers expect to have stiff competition at guard this spring.
- The first of Alabama's two pro days is today. Injured players Anthony Steen and Vinnie Sunseri are aiming for the second pro day on April 8.
- One year after signing a three-year contract, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo gets a one-year extension.
- Auburn's message on Twitter about the now-tabled 10-second rule? "We're only going to get faster."
- Florida players are excited about the new offense that will be installed this spring.
- Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson chose not to go early into the NFL draft, and as a result he'll be facing greater expectations with the Vols.
- Former Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, now head coach at his alma mater Texas Tech, said he felt conflicted about his time in College Station, Texas.
- If you remember watching Auburn running back Stephen Davis star in the mid-90s, this might make you feel a bit older. His son, Stephen Davis Jr. is a 6-foot-3 safety who is -- surprise, surprise -- favoring the Tigers in recruiting.
- Many coaches favor some form of an early signing period in football recruiting. Georgia's Mark Richt, however, says, "Be careful what we ask for."
- Athlon ranked all 128 NCAA coaching jobs. Florida, Alabama, Georgia and LSU made the top 10.
- Recently engaged Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw is a busy man preparing for the NFL draft.
Initially, two junior college transfers, Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor, were the early candidates expected to compete for the position.
But with versatile talent across its offensive line, Texas A&M had other options to explore as well. So far, the Aggies have done just that in experimenting with yet another candidate: sophomore Germain Ifedi.
"With the two new JC guys and then moving Ced [Ogbuehi] to left [tackle], we've actually experimented with a little Germain Ifedi at right tackle," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He thinks he's skinny anyways at 324 [pounds]."
The 6-foot-5 Ifedi was the Aggies' full-time starter at right guard last season, his first as a starter after redshirting in 2012.
The Aggies like having versatile offensive linemen and have utilized them as such in the past. Last season, Jake Matthews played left tackle but spent two games at right tackle. Ogbuehi played right guard and right tackle previously before making the switch to left tackle this spring. Jarvis Harrison, who is sitting out spring while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, has been the left guard but also spent two games at left tackle last season.
So it should come as no surprise that the Aggies are mixing and matching to see what works best.
"We've created a little bit more energy during practice with those guys up front and a bunch of new guys out there anyway moving positions and trying to earn them," Sumlin said. "Whenever you have something like that, the energy level is always pretty good, I think."
While Harrison has sat out, Garrett Gramling -- who started two games at left guard last season -- has worked at left guard this spring. When Ifedi has practiced as the first-team right tackle, veteran tackle Joseph Cheek has seen time at right guard with the first group.
"He's a big dude in there now," Sumlin said of Gramling. "He's all of 6-6 and 315-320 pounds and really gives us some flexibility at guard to be able to move Germain around and Cheek. People forgot Cheek is still here. We've got some guys around that give us some quality depth in the offensive line."
When it comes to Gennesy and Eluemunor, Sumlin has also liked what he has seen and the work that offensive line coach B.J. Anderson has done with the entire offensive line.
"Coach Anderson has done a good job of putting them with the twos so they can get used to their technique because when they get up there with the ones, things are happening real fast," Sumlin said. "Guys get a little bit worried. Avery is really, really athletic. Jermaine is a lot more athletic than I thought he would be. Those two guys are great additions. It just takes some time."
- With Missouri getting started, the Columbia Daily Tribune has a mountain of preview content. Among the biggest questions the Tigers must answer this spring: Will Maty Mauk seamlessly replace James Franklin at quarterback?
- Vanderbilt kicks things off with plenty of players changing positions to fit the 3-4 defense that new coach Derek Mason brought from Stanford.
- The LSU Tigers don pads for the first time today in spring practice, and that means it's time for the always popular "Big Cat drill" pitting hand-selected players against one another in a circle of their peers. Also, former Tiger offensive tackle La'el Collins has worked with LSU's new line coach, Jeff Grimes, this spring and says Grimes will hold players to a higher standard.
- SEC officiating coordinator Steve Shaw hopes the debate over tempo in college football won't create division between teams that play fast and teams that prefer a slower game. Keep the focus on what's best for the game, he says.
- Ole Miss defensive players Robert and Denzel Nkemdiche have filed a counter-suit against the man who accused them of beating him at a fraternity party last year. The man sued for $2 million in February, while the Nkemdiches have denied all allegations.
