Missouri at Texas A&M
Date: Nov. 15
Record: A&M finished 9-4 in 2013 and lost to Missouri 28-21 in Columbia. The Aggies lead series 8-6
Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator
The big question surrounding the Aggies this year is so obvious coach Kevin Sumlin is really, really sick of answering it—how do they replace Johnnie Manziel? The bad news for those who snicker as the question is asked is not only are there good young options at QB, but top to bottom this is a strong team.
The battle for next Aggies quarterback comes down to sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen. Hill missed time this summer after a suspension following a public intoxication bust, but with a small amount of game experience backing up Manziel last year, he may be the pick of these two dual-threat quarterbacks. Some have said they may switch them in and out but, well, you know how I feel about the two-quarterback system. Sumlin would be wise to pick one and stick with him, and I’m betting it’s Hill.
There is a wealth of talent to join whomever ends up at QB in College Station. RB Tra Carson can run people over, and Trey Williams has the speed for long breakaways. With a new offensive system and less focus on Johnny Football, this could be a big opportunity for the A&M run game to shine.
There’s a similar story out wide, where several big and fast options exist. Ricky Seals-Jones is a 6-foot-5-inch stud who missed most of ’13 with an injury and should come back with a vengeance. Malcome Kennedy was second on the team in receptions behind Mike Evans, now in the NFL. Several other good receivers are around, but keep an eye on a new kid, true freshman Speedy Noil. It’s not just a clever nickname, this guy can burn rubber and make catches. If he adjusts to the college game adequately, he’ll be a very dangerous weapon.
If Penn State is “Linebacker U,” A&M may be “Tackle U.” After producing several greats over the years, Cedric Ogbuehi looks like the next. He could have gone pro after a strong season on the right side last year, but moves to Jake Matthews’ old spot at LT for his senior year. Three other starters return, including Jake’s younger brother Mike Matthews, who’ll compete with Mizzou’s Evan Boehm for all-SEC honors at center. Senior guard Jarvis Harrison makes for an extremely tough left side, and Germain Ifedi started at RG last year as a freshman and will now move outside to tackle. There are good young options and a junior college transfer or two to make this my pick for the best offensive line in the league.
Unfortunately for Aggies fans, as grand as A&M’s offense was last year, the defense was highly suspect. And just when it looked like there might be substantial improvement, the Aggies started losing players to off-field problems like mad. Isaiah Golden was expected to anchor a defensive line that returned all four starters, but he was booted along with an excellent linebacker, Darian Claiborne. There remains a lot of talent up front. Gavin Stansbury and Julien Obioha return at the ends, and tackle Alonzo Williams is back as well. There are returning sophomores with experience, showing Sumlin will play rookies up front, which may bode well for Myles Garrett. The No. 2 recruit in the nation at any position, this specimen will be hard to keep off the field — and hard to stop once he gets there.
The Aggies were weak at linebacker last year, starting three freshmen and the best of those, Claiborne, is gone. But they still may be better. Jordan Mastrogiovanni had a big spring and should start in the middle, and after moving to the MLB slot Donnie Baggs is back where he’s more comfortable, on the outside. They’ll probably be teamed up with TCU transfer A.J. Hilliard, but this is another position where a young recruit may make big noise—Josh Walker may be getting playing time either on the strong side or in the middle before too long.
Overall the secondary may be up for grabs, but one thing’s for sure—Deshazor Everett’s for real. A big physical corner who’ll compete for all-SEC awards this year, and De’Vante Harris is a good cover corner on the other side. Noel Ellis is the nickel, and there’s significant depth here as well. As for safeties, the news isn’t as good. Clay Honeycutt started early in the year last year, but lost his slot until the very end of the year. Howard Matthews and Floyd Ravens seem like the starters for now, but I’d not be surprised to see Devonta Burns move back to safety after some time last year at corner. It’s a more natural position for Burns, and the need is much greater there.
Were the defense a little stronger, I think the Aggies might be a serious candidate to compete in the SEC West. As it is, they’ll be tough to beat and with young guys in the mix should get better as the year rolls on. It’s a tough choice because Mizzou’s had good luck against the Aggies in the last few years, but at Kyle Field, even with two weeks to prepare, this is one I can see the Tigers losing to fall to 8-2.
Darren Hellwege is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the United States Basketball Writers Association. Find him on Twitter: @KBIAHellwege