The Texas A&M Aggies are much like the Tennessee Volunteers when it comes to aspirations in 2020. Both teams showed flashes of potential in 2019 and are looking to take the next step in terms of development and growth.
But, as we all know, potential means nothing if it isn’t reached. Are the Aggies ready to reach their potential in 2020?
2019 in review
Final Record: 8-5, (4-4) 7th SEC
Final National Ranking: N/A
The Aggies finished with a winning record against one of the nation’s toughest schedules in 2019, but it was still considered a down year. Jimbo Fisher’s crew played three No. 1 teams in Clemson, Alabama, and LSU, a final top-5 team in Georgia, a final top-15 team in Auburn, and Oklahoma State, who was No. 25 when they faced off against the Aggies in the Texas Bowl.
That’s a tough schedule. The Aggies went 1-4 against ranked opponents in 2019 — their lone win over the Cowboys. Those four losses were pretty ugly, too, evidenced by A&M’s 168-78 scoring deficit.
The end result was overall disappointment for the program and its fans. Kellen Mond led a “meh” offense that was considered to be the 42nd-most efficient offense in the country and was sixth in the SEC in points per game (29.5). Mond was solid and threw for the SEC’s third-most yards while setting a career-high in completion percentage. He also proved to be a threat on the ground with over 500 yards and eight touchdowns. The trio of Isaiah Spiller, Jhamon Ausbon, and Jalen Wydermyer proved to be very effective, but the offensive line was awful and really held the offense back at times.
The defense was slightly better, landing at No. 31 in Football Outsiders’ defensive FEI rating. A&M’s run defense was fifth-best in the SEC and 30th in the country in terms of yards per game, but it still gave up four yards a clip. Opposing quarterbacks had a tough time throwing the ball, as the Aggies finished at No. 29 in passing efficiency defense.
Placekicker Seth Small made all of his extra points, but hit just 78% of his field goal attempts. It was still a step up from a dismal freshman year where he hit 71% of his attempts. Punter Branden Mann had a good year, showcasing a net average of 41.4 yards per punt, which was good for fifth in the SEC.
Who left and who’s new
Overall, the Aggies return a lot of guys from 2019, especially on offense.
Mond is the team’s unquestioned leader and his development will likely determine the Aggies’ fate in 2020. Bleacher Report recently tagged Mond as the SEC’s 15th-best player and his 3,398 total yards of offense was second-most in the SEC. He returns most of his weapons from 2019, so familiarity will likely play a major part in whatever success he has this year.
Spiller almost cracked 1,000 yards last year behind a terrible offensive line. If the front five can improve in the slightest, then he should have a big year. Cordarrian Richardson, the team’s second-leading rusher, is back but there are questions behind him. Jashaun Corbin transferred to Florida State and Jacob Kibodi recently entered the transfer portal, so someone will need to step up if Kibodi exits the program.
Jhamon Ausbon leads an experienced receiving room, but it could certainly use some big-play ability. A&M’s top-five targets averaged just 12.3 yards per catch in 2019, with Jalen Wydermyer’s —who is the team’s tight end— 14.0 yards per catch moonlighting as the “deep threat” of the offense, so the Aggies went out and recruited five-star receiver Demond Demas and four-star receiver Mushin Muhammad III (yep, that guy’s kid). There are a few guys who can play the position, but those two need to develop as quickly as possible.
As I mentioned, Wydermyer was one of the team’s most effective weapons through the air. The sophomore also led the team with six receiving touchdowns, so expect to hear his name often this year.
Mond will determine the Aggies’ fate, but the offensive will determine Mond’s fate. So does that mean the team’s ceiling is only as high as that of the offensive line’s?
Philosophical questions aside, it was pretty clear that the offensive line was really bad in 2019. Four of five starters return, but don’t be surprised if there are major changes to the group. The interior line will likely see the most change, which could pave way for four-star freshmen Chris Morris and/or Akinola Ogunbiyi to see some meaningful snaps.
The Aggies lost their best defensive lineman in Justin Madubiuke, but they have guys who can replace him. Senior Jayden Peevy will likely get the first crack after registering 2.5 sacks as a junior last year. Demarvin Leal is moving outside, which help the defensive end depth as well as the overall pass rush. A&M also has a trio of four-star freshmen in Donnell Harris Jr., McKinnley Jackson, and Fadil Diggs to compete for playing time.
Buddy Johnson and Anthony Hines III were two of the more surprising linebackers in the SEC last year. Both players excelled in their first full season as starters, and like the team, are looking to take the next step this year. But it’s not just about those two guys. A&M has other options in Braden White, Edgerrin Cooper, and Chris Russell. When you throw four-star inside linebacker Antonio Doyle into the mix, it’s easy to see why the staff feels really good about this position.
Overall, the front seven is in very good shape.
Even though the Aggies registered decent numbers in pass defense, they decided to load up at the safety position in 2020. Five- and four-star safeties Jaylon Jones and Antonio Johnson were brought in to help solidify a defensive back end that simply gave up too many big plays in 2019. Jones is considered the top recruit of A&M’s class and will certainly play in 2020. Demani Richardson looks like he is an up-and-coming star, so Jones’ development/presence could give A&M one of the best safety duos in the country.
Corner Elijah Blades returns from shoulder surgery and JUCO transfer Brian George should bolster a position that returns a good bit of production from 2019. Clifford Chattman will likely man the nickel spot, but he deserves mention solely because the dude is a 6-foot-5 cornerback.
Breakout players for 2020
RB Isaiah Spiller - Even though college football is all about the spread, the key to winning in the SEC is running the ball. Spiller showed tremendous skills last year and as I mentioned, it was behind a bad offensive line. The line can’t be that much worse in 2020, right? If it even shows slight improvement, you’re looking at a breakout year from Spiller.
QB Kellen Mond - If you follow football you know who Mond is, but you’ll also know that he has yet to live up to expectations. The staff and fans are still waiting on his breakout year. 2020 could certainly be it.
DT Jayden Peevy - Folks say this kid has NFL potential. If he makes A&M forget about Madubiuke, then you better believe you’ll hear his name called on draft day.
Potential is a fun word, but it’s also a dangerous and frustrating one.
That’s what this team is about in 2020. It can often be a tough task to sift through a roster/season where teams don’t live up to their potential in order to find the root cause of the issues, but that shouldn’t be the case in College Station if the Aggies aren’t up to snuff this year.
Jimbo Fisher is one of the country’s highest-paid coaches and has had two top-10 recruiting classes over the last two years. The blame should —and will— fall square on his shoulders if A&M doesn’t get it done.
On the other side of the coin, there’s little reason to think Fisher won’t get it done this year. He’s one of the best coaches in the country and will have a much easier schedule on top of more experienced players (the Aggies started six true freshman in 2019 and had eleven others appear in however many games).
No one is saying this team should resemble the 2013 Florida State Seminoles, but the Aggies should make a good amount of noise in 2020.