I have no clue how the 2017 Aggie Football season will go. I don’t think Kevin Sumlin will be the Aggie head coach come December but I’m not sure of our final record. I think Kevin Sumlin has to win 8 games to even have any consideration of keeping his job. If he wins nine then he’s fine but I don’t know if he’ll get there. Based on last season I think 7 wins is the ceiling for this team. There’s no kool-aid to be drank here as far as the team goes but there is optimism in the schedule. Coming into the season I thought the schedule worked against us and doomed Kevin Sumlin but I don’t think it’s as bad as we originally thought based on looking at it little more.
I’ll go through my game by game prediction with a record prediction next week but for now I want to talk about the team in general which is where I see the most concern. This 2017 team has to start where the 2016 team ended and that’s not good. For a brief re-cap the 2016 is the team that lost to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, LSU, and then lost to Kansas State in the bowl game for which they had a month to prepare. That’s a pathetic ending to the season. Simply pathetic.
Against Mississippi State the team was simply not mentally prepared riding their #4 ranking. Sure, the loss of Trevor Knight during the game didn’t help along with Myles’ injury but there’s more talent on the A&M team than Mississippi State team and A&M should have won. The team thought they could sleep walk to a win and was wrong. That was on coaching.
The Ole Miss game was a complete choke job AT Kyle Field. We blew a 21-6 halftime lead AT Kyle Field to lose 29-28 to a guy starting his first college game ever as a TRUE freshman. That’s right, a Kevin Sumlin lead time let a TRUE freshman start his first game AT Kyle Field and overcome a 21-6 halftime deficit. I’m not even sure that’s the worst loss of the season. It should be but to me it’s not. I don’t even want to get into the LSU game. That game was a 54-39 shootout. That still boggles my mind. How did their inept offense score 54 points and then our pop gun offense score 39 points on them is beyond comprehension. I would have to watch film of that game a dozen times to figure it out and I have don’t have the time or desire.
To me the worst loss of the season came in our bowl game against Kansas State. In Houston in a stadium full of Aggies we let an inferior team beat us 33-28. That’s an infuriating loss. How does Kevin Sumlin let that happen? The team was not prepared despite having a month to get ready for a Bill Snyder team that just doesn’t make mistakes. They don’t do anything flashy but they just don’t make mistakes. That was a crappy KSU team and they owned Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies. Sumlin should have been fired for that loss. He really should have. Instead Sumlin blames his strength and conditioning coach for the collapse down the stretch and fires him as he’s the last coach Sumlin hasn’t fired other than himself. Meanwhile nobody is wondering how with a month to get our legs and stamina back we lose to KSU in a home bowl game. That is maddening. It really is. Larry Jackson was not the problem last year. Kevin Sumlin was. For the last half of the season he didn’t have his team prepared to beat a Power 5 conference team. He lost all 5 of the final games against Power 5 conference teams. That’s a major collapse beyond strength and conditioning.
Yet, all you’ve heard this off season is how amazing our new strength and conditioning coach is. People are really buying into the fact that our team will be totally different because for 5 seasons we had a total sham of a strength and conditioning program. I just don’t get how people are drinking so much maroon kool-aid because of a different strength and conditioning program. I have no doubt Mark Hocke is an outstanding strength and conditioning coach but I also have no doubt the issues with this team extend beyond the team’s strength and conditioning. It starts at the top with Sumlin.
The 2017 season will go beyond the issues at head coach as this team just isn’t as talented as last year’s. There might be more depth and experience at needed positions like linebacker and offensive line so that’s good but I’m not convinced that’s actually the case. Either way, this team lost the three most important players from last year. Those players in order of importance are Trevor Knight, Myles Garrett, and Josh Reynolds. Yes, I put Trevor before Myles.
