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The Duality of (12th) Man

How things could break right, or break bad, for the Aggies this season

We stand of the precipice of another Texas A&M football season, and I can’t recall a season in which fans (and outsiders) have been so collectively divided, indecisive or downright confused about what a team could be. The range of outcomes for this team is wider than just about any team in recent memory. They have the talent to play with just about anybody, but you only have to look at what happened in 2022 to know that is far from a guarantee. Heck it’s perfectly illustrated by their two most recent games, where they slogged their way to an underwhelming 20-7 win over UMass before dominating a top 5 LSU team 38-23 one week later.

In an effort to process what we should think of this team, I broke down the various aspects of the program that could define success or failure in 2023, and the ways in which those aspects could absolutely swing in either direction.

Offensive scheme

  • Breaking good: The hire of Bobby Petrino proves to be everything Aggie fans hoped (and Arkansas fans feared) it would be, and Bobby P takes advantage of perhaps the most talented roster he’s ever led and absolutely shreds defense all season long. He implements more pre-snap motion, increases the offensive tempo, and just generally creates more “easy plays” for his offense, which eventually sets up explosive plays down the field. The team is scoring and winning, and everyone is happy.
  • Breaking bad: Either Jimbo doesn’t let Petrino truly take charge, or Petrino’s system simply does not work at A&M, and a power struggle ensues. All of the naysayers are proven right and tensions boil over, bleeding over into the locker room before Jimbo takes back playcalling duties and Petrino quits 10 games into the season.

Health

  • Breaking good: Obviously no team avoids injuries completely (A&M has already lost TE Donovan Green for the year), but it seems high time that the Aggies fall on the positive side of the injury luck spectrum. 2022 was far and away the most injuries I’ve ever seen an A&M team sustain over the course of the season (and we later learned several players were playing through significant injuries as well). Injuries will happen, but if they can avoid them at critical spots like QB, OL and LB, that could go a long way in helping this team reach their full potential.
  • Breaking bad: There’s often no rhyme or reason to injuries, and sometimes it just feels like a team is snakebit with them. A&M goes it’s third straight season with a significant injury to their starting QB, sees another musical chairs situation at OL, loses top WRs for multiple game and is forced to play backups in a razor think LB room. Just like last year, injuries stunt the team’s growth and our misery persists.

Offensive line

  • Breaking good: Much like from 2019 to 2020, a bad offensive line turns into a good one just with a second year of experience in playing as a unit, in strength and conditioning and under their position coach. The unit also stays healthier than they did last year, and improved line play leads to better QB play, which leads to a better offense, which leads to virtually every game being winnable.
  • Breaking bad: We see more of the same of what we did last year, not only with guys just getting physically beat, but with missed blocking assignments continuing to rear their head. Maybe they stay a BIT healthier than the disaster that was 2022, but injuries still ensure they remain a liability for this team.

Run defense

  • Breaking good: That talented group of front four freshmen turns into a group of experienced sophomores, and the entire unit’s second year in D.J. Durkin’s system leads to fewer missed assignments. An improved run defense alone would have likely notched a couple more wins for the Aggies last year, so if they can be more stingy up front, there’s no reason to think this defense can’t return to form and challenge to be a top 20 unit again in 2023.
  • Breaking bad: MORE THREE-MAN FRONTS! The missed assignments from last season persist, talented players don’t get as much playing time as they’d like and an already underperforming group is hit hard in the transfer portal in December.

QB development

  • Breaking good: Conner Weigman seizes the starting job, thrives in a revamped offense and lives up to his five-star recruiting ranking. Maybe he even becomes a Heisman candidate if things go REALLY well. His performance puts to rest any questions about QB development under Jimbo Fisher, which leads to a big surge in recruiting efforts on the offensive side of the football going forward.
  • Breaking bad: Weigman/Max Johnson underachieve, much like Haynes King and Zach Calzada before him, and the offense sputters no matter how the supporting cast performs. At that point, we’d start to have legitimate concerns about how QBs are being coached at this program. And if that happens, luring elite QBs to College Station will become more and more difficult.

Locker room/culture

  • Breaking good: Sometimes failure is the best teacher. The hard lessons learned from last season (as well as the departures of several players), leads to a much more cohesive locker room where doing the extra work is the norm. Guys play for each other and do all of the little things they’re supposed to (and perhaps didn’t do last year) and reap the benefits. Jimbo suddenly goes from punching bag to coach of the year candidate.
  • Breaking bad: The problems that were rumored (and often apparent) in 2022 either never went away, or show up again once the team faces adversity in 2023. Jimbo Fisher loses the locker room, and buyout or no, the Aggies are forced to make a move for the good of the program.

There are other aspects you could point to as well, but I feel like these are the major pivot points in what has to be the most pivotal year of Aggie football in a generation. And how many of these aspects break good will determine this team’s potential. Six months from now, we could be looking at one of the best bounce back seasons in college football history, we could be looking to hit the reset button and find a new head coach, or we might be somewhere in the purgatory between the two.

Thankfully, we’ll start finding out the answers to all of these on Sept. 2.

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