|TEXAS A&M AGGIES (2016: 8-5, 4-4 SEC)|
|Head Coach||Returning starters||2016 offense||2016 defense|
|Kevin Sumlin||5 offense, 7 defense||467 YPG/34.8 PPG||444 YPG/23.8 PPG|
|44-21, 7th year||33%, 60% of stat production||24th/34th in FBS||91st/37th in FBS|
All time series: Florida 2, Texas A&M 1
Last meeting: Florida 20, Texas A&M 17 (2012)
Synopsis: Texas A&M hasn’t been quite the same offensively since Johnny Manziel left after the 2013 season, and it was with Manziel at QB that Florida last beat the Aggies. Texas A&M has been trending the wrong way overall, too, following the magical 20-6 two year stretch to begin Kevin Sumlin’s tenure with three consecutive five loss seasons. Now, the Aggies come to the Swamp to face what figures to be the best Gator team since the 2012 team that beat them in College Station.
Offensive breakdown: First things first. Texas A&M needs to find a quarterback. The combatants are senior Jake Hubenak, redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and true freshman Kellen Mond. The Aggies have gotten serviceable QB play at best and inadequate at worst since Manziel’s departure, so in a year where his job security is starting to sink, it’s critical that Sumlin find a reliable leader for his offense.
The good news for whoever is at quarterback is that he’ll have plenty of help. Running back Trayveon Williams accumulated over 1,000 yards as a freshman last year, and he should again be a big factor in this offense. Helping him out will be former Oklahoma five star signee Keith Ford, whose career hasn’t quite materialized the way many anticipated to this point, but whose pure talent and potential are unquestioned. If the Aggies’ offensive line can block at a level that matches the amount of experience they return- all three interior starters and a key reserve in Koda Martin- they could have an absolutely deadly running game.
Wide receiver Christian Kirk will also give the quarterback a helping hand in the passing attack. But behind him, there’s not a ton of experience. Josh Reynolds’ graduation left a big hole to fill, and even though Speedy Noil didn’t quite pan out, that’s still over 1,100 yards worth of production that needs to be replaced. The Aggies will need to find a second dependable pass catcher if they’re to succeed offensively in 2016.
Offensive Grade: B-. If Ford finally breaks through, the Aggies could rival LSU for the best running game in the SEC West. But until they can get some consistent serviceable quarterback play, they’ll always be a step behind where they need to be to seriously compete for the division.
Defensive breakdown: Myles Garrett’s departure badly hurts the Aggies’ ability to rush the passer. Given that Texas A&M had problems stopping the run even with Garrett, that’s a devastating loss for John Chavis’s defense. Make no mistake, there’s talent on that defensive line with Daylon Mack, Jarrett Johnson, Zaycoven Henderson and Kingsley Keke, but this unit now has to turn that hype into production if they want to do better than 91st in the nation in yards per game allowed. The linebacker unit has taken a lot more of the heat for that stat, but the line could certainly do its part by getting some push at the point of attack.
Speaking of the linebacker unit, the criticism is warranted. There’s Otora Alaka, but he’s going to need help from Tyrel Dodson and maybe even some of the young guys. Coaches are very high on freshman Anthony Hines, so maybe he’ll be an answer there. But this unit has a long way to go after what we saw from them last year if they want to remove their “weakest link” label.
The secondary, on paper at least, is in trouble. The Aggies do return trendy All-SEC safety pick Armani Watts along with fellow safeties Priest Willis and Donovan Wilson. But losing both cornerbacks is not good, leaving Chavis to scramble to find adequate replacements. And keep in mind that a year ago, this defense ranked second to last in the SEC in pass yards allowed a game- even with Garrett and Mack anchoring the trenches.
Defensive grade: B. There’s talent here, but the Aggies have their work cut out for them if they want to take a step forward from last year without the top pick in the NFL Draft. Texas A&M figures to be decent, not stout, defensively this year.
Key matchup: Quarterback play. Florida is almost certainly going to have found its permanent starting QB by this game, and ditto for A&M. Which QB can do more for his team? Or maybe the question should be, which QB plays the smarter game and doesn’t make mistakes?
Florida wins if… they can convert touchdowns in the red zone. Texas A&M has developed a reputation for giving up a ton of yards between the 20’s but then locking down once the opponent draws near the end zone- as evidenced by the discrepancy between yards and points a game they surrendered last season. A couple of quick touchdowns could irreversibly alter the complexion of this game, too.
Texas A&M wins if… the Aggies can hit some big plays. Florida’s defense is loaded with talent across the board, but it’s also very young- a potential recipe to get gashed for highlight reel plays if they aren’t careful. And the Aggies do have a legitimate threat to hit this sort of play with Kirk.
Overview: It’s difficult to imagine Texas A&M being a serious threat to take out Florida on their home field. The Aggies have lost five games in each of the three years under Sumlin’s stewardship since the departure of Johnny Manziel- mainly because Sumlin has never found a quarterback to replace him, inflicting serious damage to the notion that he’s an offensive mastermind. And even though the Aggies might have the best individual receiver in the country in Kirk, that alone is not enough to get the job done.
Still, the Aggies are by no means a pushover, and one week after what could be an emotional game against LSU- regardless of the result- the possibility of a letdown certainly exists. And given that Sumlin may find himself coaching for his job, his team will be ready for this game. The underdog being more emotionally prepared for a game is often enough to overwrite the favorite’s X’s and O’s advantages, and that’s when you realize that A&M is indeed a serious threat to steal one in the Swamp, and possibly derail Florida’s season.
Simply put, things tend to happen in football games that defy expectations, and Florida just about always loses one or two of these games that they shouldn’t. Even the best Gator teams of all time fell victims to upsets, which should tell you that falling victim to an upset is not necessarily an indication of how the season will turn out as long as it remains the outlier and not the norm. On paper, Florida is the better team, but they’ll pick this game to self destruct- which is OK, because much more meaningful games lurk around the corner.
Projection: Texas A&M 31, Florida 24