There is no doubt the most productive quarterback in the Kevin Sumlin era is Johnny Manziel. Believe it or not there is also no doubt that Trevor Knight is the second most productive quarterback of the Sumlin era when it comes to wins and losses. It sure as hell isn’t Kenny Hill, Kyler Murray, or Jake Hubenak. A case could be made for Kyle Allen but Trevor Knight was 7-3 in games he started including the Mississippi State game which I think we win if he plays the full game. Trevor Knight is the second best quarterback in the Sumlin regime and now he’s gone and people are expecting this team to be better. I think we’re a 6-6 team at best last year without Trevor Knight. That’s why he’s the most important guy from last year. We certainly lose to Arkansas without him and likely lose one of UCLA, Auburn, and Tennessee without him if not all three. We might have had a losing season without Trevor Knight last year.
We’re going to start a quarterback at UCLA that has either never taken a snap at the college level or never won a game against a Power 5 team. Nick Starkel is not Johnny Manziel. Kellen Mond is not Jalen Hurts. Jake Hubenak is Jake Hubenak. This is our quarterback situation for the 2017 team. Trevor Knight was a fifth year senior and even though he lost his job to Baker Mayfield he did win a Sugar Bowl against Alabama. With all of that Trevor was still 7-3 as a starter. He was a little erratic as a passer but he was perfect for Mazzone’s zone read offense. I’m just not sure we’re going to have someone as good as Trevor under center this season. Mond could get be all world but I don’t think it’s going to happen as a true freshman. We shall see.
The loss of Myles is obvious. He was the #1 pick in the NFL draft and he was a one man Wrecking Crew even while injured. Teams looked to double team him (aka hold) and rolled plays away from his side. He was the focus for opposing offenses and now he’s gone. I don’t see how the defense is better without him because he was that big of a factor for our defense. Our defense will still be loaded at defensive tackle, should have more depth at linebacker, and will have great safety play with Watts and Wilson but the loss of Myles is going to be like the 2013 defensive line losing Demontre Moore and Spencer Nealy rolled up in one person but even worse.
I know everybody loves Christian Kirk but all Josh Reynolds did last season was have 111 more receiving yards and 3 more touchdowns despite 22 fewer catches than Cristian. That’s not a knock on Christian at all as he’s an amazing talent but the coaching staff always wants to talk about Kirk while Reynolds was more productive and under-utilized in my mind. He was way more Mike Evans than we realize and he’s going to be missed. I know we get Kirk back and Ausborn looks legit but we lost our most productive receiver from last year and nobody is talking about this headed into the season. The drop off from Reynolds and Kirk to the other receivers last season is dramatic. There’s nobody close on the 2017 roster than can match what Reynolds did besides Christian. Nobody. Ausborn will be a true freshman so I don’t see how he replicates the production of a senior that got drafted in the NFL. Maybe he gets to 75% of Reynolds production but even that’s a decline. I just don’t see how the loss of Josh Reynolds isn’t a factor for the 2017 receiving corps being worse. I’m confused why everyone thinks our receiving corps is going to be so strong when Ricky Seals Jones and Speedy Noil did nothing from a production standpoint despite their natural talent. Josh Reynolds is easily a Top 10 all-time A&M receiver and nobody is talking about his departure like we’ll miss him. We’ll miss him in a bigger way than most people would imagine.
While we’re talking about receivers, after this season Kevin Sumlin will have had 4 receivers drafted into the NFL in Ryan Swope, Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, and Christian Kirk. Outside of those 4 guys I can’t think of a serviceable wide receiver in the Kevin Sumlin era besides Malcome Kennedy. Kennedy was a solid college player but he wasn’t great. Basically, if you don’t have NFL talent then Sumlin isn’t going to develop you to be a productive collegiate receiver.
With those three guys gone from last season I don’t know how this team is better. I just don’t. There’s still plenty of talent on this team so it won’t be terrible but the more I think about it, I think the 2016 Aggie Football team was a damn solid football team. The best since 2012 by far. That team still only got 8 wins and it wasn’t from lack of conditioning. It just got outcoached and that hasn’t changed for 2017 as the coaching staff remained in-tact except a couple of position coaches.