- Texas A&M hasn't practiced that much, but early enrollee receiver Speedy Noil is living up to the hype as one of the top recruits in the nation.
- Former UT coach Johnny Majors is stable four days after a heart valve procedure. The Vols' Corey Vereen, a likely starter at defensive end, seems to be working out a lot at Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex.
- Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has shifted his position responsibility to coaching the secondary for Alabama, which starts practice on Saturday. Smart was coaching linebackers until former NFL star Kevin Steele took over after moving from the personnel office. Elsewehere, the Tide are well-stocked on the defensive line.
- Defensive ends are a position of strength for Auburn, which opens its spring practice on Monday. One big question: Who will take over for Chris Davis as the Tigers' next punt returner?
- Georgia opens practice in one week, and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is the big story. Here are seven ways he is going to make changes.
- Arkansas has just one significant injury this spring -- tight end Mitch Loewen is out with a torn ACL.
- Mark Stoops' transformation of Kentucky includes a dietician who is tasked with getting the players to buy into the idea of healthier eating.
- The SEC is relaxing its limitations on using prerecorded music between plays. That means the Gamecocks' rooster crow will be back for conference games.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M defensive line coach Terry Price sent a clear message to his players this spring: Being where they were last year is not going to cut it this season.
The Aggies defensive line was part of a defense that ranked last in the SEC and in the bottom 30 nationally in many statistical categories.
"We're going to be completely different from last year, from the bottom to the top," junior defensive end Julien Obioha said.
The four-star prospect from Longview (Texas) High School was the lone early enrollee among the Aggies' defensive line recruits, and stood out in the Aggies' first scrimmage of the spring on Thursday.
"Zaycoven Henderson was noticeable," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He was with the [second team], but he's a guy that really needs the summer to get into football-playing shape, but there's no doubt that he's a very, very talented young man and is benefiting from graduating early."
At 310 pounds, Henderson certainly has the size desired for his position. Teammates have noticed his ability as well.
"That guy is very, very strong," Obioha said. "He has meat and potatoes. Henderson is just a strong guy. Strong, fast, athletic -- whatever is good about a D-lineman, Henderson has right now."
Given his good start to spring practice, it might not be a surprise to see Henderson earn some time with the first team when the Aggies return to the field next week. Obioha noted that Henderson's work ethic appears to be good, and his passion for improvement is evident.
"He's young and he's hungry to learn right now," Obioha said of Henderson. "That's one of the best things about him; he wants to get better. He has all the talent in the world. If he keeps his ambition up, he can do whatever he wants."
That's good news for Price and the A&M defensive line, which needs all the help it can get if it's going to improve this fall.
- As LSU opened spring camp over the weekend, the biggest spotlight was on finding Zach Mettenberger's successor at quarterback. Miles admitted that last year's backup, Anthony Jennings, has the early edge but said the competition is wide open. There are plenty of position changes already. Miles announced that kicker James Hairston plans to transfer after he graduates in May. Oh, and Miles came out against the recently tabled slow-down rule.
- Tennessee had its first spring practice on Friday, and coach Butch Jones was pleased with what he saw. Incumbent QB Justin Worley plans to keep the starting job. And the Vols' defense is getting a lift in more ways than one with the return of big-play linebacker Curt Maggitt.
- This spring, South Carolina is focused on developing cornerbacks, a position that is expected to be thin and young. The Gamecocks opened practice last week but are off for spring break this week and will return to the field on March 18.
- Vanderbilt opens practice on Tuesday, and new coach Derek Mason said this spring is all about finding playmakers.
- Ole Miss has a lot to look forward to in the running game with junior tailbacks I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton battling this spring.
- Could new Texas coach Charlie Strong break through the Texas-Texas A&M standoff? Strong says he's optimistic the longtime rivals will sort out their differences and get back to playing for state bragging rights.
- Alabama's quarterback competition will take top billing this spring. But the Tide also have a couple of starting jobs open on the offensive line.
- After a disappointing 2013 season, coach Mark Richt says he's excited about all the changes at Georgia.
- One of Auburn's biggest spring goals will be improving a defense that ranked No. 79 in the FBS in total defense last season.
- Dan Mullen is in preliminary talks for a one-year contract extension at Mississippi State, sources told The Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. It would be for 2017-18.
- Florida's move to an uptempo offense is part of an SEC trend.
