A Look at the 2021 Aggies

Haven’t blogged in a while mainly because I got married and as part of that we bought a 1968 Bronco.  It’s been requiring a little bit of attention from me but it’s been fun to tinker with.  Enough of that, we’re less than a month away from football season so time to make a little effort towards Aggie Football.

Before I get going on the 2021 team here’s my thoughts on some recent big news.

Longhorns to the SEC:

I don’t like it but it’s the reality of college football.  What I hate even more is the leadership of A&M through all of this.  The Big 12 was always the most unstable Power 5 conference in college football.  It didn’t take a rocket surgeon to realize that.  The leadership of Texas A&M was woefully unprepared for the inevitable.  It appeared the leadership at A&M didn’t know or didn’t ask the protocol for adding teams to the SEC.

If Brent Zwerneman had not leaked his story then the Sooners and Longhorns join the conference in less than 7 days.  One week to collapse the Big 12 and jump to the SEC.  ONE WEEK.

Even with Brent Z leaking the story they joined the SEC in less than 10 days.  Think about that.  In less than 10 days NOBODY knew about the Sooners and Longhorns joining the SEC and then all of a sudden they’re voted in.

When Brent Z published his article connected people all over the country were scrambling trying to figure out how much was true because they hadn’t heard anything about it.  Highly connected people had no clue this was coming.  Now, obviously some people knew but most people didn’t know. 

This leads me to my biggest issue with A&M leadership through all of this.  As we look back now it appears some people at A&M knew.  Or maybe just some one.  A&M didn’t go from saying they didn’t want Texas in the conference to voting them in a few days later without someone in power having some knowledge.

The rumor is John Sharp knew but didn’t tell anyone.  Maybe he was sworn to secrecy but he hung our AD out to dry.  Poor Ross Bjork looks like a fool saying we didn’t want Texas to join the SEC.  It’s true and we didn’t but the reality is the train was far down the tracks.  When Brent Z published his article the Sooners and Longhorns were coming to the SEC.

That well done Bradley Cooper video got made because of Ross Bjork’s soundbites right when the news broke.  If John Sharp knew he hung Bjork out in a bad way. 

We got to look like the inferior little brother who was afraid of the Longhorns joining the SEC.  I’m tired of that narrative.  We’re the better football program and we’re actually the bigger school now.

Our narrative from the moment the news broke should have been something like this, “We’re aware conference re-alignment is always happening.  We also understand why teams want to join the premier athletic conference in the country.  We made that decision a decade ago leaving an inferior conference.  We will gather with our member schools in the conference and make the best decision for the conference.”  That’s it.  That should have been the narrative all along because we really knew what was going on.

Behind the scenes you can work like hell to keep the Longhorns out but on the exterior don’t act inferior or scared which is what we did.  Even if John Sharp knew and was sworn to secrecy he could have given Bjork and the school president a little info that something might be brewing with the SEC adding teams.  When that news did come out we needed a consistent message of being aware and not being afraid. 

Even if Brent Z didn’t leak the story on a Wednesday afternoon it would have come out the following Monday.  Did Sharp have some grand plan to get everyone aligned in those days?  I don’t think so.  Maybe I’m wrong on Sharp knowing but someone somewhere knew and the leadership at A&M failed in how they handled this.  Completely failed.

If you can’t trust your school president and athletic director then there’s some big issues going on.

From a football standpoint I don’t think this really hurts us that much.  We truly have the superior program right now.  Sure, it sucks we can no longer sell we’re the only SEC school in the state but how much did that really help Sumlin?  It didn’t.  Sumlin won in 2012 with most of Sherman’s players and then never did much in recruiting or really winning after that.

At the end of the day coaching staffs matter more than anything else.  Conference really doesn’t matter.

I remember when R.C. Slocum was complaining about facilities when Mack Brown started crushing him in recruiting and coaching.  R.C. was certainly correct our facilities needed improving in a big way but the reality is Mack Brown was a superior recruiter.  It also didn’t help that Bob Stoops and Nick Saban at LSU were also superior recruiters.  Coaching matters more than anything else in college football.

I truly believe Texas A&M has the superior coach and we’re going to be fine.  What happens if Texas joins the SEC and we go on a 10-year run like we did from the mid-80s to the mid-90s?  It will actually help A&M because we can definitively show we’re the better program right now.

Things will finally get settled where they should have been settled all along – On the field.  For 12 months one school is going to have definitive bragging rights.