Let’s look at this team from unit standpoint:
Coaching – Noel Mazzone is back calling plays for another year. While he’s not horrible he didn’t show in year 1 that he’s an exceptional play caller. He relied a lot on zone read and didn’t adjust for when Jake Hubenak took the reins when Trevor went down. That’s a concern he’s not adapting to his talent. He’s better than Spavital but I’m not sure by how much. He’s what I call a play picker and not a play caller. He’s okay at designing plays but from what I’ve seen he doesn’t really call plays in any kind of succession that sets plays up or calls them in some rhythm for what the defense is doing. He just looks at his play sheet and randomly calls plays based on theoretical execution. I don’t have a lot of faith in Mazzone but hopefully I’m wrong.
Quarterback – I covered this above but we’re going to start someone that’s never taken a collegiate snap or never won a game they started against a Power 5 conference team. Trevor Knight was a 5th year senior that had played in some big games at OU. We don’t have that under center. You hear great things about Starkel and Mond but they have to produce in a game. Allen and Murray supposedly had all of the talent in the world and we saw how that turned out. I’m just real cautious at QB as this could be our worst season yet under center.
Running Back – Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford are back. Both of these guys are outstanding backs averaging over 5 yards a carry last year but they’re not exceptional. They wouldn’t start at Bama or LSU which are two teams we play every year. That’s not a knock on those guys but just more of a reality of the situation we’re in. Until you get guys that can start at LSU or Bama you’re always going to be looking up at them.
Wide Receiver – Covered this above as well but the loss of Reynolds is going to be huge in my mind. Ausborn sounds legit but he’s still a true freshman. Think back to Trayveon Williams and how he faded down the stretch. A 12 game SEC schedule is not a high school schedule. There’s going to be an adjustment period. I know there are some other talented freshmen but they’re still freshmen in the SEC and that’s tough. Some people are making this out to be a strength of the team because of talent and depth but we’ve had that before as Ricky Seals Jones and Speedy Noil were supposed to have NFL talent and we know how that turned out from a production standpoint. We’ll see but I think our passing attack takes a step back with the loss of Reynolds.
Offensive Line – The offensive line should be better this year as the interior of the line has one more year under its belt. Our tackles seem serviceable with Sutherland and Martin but let’s not kid ourselves this is not our usual offensive line where there’s NFL caliber talent anywhere on the line. It will be a decent offensive line but it won’t be anywhere near as dominant as we’ve seen in the past under Sumlin. Once again strength and conditioning are being blamed but maybe it’s just lack of talent that’s been recruited. Only so much a strength and conditioning coach can do if there’s no talent. I love Jim Turner and think he’ll get the most out of them but this isn’t a dominant offensive line that can overcome a bad game plan, play calls, or errors by the skill position.
Coaching – It’s no secret I love John Chavis as a defensive coordinator. The dude looks and talks the part. Prior to the last half of last season he executed the part too. However, the last half of the season made me wonder if he’s like a pitcher that lost his fastball. Our defense got torched starting in the Mississippi State game. I was ready to crown this defense the Wrecking Crew again after the Auburn and Arkansas games but I think the Tennessee game took a toll on the defense. In that game they started holding guys up and trying to strip the ball which helped as we got 7 turnovers that game. However, I think the team lost the fundamental ability to tackle which I thought was Chavis’ real calling card as a DC. Up until that game it was the best tackling unit I’ve seen since way back when RC was head coach. Hopefully the second half was just a blip and Chief gets his defense back to fundamentals of assignment football and tackling. The jury is currently out on him though based on the second half of last season.
Defensive Tackle – We’re loaded here. We really are. This is definitely the strength of the defense which is good because you have to be loaded at defensive tackle if you want to compete in the SEC. I just hope Daylon Mack finally takes that next step as he seems to have first round NFL talent but hasn’t played up to it. This unit is the anchor of our defense and I feel good about them.
