Why Texas A&M is NOT a Title Contender in 2022
The annual college football publications that come out every year have the Texas A&M Aggies ranked, wait for it, #5 in their preseason Top 25 polls.
Last year, they were ranked 6th in the preseason rankings. And that was with a lot more experienced talent on the roster, especially on defense (9 starters returned to that unit last year).
This year's ranking can only be attributed to the fact that the Aggies brought in the #1 recruiting class “of all time” (based on the composite scoring by 247sports.com).
It’s certainly is not based on last year’s performance.
The “Real” Reality Is…
This is a team that beat Alabama last year as part of a four game winning streak, then finished the season at 8–4 as they lost two of their last three games. They also finished unranked in the final AP poll, left out behind the likes of San Diego State (10 wins) and Utah State (11 wins).
Yet they remain top of mind and relevant somehow by getting mentioned in the same breath as Georgia and Alabama.
Their “rep” between the sidelines is that they only give 100% in the BIG games (see the Alabama game) but they look exactly like a team that finished 8–4 (losing to Ole Miss and LSU).
QB Haynes King won the starting job for the 2021 season. That lasted all of two games. In a game with Colorado in which the Aggies struggled to secure a 3-point victory (10–7), King broke his leg and his season was done.
Enter Zach Calzada.
Calzada was under center for the remainder of the season, including the win over Alabama. But he was far from an elite quarterback talent. At the end of the season, he transferred to Auburn.
So now the Aggie quarterback room consists of Max Johnson (transfer from LSU), King, and 5-star true freshman Conner Weigman. Among those three, Johnson has the most game experience.
Johnson played in 17 college games and started 13 SEC games for the Tigers. Last season, Johnson threw for 2814 yards, 27 TDs, 6 INTs. He completed 60% of his passes.
He did produce five games of over 300 yards passing for a 6–6 LSU squad two years removed from a perfect 15–0 season and a national championship in 2019. We all know about the prolific offense and elite NFL talent on both sides of the ball that was on that ’19 LSU team.
For his college career, Johnson has thrown for 3883 yards, 35 TDs, and 7 INTs. His career completion percentage? 59%.
So is Johnson an elite NFL talent? At this point, no. But Jimbo Fisher is supposed to be the guru at developing quarterback talent, so we will see which of the three QB’s separates themselves at Fall camp.
But if you think about it, Fisher hasn’t had an elite NFL talent at quarterback since he coached E.J. Manuel in 2012 and Jameis Winston in the 2013 championship season at Florida State.
In that 2013 championship run under Fisher, Florida State scored 51 points per game on offense and allowed a paltry 12 points per game on defense (#1 in the country). The Seminoles ranked #1 is pass defense and #3 in total defense that season.
So, something needs to give. The Aggies offense was ranked 12th in the SEC in passing and scored 29 points per game. Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State scored 39, 38, and 45 points per game, respectively.
They do have playmakers RB Devon Achane (910 yards, 7 yard average, 9 TDs) and WR Ainias Smith, plus three starters on the offensive line back for last year’s squad.
Smith had 509 yards receiving and 6 TDs. He had just one game of 100-yards receiving, and three games total of over 75 yards. And, he was kept out of the end zone in each of his last five games.
The Aggies lack a true deep threat at the wide receiver position. Jimbo may turn to yet another 5-star freshman recruit in Evan Stewart, who performed well enough in Spring ball to earn Offensive MVP honors.
On defense, they lose a ton of production on the defensive line (off to the NFL) and they lost DC Mike Elko (the new head coach at Duke). Four D-line starters, including All-American DL DeMarvin Leal, and a combined 164 tackles, 38.5 TFL’s, 26 sacks are gone.
So it's the “next four up.” But three of those four might be 5-star true freshmen.
The Aggies defense was ranked in the Top 20 in two categories, and they had the #3 scoring defense in the country (15 points per game allowed). They ranked 35th in the FBS in rushing defense.
But was it a generational, dominating defense like Georgia had in their national title run of 2021? No, it wasn’t.
Georgia’s defense pitched three shutouts and allowed 7 points or less in five other games. They ranked #1 in scoring defense, #2 in rushing defense, and #2 in total defense.
The A&M defense returns four starters in the secondary that combined for 220 tackles, the most on the team. They also return one starter at linebacker.
They hired D.J. Durkin to replace Elko. Durkin has enjoyed success at his coaching stops, but the scuttlebutt around the opposing teams' water coolers is that the Aggies could have done better than the Durkin hire (think Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State, now at Ohio State).
This is a storyline that will be watched every Saturday this fall.
The Bottom Line
Texas A&M plays the 11th ranked toughest schedule in the nation in 2022. By contrast, Alabama plays the 29th toughest schedule, Georgia (58th), and Ohio State (14th).
The Aggies don’t have an elite NFL talent at quarterback, they don’t have a generational, championship-level defense, nor do they have an established deep-ball threat at wide receiver.
At least, not yet.
The Aggies are a couple of years away from a division title, conference championship or the college football playoff. Jimbo and the staff need time to “develop” some of those 5-star recruits on both sides of the ball.
And, the quarterback guru also needs time to “develop” (or recruit) an elite NFL talent at the quarterback position.
Last season, the Aggies (with a 3–2 record) beat Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina, and Auburn. Then lost to Ole Miss and LSU, with a win over Prairie View A&M sandwiched in between.
Georgia’s first loss of the 2021 season was to Alabama-in the SEC Championship Game.
If by some miracle the Aggies beat the Tide again (in Tuscaloosa this year), but lose to South Carolina, to Ole Miss (again) or to Florida then you don’t become a top-tier SEC team. At A&M, the highest of high expectations dictates (no scratch that, demands) that you become Alabama.
In this era of NIL and the transfer portal, if the Aggies don’t live up to the preseason hype and improve in the win column, then time and patience may run out in College Station.
Thanks for reading.
Material for this article was sourced from cfbstats.com, Athlon’s College Football Preview Magazine, Vol.28/2022, Lindy’s Southeastern Football Preview Magazine, 2022.