Trust me when I say this – When you see the Maroon and Burnt Orange line up on the field it’s going to feel right.  It really will.  Rivalries are meant to be contested.  That’s what makes them a rivalry.  Actual competition.

Would I be happier if Texas was swirling around in that god forsaken conference known as the Big 12?  You bet.  But they’re not.  They’re coming to the SEC.  There’s too much money involved.  Let’s saddle up and ride proving we’re the better program on the field because we are.

Stop acting so damn scared.  Stop worrying about the narrative and perception.  We’ll settle it on the field.  Just like it should have been all along.

The 2021 Aggie Football Team:

Overall:

I feel great about this team.  I really do.  Jimbo and his staff are excellent coaches.  I truly believe they’re a Top 5 staff in college football.  They recruit well and have a strong game plan week in and week out.  There’s only been a few games in 3 seasons I’ve been disappointed in Jimbo’s approach.  He’s been excellent in 3 seasons as the Aggie head coach.

Let’s recap what the 2020 team did:

  • 8-1 record in 9 SEC games with our only loss being to Alabama
  • Orange Bowl Champs
  • Finished #4 in the Country

Read those three bullet points again.  Read them one more time.  That’s an outstanding season.

The best part about last season was how we put teams away in the 4th quarter.  We might have struggled through 3 quarters like against Auburn and North Carolina but when it mattered most we pulled away and won.  That’s the mark of a well-coached team.

I say that because it gives me confidence Jimbo and his staff will continue the development of this year’s team.  That wasn’t a team that won on raw talent.  That was a team that won on good coaching and hard work by the players.

I don’t see any reason why 2021 will be different.  Talent wise we’ll have more raw talent than last season.  We lose a lot of experience at some key positions.  However, we have something carrying over that I believe is the most underrated thing in sports – Player Leadership.  Demarvin Leal is without a doubt the heart and soul of this team.  He’s the leader that demands excellence.  Behind him you have guys like Demani Richardson, Kenyon Green, Isiah Spiller, and Ainias Smith.  I think you can include Leon O’Neal to a degree.  Sure, he makes some bone headed decisions from time to time but for the most part the dude has really developed into a pretty good football player.

Either way you have a lot of guys at the top that just love playing football.  That sets the tone for the rest of the team.  Tom Brady is a decent physical quarterback.  There are much more talented quarterbacks in the NFL.  What he excels at is leading his team and setting the tone they are there to win football games.  If they don’t want to win football games they don’t need to be there.

I see a lot of guys like that on this team and that bodes well for the season.  Great teams tend to have great leaders on the field.  I think we have that for this season.

Offense:

I think we’re going to see more of the same from Jimbo which is good.  No need to mess with what’s working.  Jimbo runs an offense that works with his talent on both sides of the ball.  We have a stable of running backs and a really dominant defense.  Because of that winning time of possession is key.  Wear the other defense down and keep ours fresh.

I like big plays on offense as much as anyone.  I like winning football games more.  Winning “ugly” games is much sexier than losing high scoring contests.

We lose a ton of experience at quarterback and offensive line.  We’re still waiting on great receivers to emerge.  I think we’ll be more talented at each of those positions but experience is a huge part of being successful.  The good news is the people taking over these positions have been in the program for a year or two so they should be prepared.  It may take them a little bit to figure some things out as in game experience is more valuable than anything else.

Hopefully by October 9th they’ve got all the kinks worked out and are hitting on all cylinders.  Yes, that’s when Alabama comes to Kyle Field.  That will be the most important game at Kyle in almost a decade assuming the Aggies get through September.  I’ll detail it out later but you don’t win it all without beating Nick Saban.  It’s just that simple.

Quarterback:

Although Jimbo hasn’t named a starting quarterback I don’t see how it’s not Haynes King.  King took the backup snaps last season behind Mond.  All indications are he’s acting like the starting quarterback.

King is extremely talented and really fast.  That’s what you want in a college quarterback.  Calzada has a complete cannon of an arm but I think King gives Jimbo more flexibility because of his legs.  Don’t be shocked if Calzada turns into a better NFL quarterback but I expect King to be the starter at A&M for his career.  I think after this season Calzada likely transfers somewhere else after 3 years in the program.

I’m not too concerned about King being a redshirt freshman.  The list of freshmen that have done great things as a college quarterback are pretty long.  Names like Manziel, Jameis Winston, Tua Tagovailoa, and Trevor Lawrence come to mind.

No reason King can’t follow those guys because of the talent surrounding him.