Defensive End – As talked about above the loss of Garrett is going to be massive as well as Hall although it seems he might have underachieved last season. His talent was still real. There’s actually some decent talent here but it hasn’t produced up until this point. Not the talent of Garrett and Hall but it’s not terrible talent. We just don’t have much depth here either. I think the defensive ends can be serviceable but serviceable defensive ends aren’t usually enough in the SEC.
Linebackers – I’m torn on the linebackers. It seems we finally have some depth here but I’m not sure as not sure if the true freshmen will be able to provide that depth. I like Anthony Hines and Marchiol but they’re still true freshmen entering the SEC. We heard all about how Tyrell Dodson was ready to crush heads in the SEC but the dude had problems executing his assignments last season. I think Dodson will be better this season but while we now apparently have depth at linebacker staying healthy and executing assignments are the next step. Neither of those have been a strength of our linebackers under Sumlin so not sure this is the season it becomes different.
Safety – We’re totally fine here with Watts and Wilson and Larry Pryor looks like he can fill some of the void left by Justin Evans. Much like defensive tackle this is a strength of our team. Watts is like a little Honey Badger as he just has a nose for getting the football when we need it most.
Cornerback – This is an area of concern for me. Nick Harvey was spotty as a coverage guy last season and he’s out for this season. Looks like Willis and Oliver will be the starters who are decent but I don’t think outstanding. My main concern at the corner back position is with no pass rush these guys are going to get exposed. Chavis likes to play aggressive with his corners and if there’s no pass rush these guys could get exposed big time. I think we could see some big passes against us this year if Chavis doesn’t back these guys off a tad unless we develop a pass rush.
Outside of Christian Kirk returning kicks I’ve never seen anything from the special teams under Kevin Sumlin and Jeff Banks. I mean nothing. We’ve had some decent punters but even then they weren’t Shane Lechler. Most elite teams have really good punters so it’s just more of the norm in college football these days. That should be our expectations.
Last year we had Justin Evans and Keith Ford returning kicks which still boggles my mind. Those guys are great athletes at their positions but they’re nowhere near the explosive return man you need for big returns. Evans was a freaking strong safety and he’s returning kickoffs. I never understood that. We couldn’t find a single receiver that was fast than Evans and Ford with hands we trust?
Other than Christian Kirk I’d love to know the number of touchdowns we’ve scored on kickoff or punt returns against Power 5 conference teams. I bet it’s not more than 5 during Sumlin’s 5 years here. Other than Myles Garrett how many field goals or punts have we blocked against Power 5 conference teams? I bet it’s not more than 5. I don’t know how 2017 will be any different for our special teams other than Kirk returning a couple punts for TDs. This unit has just been a non-factor under Sumlin unless there’s an extremely talented player. It’s certainly not well schemed and coached in my mind. It’s not even average.
If I were Sumlin I’d put a poster of Frank Beamer in my Special Teams coach’s office and limit his internet browser to YouTube and videos of Virginia Tech special teams under Frank Beamer. I’m not kidding. For some reason some people think Jeff Banks is a good special teams coach and I can’t think of why as there hasn’t been big plays out of our special teams since Sumlin has been here.
This team isn’t horrible by any stretch but I don’t see how it’s better than the 2016 team. This really reminds me of the 2013 season where everyone thought we’d be fine but no one truly analyzed the losses because we had Johnny Football back. That 2013 team lost a lot on defense and a few key spots on the offense like Luke Joeckel and Ryan Swope. That 2013 team lost two more games in the regular season than the 2012 but that 2012 team won 10 games so 8 wins wound up being respectable. Last year’s team only won 8 games so if the 2013 and 2017 teams parallel the previous season’s team we’re looking at 6 wins in 2017.
Next week I’ll take a game by game look at the schedule and make predictions. I honestly think there’s anywhere between 5 to 9 wins on the schedule. I think 9 wins is VERY extreme but I don’t think the schedule is quite as tough as we originally imagined so 9 wins is possible. It’s still daunting but there’s some factors about each game I’ll cover next week.