- Arkansas' Bret Bielema is hoping two new defensive coaches -- coordinator Robb Smith and cornerbacks coach Clay Jennings -- will bring much-needed improvement in the secondary.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One of the most common questions asked by Texas A&M fans upon the start of spring football practice is related to the health of receiver Ricky Seals-Jones.
A prized recruit from the 2013 class, Seals-Jones got a chance to show Aggies fans only a brief glimpse of what could be, catching three passes last season -- including a 71-yard touchdown -- in the season opener before a knee injury derailed the rest of his season.
After undergoing season-ending surgery, Seals-Jones has been a participant in all five practices for Texas A&M this spring and shows no limitations, though coach Kevin Sumlin is taking a cautious approach with his budding young star and holding him out of a live scrimmage on Thursday.
Sumlin joked that he'll probably get a call from Seals-Jones and his parents during spring break, but he doesn't feel the need to rush the 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiver back into live action. After spring break concludes, Sumlin said he'll have team doctors check on his knee again.
"I just wanted to make sure," Sumlin said. "I don't think it's ready yet and we'll assess him when he comes back."
Fortunately for the Aggies, there is still more than five months until their first game, so he'll have plenty of time to be rested and ready. The Aggies are also still waiting for word from the NCAA on the status of the medical hardship waiver that they applied for to regain the year of eligibility Seals-Jones lost to the knee injury.
Sumlin said the necessary paperwork has been filed and he expects to get an answer before the 2014 season begins. He said he fully anticipates that Seals-Jones will get the eligibility restored because the time he missed falls within the guidelines the bylaw calls for (that the player's injury occurred prior to the start of the second half of the season and that he did not participate in more than three contests or 30 percent of the team's games, whichever is greater). Seals-Jones appeared in only two of Texas A&M's 13 games before undergoing the season-ending surgery.
"We've filed for it," Sumlin said. "I don't see why there's going to be a problem."
With the Aggies looking to replace three starting receivers, there is flexibility to where Seals-Jones could line up this fall. Most of his work in preseason training camp last season came as an inside receiver, but he did get some practice time as an outside receiver in the Aggies' offense.
"He's a big target inside," Sumlin said. "He's really easy to see in there with other guys and he's comfortable in there. We're dual-training a lot of our receivers this year instead of just keeping them in one spot, which is helping them and helping our offense and helping them understand spacing and what's going on."
REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- Thirty athletes from the West region in the ESPN Junior 300 met at Redondo Union (Calif.) High School on Sunday morning for the first Nike Football Training Camp of the spring. With hundreds of recruits in attendance, it wasn't surprising that many of the top prospects coming into the event stood out.
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That is probably more true at safety than any other position. It’s a spot the Aggies have found challenges when trying to maintain or add talent and depth, with the latest hurdle coming recently as spring practice opened.
The loss of safety Kameron Miles, whom the Aggies announced officially on Thursday had been dismissed from the team for unspecified reasons, isn’t cause for panic because as head coach Kevin Sumlin pointed out, Miles didn’t see the field at all last season.
Safety is certainly a position where they need to see on-field improvement, both from the 2013 contributors who are returning this season (Clay Honeycutt, Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven) and the new bodies that could step in.
So while Miles -- an ESPN 300 recruit who signed in the 2013 class -- didn’t play (he redshirted after missing all of preseason training camp recovering from a knee injury), he certainly was a candidate to do so this season. Losing him is impactful, especially considering his potential and the rough end to Class of 2014 recruiting at the position.
Texas A&M had an ESPN 300 safety committed to them for months in Dylan Sumner-Gardner, but he switched his commitment to Boise State in early January after former secondary coach Marcel Yates left his post in Aggieland to accept the defensive coordinator position at Boise State. Even before Sumner-Gardner’s switch, the Aggies were still trying to add another safety to the 2014 recruiting class.
The loss made finding a safety even more urgent in the class. The Aggies long recruited ESPN 300 safety Steven Parker II (who signed with Oklahoma) and made a late run at ESPN 300 safety Mattrell McGraw (who signed with Oregon), not to mention other ESPN 300 prospects whom they recruited earlier in the process but decided on other programs.
The Aggies were able to land a safety late in the 2014 recruiting cycle when three-star athlete Donovan Wilson (Shreveport, La./Woodlawn) committed four days before national signing day and inked a letter of intent with the Aggies. He will enroll at Texas A&M for the fall semester, but whether he will be able to have an impact this fall is unknown until he arrives on campus.