There will certainly be some learning curves and some mistakes here and there but in the end I think King will be just fine.  If not, we have Calzada waiting in the wings.  Jimbo has proven he can develop college quarterbacks.

Offensive Line:

This is my biggest question for the 2021 team and it’s because of this question – Was the 2020 offensive line the result of talent finally developing into coaching or was it just because the guys had so much experience with one another?  They had basically played 3 seasons together.

That 2020 offensive line was OUTSTANDING.  I can’t say enough good things about those guys.  We had 4 seniors and Keyon Green. 

I personally believe it was talent developing into coaching.  Because of that I don’t have a lot of concerns with this group.  They’ll take a little time to develop but I’m hoping by October 9th they’re one cohesive unit.

Kenyon Green moves out to left tackle and Layden Robinson takes over at right guard.  These two will be the heart and soul of the unit.  These are two guys that are going to have long NFL careers.

Aki Ogunbiyi looks to start at left guard, Luke Matthews at center, and Jahmir Johnson at right tackle.

Overall this will be a more talented unit than last year.  Ogunbiyi was a highly rated recruit, Matthews has excellent genes, and Johnson was a four year starter at Tennessee before transferring to the Aggies.

Like quarterback there will be some growing pains but I feel good about this bunch.  They’ve all been in the program for a while and I believe in Josh Henson.  I don’t think last year was the result of four seniors just having familiarity with each other.  I think Henson was a major factor in their performance.  Until I see differently I’m going to believe that.

Running Back:

Texas A&M may really have the best running back group in the country.  Alabama is always loaded with running back talent but the Aggies have an impressive group.  At the top is Isiah Spiller.  The dude isn’t splashy but he just churns out yards.  He and the offensive line work really well together as he waits on holes to develop.

Behind him is Devon Achane who was EXTREMELY impressive in his limited carries last season.  He’s a little small but he has good balance and world class speed as we saw in the Orange Bowl.  He’s the perfect compliment to Spiller.

You also have Ainias Smith who you’ll see lined up in the backfield from time to time. 

Behind those guys you have L.J. Johnson who was a four star recruit out of Cypress.  You also have Amari Daniels who was highly rated out of Miami.  Then you have Earnest Crownover who’s 6’3”/220 and has taken some snaps.

It’s a stacked group and next to the defensive line it’s the most talented bunch on the team.

Wide Receiver:

This is the group that still frustrates me the most.  The best pass catcher in Jimbo’s three seasons has been a tight end or slot receiver.  You’ve had Jace Sternberger, Jaylen Wydermyer, and Ainias Smith.  That’s it.  We haven’t had a truly dominant receiver stressing the secondary down the field.

I know Caleb Chapman flashed in the Florida game but he’s struggled to stay healthy.  Hopefully he can get back to the Florida game form AND stay healthy.  He’s played in 3 games in his Aggie career and had 2 big catches. That’s it. He needs to stay healthy. We need a deep threat in the worst way.  It’s crazy to think what this offense has done with no real wide receivers. For one game we saw it but we need a lot more of it.

We’ve been hearing about Baylor Cupp for two seasons but haven’t seen anything.  I know he’s been hurt but this is a guy that’s missed the last three years of football going back to his senior year of high school because of injuries.  I feel bad for him but until he can stay healthy it’s just empty hope of what he can be as a compliment to Wydermyer.

Demond Demas allegedly has all the talent in the world but we haven’t seen any of it on the field.  Promise is one thing.  Production is even more.  He needs to produce on the field.

Chase Lane is serviceable but I don’t think he’s a superstar.  Same thing with Hezekiah Jones.  Jalen Preston came into the program as a heralded four star and hasn’t done anything.

Moose Muhammad and Devin Price are redshirt freshmen with lots of promise.  Hopefully they show up this season.

Yulkeith Brown is a true freshman with lots of speed out of Miami.

The numbers and talent are there but the production isn’t.  I don’t know why that it is but something needs to change if this Aggie team is going to dominate.  We’ve got to have receivers on the outside that can stress the defense down the field.  That has been the biggest change with Nick Saban’s offenses over the last few seasons. 

Alabama now has a fleet of receivers stressing a defense’s secondary rather than just pounding them on the ground.  The Aggies need to do the same.

I’m really hoping the receiving corps takes the same step the offensive line took from 2019 to 2020.  If it does, there’s no reason Texas A&M can’t win the national championship in 2021.

Defense:

I feel REALLY good about this defense.  Demarvin Leal is probably the most underrated football player in college football.  He’s not flashy but the dude does work up and down the defensive line.  His football awareness and technique is off the charts.  He may not rack up gaudy stats but he’s the heart and soul of this defense working to create plays for everyone.  The dude loves playing football and others follow his lead.

