Mississippi State football returns in just under 60 days. With that said, let’s find out about one of the Bulldogs’ SEC West foes: the Texas A&M Aggies.
Texas A&M joined the Southeastern Conference in July of 2012. The move gave the SEC a program in the state of Texas and a passionate fan base along with it.
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The teams have battled five times on the gridiron since A&M’s innagural season in the SEC. The Aggies took the first contest in a blowout victory in which Johnny Manziel ran circles on the Bulldogs. Since then, though, the Bulldogs have made it tough on the Aggies.
Mississippi State has won two of the last three meetings with their maroon and white counterpart. The 2014 game saw Dak Prescott lead State to a dominant victory over Kenny Trill and the sixth-ranked Aggies. A&M took the following contest, but Mississippi State paid them back by ruining their shot at a playoff berth last season. Nick Fitzgerald and the Bulldogs defeated the fourth-ranked Aggies 35-28 in Starkville last November.
How do the Aggies feel heading into 2017? I talked with Gig Em Gazette
‘s Matthew Bartlett to learn more about the other team that wears the maroon and white.
1) What are your expectations for Texas A&M football this season? Will they compete for the West, or are they a year away?
Bartlett: Aggies are confused as to what their expectations should be. Sumlin is one of the better coaches (by winning percentage) in school history, but the 2012 run has left fans expecting 10-2 seasons every year. On paper this team doesn’t look to be as talented as they were last season. But that hasn’t stopped the fanbase from setting even higher expectations. I don’t foresee a scenario where Aggies are satisfied with anything less than a 9-3 record. That’s going to right on the borderline of what the team should be capable of. The West is probably out of reach, but crazier things have happened.
2) Who starts at quarterback and why?
Bartlett: There have been rumblings that true freshman Kellen Mond has put himself a step ahead of the competition. However, it’s unlikely that Sumlin makes any announcement before the Aggies kick off their season against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Jake Hubenak is veteran with experience and Nick Starkel looks to have the best arm. I wouldn’t be surprised either if the guy that starts opening day isn’t the same quarterback that Mississippi State sees later in the year. It’s all been kept under wraps. My money is on Starkel, but it’s little more than a hunch at this point.
3) What does the Aggies’ defense look like? How do they replace Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall? Players to know?
Bartlett: You don’t replace Myles Garrett. Yet the Aggie defense might actually be better this year. Their front seven has gotten deeper on the whole. Incoming freshman linebacker Anthony Hines will start from day one and the rest of the linebackers have had one more year of time in the weight room and film study. The Aggie defense will be younger, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be improved. Texas A&M will have arguably the best safety duo in the SEC with senior safeties Donovan Wilson and Armani Watts. There are a lot of pieces, but the jury is still out on how well John Chavis can put them together.
4) Has John Chavis met your expectations?
Bartlett: Kind of? People don’t realize how poor the Aggie defense was before he arrived. It’s gotten better, but it still has a long way to go. The biggest frustration with the Chief is the lack of quality linebackers that he’s been able to recruit. They haven’t really had any stars in the middle of that defense. That’s led to a void against the run and that’s been a problem. We’re glad that he’s here, but it’s time that he starts living up to expectations. Watching everybody run at will straight up the middle makes for depressing football games.
5) Say A&M decides to move on from Kevin Sumlin. What would have had to happen?
Bartlett: A sub .500 record in the SEC would probably be the end of Sumlin’s tenure at Texas A&M. I think 8-4 (or even 7-5) and .500 in the SEC would be passable if the he wins a few big games (LSU, Auburn, Alabama). He could earn himself more favor if he decided to start Mond at quarterback. In that scenario he could explain away some early season losses as a “growth period” and finish the year strong. Momentum is going to be huge to his future with the school in 2018.
6) How do Aggies fans in Texas feel about Dak Prescott?
Bartlett: It depends. Are you referring to the Aggies that are Cowboys fans or Texans fans? By and large I think most people have come to realize that he’s been just as good in the pros as he was in college, if not better. It’s fun to see a young guy go out and have success. As a Houston native, I personally wish he’d ended up somewhere other than Dallas, but that’s just me.
Mississippi State heads to College Station at the end of October. Can the Bulldogs beat the Aggies for the third in the last four tries this fall?