Last football season took a lot out of me. Actual play on the field notwithstanding, December and January were awful months for Aggie Football, and took me out of my place of unhealthy optimism to the point of realism borderlining on pessimism regarding the state of Aggie Football.
But now that we're towards the end of the summer, with the football season being only 50 some odd days away, I find that optimism creeping back in. I find myself getting excited by what we could actually do this year, and I find myself being really confused about some of the expectations outsiders have for our team (I saw a Vegas site that had our over/under on wins at 6.5 and had to stop myself from betting my kids college fund on the over--baby steps!).
So with that, I figured this could be a good space to process a bit and talk about why those expectations (4th in the division) might be right or why they might be woefully wrong.
WHY THEY MIGHT BE RIGHT
Let's get the bad news out of the way. To me there are three main reasons why folks seem to be pessimistic about this iteration of the Aggie Football team.
The media has given Kevin Sumlin the benefit of the doubt for a while...and I think this year they're just done. Two straight years where we failed to meet expectations (despite how unrealistic those expectations may have been after 5-0 starts) have resulted in many folks putting Sumlin in a "good coach, but not good enough" box.
And I don't really disagree with them. I think few A&M fans are as hopelessly devoted to Summy as we may have been 3 years ago. We've proven to have issues with ego management, offensive scheme, and recruiting strategy. Sumlin is not without his warts.
But again, I can't help but be somewhat positive here regarding the moves we've made. Both Turners (DL/OL) were really really good hires. I expect our DTs to be much more disciplined under Turner than they were under Hagen. Few A&M coaches have the mysticism/lore of Jim Turner...but I think we will see a significantly improved offensive line this fall (cant get worse, can it?). I think Mazzone was a damn fine hire. In fact, I think we should have hired him when Kingsbury left.
Combine all those things with another year under Chavis and I really think that our coaching has turned a corner. In fact I'd say this is probably the best slate of coaches (from top to bottom) that we've had under Sumlin. We had issues but we fixed them.
No getting around this one...the schedule is the hardest one we've had since entering the SEC. We could reasonably be a better football team without it being reflected in the overall record. Tennessee, UCLA, and having most of our tougher SEC-W games being on the road make for a pretty dang hard slate.
There's not much good news or spin here. The one thing that I can say is that if we have another 5-0 start (as we've had the past two years) then this team will be for real. 5-0 means we knocked off UCLA, Auburn (at Jordan-Hare), Arkansas, and South Carolina. That's a pretty decent start.
Off the field, Trevor Knight is the best possible guy we could have added to the locker room. Kyle and Kyler seemed divisive and left the locker room void of any leadership and teeming with dysfunction. Trevor seems to be the direct opposite and for the first time in Sumlin's career he'll be trotting out an upperclassman QB at the helm of the team.
How good can Trevor Knight be on the field? Will he be the 2014 Bama game Trevor Knight or will he be the one who got beat out by (Heisman finalist) Baker Mayfield? Do we even need him to be the 2014 Bama game Knight...or do we just need him to minimize mistakes and distribute the ball? Total unknown there.
WHY THEY MIGHT BE WRONG
This team is loaded defensively at a few positions. I'm not just talking "in a good place", I'm talking full of blue chip talent. Our defensive line should be the best we've had in at least 10 or so years. We've got two elite defensive ends, at least two outstanding defensive tackles, and a host of of other players who can step in and make things happen. Our DL is going to be really good.
Safeties are in the same space. I can't quite remember a better group of safeties at A&M than Watts, Evans, and Wilson. Each of them does what they do so damn well. Hard to think that only three years ago I was bemoaning safety as the biggest weak spot on the team.
The wide receiver and running back positions are stacked too. RSJ, Reynolds, and Kirk would be starting damn near anywhere and maybe (?)(!) this is the year Speedy puts it together. We were incredibly lucky last year that Tra Carson is a cyborg and didn't get hurt, but he had his limitations. We were missing a home run threat to go along with the sledgehammer. This year we have both--Trayveon Williams, Keith Ford, and James White are a solid group of RBs who can play a number of roles in Mazzone's offense.
There are question marks at LB and OL...but both of those rosters have talent. When healthy, Otaro Alaka has proven to be a very solid/rangy linebacker. We can find a starting 3 out of Washington, Alaka, Walker, George, Moore, Garner, and Thomas...all of whom have seen a decent amount of time on the field.
Same thing with the offensive line. They are green but not without talent. I have really high hopes for Jermaine Eluemunor. If Eric McCoy can be a reliable option at center, then this group could be serviceable to solid as well.
I understand why folks are doubting A&M this year. But I can't help but think that we've actually got the talent to make some noise and perform better than we have the past two years.
Am I wrong here? Let me know what you think in the comments.