Beyond Leal this side of the ball has plenty of talent.  The loss of Buddy Johnson is pretty big but I think there’s enough talent and experience to overcome that loss. 

This defense is going to be damn good.  Beyond Leal on the field the other reason is Mike Elko.  What Elko has done in three seasons as the Aggie Defensive Coordinator has been outstanding.  I don’t see that changing in 2021.  He’s an elite college defensive coordinator.

One positive about the Sooners and Longhorns to the SEC is we might be able to hold onto Mike Elko for another season or two.  I really think college football is about to turn into the haves and have nots.  I think firing coaches and hiring new guys for big money might cool down a bit until the college re-alignment talks slow down a bit.

You’ve got 8 teams left in the Big 12 and it looks like they won’t have a landing spot in any new conferences.  I don’t think the money is there.  I think some other smaller schools are going to be reluctant to give a new head coach a lot of money.  Big schools tend to hire guys with head coaching experience.

I’m not saying Mike Elko will never leave Texas A&M but right now he’s making good money and there’s a lot of uncertainty for a lot of schools.  He may see a guy like Dave Arande and wait a bit before he gets his chance for a more stable school.

Before this Sooner and Longhorn news I would have assumed he’s gone after this season.  I’m not sure of that right now.  That’s good news for the Aggies.

Mike Elko is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country.  The dude is fundamentally sound, makes great in game adjustments, and works well with Jimbo’s overall game plan.  I can’t say enough good things about Mike Elko.  Every national championship team has a great defensive coordinator and A&M has a great one.

Defensive Line:

The Aggie defensive line is just stacked.  Just stacked.  It could be the best in the country.  I’ve talked about Leal already.  He’s going to play up and down the line going from defensive end on running downs and defensive tackle on passing downs.  The dude is a monster.  We won’t have him after this year but that’s fine.  There won’t be anything else for him to prove when he’s done this season.

At defensive tackle we have Jayden Peevy and McKinnley Jackson.  Jackson is currently suspended but I’m hoping he gets things cleared up and is only gone for one game.  He’s a true sophomore but was excellent when he played last season.  He’s got All SEC caliber talent.

Peevy is a super senior and it’s great that he came back.  I’m not sure he’ll play in the NFL but he’s an outstanding defensive tackle for the Aggies.  What he may lack in talent he’ll make up for in experience.

Michael Clemons will start opposite Leal as defensive end.  I really feel this guy is the key to A&M’s national title hopes.  Clemons graduated high school in 2016.  This will be his sixth year on a college campus.  He goes 6’5” and 270 pounds.  He’s 24 years old.  He’s a grown ass man playing college football.

Beyond his numbers the dude is talented.  I think he can really have a Demontre Moore like 2012 season.  A&M has been missing a pass rushing threat since Myles Garrett.  I think Clemons can finally bring that element to an Aggie defense.  Last season he had 4 sacks in 5 games.  If he’s healthy he can bring pressure off the edge that will be disruptive to any offense.  He won’t be Myles but if he can be like Demontre in 2012 that’ll be good enough for me.

Beyond the starting four we’ve got a good group of guys that’s short on experience but plenty talented.  Guys like Tyree Johnson, Donell Harris, Fadill Diggs, Isaiah Rakes, and Adarious Jones.  Jimbo has recruited the defensive line really well in his time in Aggieland.  You need talent and depth at the defensive line in the SEC and the Aggies have that.

Linebackers:

As mentioned the loss of Buddy Johnson is big.  The dude had a nose for the football and made plays as a linebacker.  I don’t think we’ll have anyone be as productive as him but we have some guys that are serviceable.

Aaron Hansford returns for his 6th season on a college campus.  I don’t think he’s as talented as Buddy Johnson but he’s got plenty of experience.  He’s been solid the last two seasons.  I don’t think he’ll make a massive leap but he’ll be a very serviceable linebacker.

Andre White, Jr. takes over for Buddy Johnson in his third year in the program.  He started in the Orange Bowl where he played great.  He had 8 tackles, half a sack, and an interception.  He’s not started a full season but I feel good he’ll be solid.

Linebacker is the unit with the least amount of depth but we have Chris Russell and Edgerrin Cooper backing them up.  They’ve mainly been special teams guys the last few seasons.

All in all I don’t think this will be an outstanding unit but I do think it’ll be a unit that can hold it’s own with the rest of the talent on the defense and Mike Elko’s coaching.

