We’ve been previewing teams all week long on the SEC blog and today we wrap up with our final two, starting with Texas A&M.
The Aggies had an interesting season in 2014, going from the highs of a 5-0 start to the lows of a 59-0 beatdown loss at Alabama. The 2015 campaign brings more intrigue with a few new coaches (defensive coordinator John Chavis, offensive line coach Dave Christensen and receivers coach Aaron Moorehead) and a lot of questions. Here’s a look at the 2015 Aggies:
2014 record: 8-5 (3-5 SEC)
Bowl result: Beat West Virginia 45-37 in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Most important player: DE Myles Garrett. As a true freshman, he validated the hype that accompanied his recruitment, breaking Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record by recording 11.5 sacks in addition to 14 tackles for loss. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound sophomore with a comic book superhero's physique must raise his level of play even more this season -- only three of his sacks came in SEC play -- and he acknowledged as much. "I don't feel like I had a good enough season for myself," Garrett said Thursday. "I didn't feel like I reached my own standards."
Breakout player: DE Daeshon Hall. While Garrett will draw extra attention from opposing offenses, the defensive end opposite him -- which most often will be Hall -- stands to benefit from it. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound junior is someone who has impressed Chavis this offseason, and Hall should benefit from his first full offseason of quality weight room work since he arrived on campus, as he was hampered by shoulder surgery last offseason. Don't be surprised if Hall racks up respectable sack numbers himself this fall.
Most important game: Nov. 28 at LSU. The Aggies haven't beaten the Tigers since entering the SEC, making LSU the only SEC West team that Texas A&M hasn’t toppled. They've lost four straight to LSU overall, and the two meet in the regular-season finale for the second straight year. If the Aggies are any good, the final game should carry some weight. Oh yeah, that whole Chavis returning to LSU -- where he spent the last six seasons -- storyline will be compelling.
Biggest question mark: The linebackers. There are numerous reasons why the Aggies struggled defensively the last two seasons, but linebacker play is perhaps the biggest. Chavis will oversee that position group this fall, and health and depth are of some concern; all three projected starters (Otaro Alaka, Josh Walker, Shaan Washington) and one heavy rotation player (A.J. Hilliard) missed at least some or all of spring football with injuries. While they're mostly back in the fold, it's a young group that is light on collective SEC starts. Improvement in this area is a must if the Aggies are going to take a big step forward defensively.
Class of 2015 signee to watch: Five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack easily could be the choice here, but everyone in Aggieland will be excited when five-star quarterback Kyler Murray gets on the field. The talented athlete put up ridiculous numbers in high school and never lost a game. Though Kyle Allen performed admirably last season and probably has the leg up on the starting job, Murray is just too talented to keep on the sideline. Barring an injury or a complete meltdown, Murray should see the field at some point due to his running ability. Don’t let Murray's 5-foot-11 height fool you; he is a pass-first quarterback that just happens to be an elite athlete. --Derek Tyson
Class of 2016 storyline: Will five-star offensive tackle Greg Little rejoin Texas A&M after decommitting from the Aggies back in June? Alabama is certainly right in the mix, but Little was teammates with Murray last year at Allen (Texas) High School and the two players are still good friends. Even without Little in the fold, the Aggies are off to a very good start in their 2016 class. As it stands, A&M has 13 verbal commitments, including five that are ranked in the ESPN 300. The class is led by the 13th-ranked cornerback in the ESPN 300 Travon Fuller and ESPN 300 defensive end Mark Jackson. With Little, Deontay Anderson, Brandon Jones, Devwah Whaley and Devin Duvernay still on the board, the Aggies certainly have a chance to have a very strong finish. --Derek Tyson
Best-case scenario: If the defense makes a big improvement and the Aggies prove they can be an effective running team to complement the passing game offensively (something they struggled to do in SEC play last season), this could be a double-digit win team. Kevin Sumlin's offseason buzzword is physicality, and the Aggies must be more physical in SEC play to be better. The schedule sets up well for them with nine games in the state of Texas and only three true road games: at Ole Miss, at Vanderbilt and at LSU. The Aggies don't leave Texas until late October, and if they score a season-opening win over Arizona State, you could see a repeat of last season's 5-0 start. And with a more mature team this year, they should avoid the kind of midseason swoon they had in 2014. If Allen, who had five starts last fall, wins the starting quarterback job, it gives the Aggies an experienced starter who has won on the road in the SEC, which is something they were missing last season.
Worst-case scenario: Defensive depth is still precarious in a couple of spots and this team is still young in many key areas on both sides of the ball, particularly at quarterback. The collection of talent at receiver and offensive line is good but play at both position groups was inconsistent last year. If that doesn't change, it'll be a problem. They also must be better at stopping the run, as they were last in the SEC in 2014. Losses in key early games like Arizona State or Arkansas could affect the psyche of this team, which would be troublesome heading into a midseason stretch of Mississippi State, Alabama, at Ole Miss, South Carolina and Auburn. A 2-2 start in the opening month could turn into a six or seven-win season. That's not what A&M fans are looking for considering the investment in salaries and facilities in Aggieland.
2015 prediction: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)