10 biggest questions I have as Texas A&M prepares for preseason camp
Not since Jimbo Fisher first stepped on campus has a football season generated as much anticipation around College Station as has the 2021 season. Now, in Year 4, Fisher has the Aggies seemingly on the doorstep to greatness. But with every new season comes a laundry list of questions that must be answered. Here are the 10 biggest questions I have as Texas A&M enters preseason camp.
1. Who wins the QB job?
Say what you will about Kellen Mond, but he left some big shoes to fill. Two unproven hopefuls vie for that task. Zach Calzada played in 3 games in 2019, his freshman year, completing 12-of-24 passes for 133 yards and a pair of TDs with 1 interception. Haynes King saw action in 2 games as a freshman last season completing 2-of-4 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown with 1 interception as well. That’s not a lot of experience under center and it’s the Aggies’ biggest question mark heading into this season.
Fisher believes both QBs have NFL talent. Both have strong arms and can run. Perhaps Calzada wins the spot just on experience alone, having been in the program the past 2 years.
2. How well will the offensive line come together this season?
Only All-American Kenyon Green returns from last year’s outstanding offense line, and he’s moving to tackle. So even he will have an adjustment period to deal with. But getting center Luke Matthews back from injury will help tremendously, and the Aggies are depending on veteran Tennessee transfer Jahmir Johnson to help out at tackle. Aki Ogunbiyi looks like a strong candidate at a guard, and Layden Robinson appears to be the front-runner at the other guard spot.
It’s an extremely talented group. How quickly they jell will go a long way in determining the success of Texas A&M’s season.
3. Can the Aggies take the next step?
It’s been hinted at for 3 years now, but the Aggies have actually reached the doorstep, finishing No. 4 nationally last season, which was capped off with an impressive Orange Bowl victory. Fisher said at Media Days that he believes the Aggies are ready to take that next step.
“We’re getting to where we need to be and starting to be able to compete for championships and compete at the highest levels,” he said.
Sure, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but the Aggies enter the 2021 season on the threshold of what could and should be a very special year.
4. Beat Alabama? It’s a culture thing
The Aggies haven’t beaten Alabama since Johnny Football roamed the campus. The Tide have won 8 straight since then — by an average of 22.5 points. Does the streak end in 2021? Alabama loses 8 starters on offense while the Aggies return 9 on defense. It would seem that this is the year. But, according to Fisher, it will only happen if the program has reached Alabama’s level of cultural consistency. We’ll find out if it has on Oct. 9 at Kyle Field.
“Who can do the most work and become the best football team until then is what’s going to make the difference,” Fisher said.
5. Does Texas A&M have the best defense in the country?
The Aggies led the SEC in total defense last season allowing a league-low 317.3 yards per game. That ranked 9th in the country. With 9 starters returning from that unit, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Aggies are poised to field the nation’s top defense in 2021.
6. How much will the WR group help develop the new QB?
The WR play will be as critical as the maturing of the offensive line. The Aggies return 3 high-quality receivers with experience and big-play capabilities in All-American tight end Jalen Wydermyer, Ainias Smith and Chase Lane. The trio combined for 118 catches and 1,479 yards (14 TDs).
“When your quarterback has all the pieces in place, you know guys are going to be where they’re supposed to be, it’s easy to break in your new quarterbacks,” Fisher said.
7. How special will the special teams be?
It would appear that this group is headed for a very special season. They all return, from deep snapper to punter, kicker and return specialists; all are back. Smith and Lane once again handle the punt and kick return duties while punter Nik Constantinou and kickers Seth Small and Caden Davis return as well.
That’s very good news especially in a highly competitive conference like the SEC, where a special teams play could mean the difference between a win or a loss.
8. Will all the Texas talk be a distraction?
You’d hope it wouldn’t be, but knowing Texas soon will be rejoining the Aggies, this time in the SEC, has to at least be in the back of their minds. Fisher is hopeful that his team can take the same approach as he in dealing with the Longhorns’ move to the SEC.
“I’m just worried about A&M,” Fisher said. “I control what I want to control here.”
9. How much of a distraction will the NIL be?
This question produced Fisher’s best line at Media Day.
“Some people have been doing name, image, and likeness for a long time, just they ain’t telling nobody,” he said. “Now we’re all on equal playing field.”
No doubt the NIL will be an issue. How big of one and what effect it will have on the team is the unknown. As Fisher pointed out, none of it will be equal. Some players will get deals while others don’t. While he said he is all for players making those deals, Fisher will be the one to have to manage the imbalance. How he does it in these uncharted waters will be key in maintaining team chemistry.
10. Will Year 4 be the charm (again)?
Fisher won the national championship in Year 4 at Florida State. Of course, he had Jameis Winston at quarterback. But all things considered, there are similarities with the programs as Fisher gets set for his 4th season at College Station. And it has to do with not just one player, but the development of a program, recruiting top talent and coaching it up. That’s where the similarities are.
Depth is a key factor in this league and Fisher has, and continues to, recruit some of the best players in the country. How quickly those players develop, especially in offensive line and at quarterback, will determine how charming Fisher’s fourth season in Aggieland will turn out to be.