Secondary:

I’m a little torn on this secondary.  I’m not sure if it’ll be serviceable or it will be excellent.  The talent is there to be excellent.

Demani Richardson and Leon O’Neal are the starters at safety just like they’ve been the past two seasons.  Richardson is solid and will likely play on Sundays.  O’Neal has all the talent in the world and seems to be maturing.  He has some brain farts from time to time in coverage and emotion but for the most part he’s damn good.

Myles Jones returns for a fifth season and while I’ve been hard on him I thought he played really solid at corner last season.  He’s not spectacular but if he continues to improve from last season he’ll be fine.

Jaylon Jones returns as a true sophomore at the other corner.  He’s a little short on experience but he’s loaded with talent.  He’s got the ability to be a star but he needs to take that step this season.  I’m hopeful he will.

Antonio Johnson will start at the nickel back and is similar to Jaylon Jones.  A little short on experience but loaded with talent.  I too think he makes a big leap this season.  Erick Young will back up Jonson and he’s loaded with talent as well.  He’s struggled from an assignment standpoint but he adds outstanding depth.

Beyond those guys as key contributors you have guys like Brian George, Tyreek Chappell, Deuce Harmon, Josh Moten, Brian Williams, and Keldrick Carper.  Lots of inexperienced depth but hopefully it’s not needed this season.

We go up against some great receivers this season like Treylon Burks at Arkansas, John Metchie at Alabama, and Kayshon Boutte at LSU.  We also go up against Lane Kiffin’s pass happy offense at Ole Miss and who knows if Mike Leach will get things going at Mississippi State.

This unit is going to get tested.  The talent is there and the limited experience says they should be okay.  We just need them to continually get better.  If the secondary really takes that leap we’re talking about one of the Top 5 defenses in college football.

If the talent and coaching come together this season we’re going to be just fine on this side of the ball.

Season Prediction:

I’m not doing my usual record prediction this season.  The sole reason is this – I feel this Aggie team is good enough to win every game on their schedule.  That’s right, I feel this Aggie team can win the national title.  I doubt they do but for the first time in forever I believe it’s possible.

They still play in the SEC West which is the toughest division in college football.  Arkansas will be better, Ole Miss puts up a ton of points, Mike Leach always snake bites someone that wasn’t expecting it, LSU is still extremely talented, and there’s some guy named Saban who coaches in Tuscaloosa.  If I truly had to wager I’d say this team goes 11-1 this season.  I feel like they’ll get past Bama because Saban seems to struggle against first time athletic quarterbacks.  The Aggies will probably then wind up losing to Ole Miss or LSU.  Most likely LSU because Ole Miss is at home and we’ll just run down their throats to keep their offense off the field.

I want to get past September to see where this team is before I start predicting wins and losses.  I want to see the inexperienced talent develop and execute what the coaching staff wants.  I want to see them put teams away in the 4th quarter.  I want to see running backs churning out yards, a quarterback have time in the pocket, and limited busted plays on defense.  If I see those things I’ll hold true to my 11-1 prediction right now.

As for the national championship here’s an interesting nugget – In 2013 Jimbo Fisher was in his fourth season at Florida State and coming off an Orange Bowl championship.  He had a redshirt freshman quarterback under center and went undefeated winning a national championship.  Can history repeat itself?  It happened once so why not again? 

Interesting Nugget #2 – Did you know every team that won the national championship since 2008 has had to beat Alabama with one exception?  That exception was 2013 when Auburn beat Alabama on the Kick 6 to go to the SEC Championship.  They would beat Missouri and go on to lose to Jimbo’s Florida State team for the national title.  In a way Bama was still a factor as if Auburn didn’t beat them then Bama would have likely played that Florida State team.  For 13 seasons Nick Saban and Alabama have had a direct influence on who won the national championship.  They’ve won 6 of those seasons.  That’s complete dominance of college football.

October 9th can really be a pivotable moment for Aggie football.  If the Aggies can get by Bama then they have a chance to win it all.  No small task but if they can get by Bama the road is paved.

For fun I went back and looked at the national championship winners since 2008.  In 6 of those 13 seasons a team with a pre-season ranking of 5 or worse won the national title.  The most recent team to win a national title with a pre-season ranking of 5 or worse?  The 2019 LSU football team who had a pre-season rank of 6. 

What’s the pre-season ranking of the 2021 Aggies?  6.  Can history repeat itself?  We’ll find out…

Here’s the chart:

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