Texas A&M has commitments from two elite safeties in the 2015 recruiting class in ESPN Junior 300 prospects Justin Dunning and Larry Pryor Jr., but that has no bearing on this fall.
What is known is that the Aggies need the three who played the most last season to improve and for others to contribute. One name Sumlin mentioned on Thursday was junior safety Devonta Burns, a 6-foot, 214-pounder who contributed mostly on special teams last season.
“Devonta Burns is having a really, really good camp,” Sumlin said. “He’s been around here a long time and really was a good special teams player for us from game three, four, five, on. It’s about time for him to start showing up and he has. You’ve got three guys back there [Honeycutt, Matthews and Raven] who have played a lot, not always well, but have played and are experienced and need to step up. I think Devonta is right in the mix with the other three guys.”
The Aggies also have the services of 6-3, 213-pound sophomore Jonathan Wiggins, a 2013 signee who saw most of his time on special teams last season. Beyond him, the options consist of mostly walk-ons such as Sam Moeller (last year’s 12th Man) or perhaps even someone like Shane Huhn, a transfer from UTEP who sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules.
Another potential option is using the secondary’s best player, senior cornerback Deshazor Everett, at safety. Everett has flip-flopped between cornerback and safety before, including on certain occasions last season when the Aggies needed the help. However, it appears that Everett is working exclusively at cornerback, and Sumlin said he doesn’t anticipate that changing, at least “Not right now.”
Everett said last week that he has seen improvement from the safety returnees, especially Matthews.
“He’s a different player now,” Everett said of Matthews. “He’s not lagging around or doing it his way. He’s playing hard, he’s going hard every play, he’s being vocal. That’s what we need at the back end from the safeties, because they have to communicate to everybody on the defense. He’s definitely changed.”
“Floyd is definitely understanding the defense more, and Clay has always been a smart player. With the new coaching change and the way we’re running it, it’s set up so that you can always make plays and always be in the right position, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
The Aggies’ secondary also have new blood in the form of Joseph, the former Nebraska secondary coach. The reviews for Joseph have been positive thus far, including from defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, who called Joseph a “technician” and “fundamentalist.”
Everett also has noticed his new position coach’s impact thus far.
“He’s a real vocal coach and he wants you to do it exactly the way he wants you to do it, and there’s no other way about it,” Everett said. “If you’re not going to do it his way, you’re not going to play, so you have to adjust to that and you have to go out there and do it his way.”
If Joseph has it his way, there will be more answers than questions at safety come August. Fortunately for the Aggies, three weeks remain in spring practice to find some.
The battle for that No. 1 pick will continue in the coming months, and ESPN NFL draft guru Todd McShay has already made a change at the top of his mock draft. In his recent Mock Draft 3.0, McShay now has UCF quarterback Blake Bortles going to the Houston Texans with the first pick. In his last mock draft, McShay had Jadeveon Clowney going to the Texans. Now, he has South Carolina's terrorizing defensive end going second to the St. Louis Rams. While Clowney delivered an impressive 40-yard dash time of 4.47 at the combine, he didn't go through all the drills in Indianapolis, causing some eyes to roll.
But McShay isn't knocking down Clowney, who is still the top-rated overall player on his draft board, because of the combine. No, Clowney moved down a spot because McShay believes Bortles is the top quarterback on the Texans' board, and they desperately need to get a top-flight signal-caller in this draft.
Clowney moving down to No. 2 isn't bad. He'll still make a ton of money, and my guess is he won't drop out of the top five come draft day. He might not have had as dazzling a 2013 season, like he did in his first two years in Columbia, S.C., but there's no doubting Clowney is a certified beast. He was NFL-ready before he took any snaps last season, and you better believe that any drive he might have lost going into his final year on campus will be resurrected by his future NFL coaching staff.
Passing on him early could be a big mistake.
As for the rest of the SEC, McShay has four more SEC players going within the first 10 picks, including a trio of Texas A&M Aggies -- quarterback Johnny Manziel (No. 4, Cleveland Browns), offensive tackle Jake Matthews (No. 9, Buffalo Bills) and wide receiver Mike Evans (No. 10, Detroit Lions).
In all, McShay has nine SEC players going in the first round.
UCLA-Texas A&M Schedule Football Series
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35