Bobby Petrino is an offensive upgrade, but it doesn't mean A&M deserves preseason Top 25 love
Jimbo Fisher deserves credit.
He recognized that if he continued to be his team’s primary offensive play-caller, he was going to whiff on whatever sort of championship window his team had after signing that historic 2022 recruiting class. Two years of offensive incompetence got us here, to Fisher hiring Bobby Petrino as his first ever play-caller.
It’s a marriage that could get the Aggies out of their multi-year offensive rut. In an ideal world, Conner Weigman will take that Year 2 step under Petrino’s tutelage and by midseason, we’ll be heaping praise on Fisher for hiring the right offensive play-caller instead of saying to A&M, “I’m still owed $76,800,000 after 2023 so I know you’re not firing me for refusing to adapt.”
Let’s give Fisher credit. Let’s not, however, give him the benefit of a preseason Top-25 spot.
I know what you’re thinking. “Polls don’t matter.” You disagree with me saying that there’s “benefit” in a preseason Top-25 spot.
Answer me this then, skeptic. Do teams have monetary gain during an 8-month offseason if they’re treated as one of the nation’s best? Absolutely. It’s the reason preseason polls exist. It generates discussion. It sells tickets. It paints the brand to recruits in a positive light instead of asking the other question that most 5-7 teams are faced with.
This is worth mentioning because if you take a glance at the way-too-early rankings for 2023, you’ll see A&M at:
- No. 21 in Sporting News
- No. 22 in 247sports
- No. 25 in The Athletic
And while the AP Top 25 won’t come out until August, I can guarantee that the Aggies will at least be in the “receiving votes” category.
My question is simple — why? I didn’t rank the Aggies in our way-too-early Top 25.
I can think Petrino is an on-field upgrade and also believe the Aggies don’t deserve preseason Top-25 love. That’s not some anti-A&M take; that’s an anti-5-7 take. One nice LSU win and a new offensive play-caller doesn’t suddenly vault an Aggies team who took until late-November to score more than 28 points against FBS competition.
Yes, A&M should improve offensively. That’s not saying much. That’s saying Petrino will likely provide a boost to a unit that averaged a shade under 25 points per game against FBS competition the past 2 seasons. In the 22 games A&M played against FBS competition in that stretch, it had just 5 total passing plays of 40 yards (even Vandy had 9 and South Carolina had 22 during that stretch).
The good news is that A&M returns receivers Evan Stewart and Moose Muhammad III. In addition to returning that entire starting offensive line, this isn’t a total gut job from a personnel standpoint.
The bad news is that in addition to the fact that the 2 best offensive players (Devon Achane and Ainias Smith) are off to the NFL, A&M already had 27 (!) players enter the transfer portal, and so far, Fisher only added 3 players. Even in the likely event that A&M attacks the portal more aggressively in spring, it’s fair to have questions about depth, especially after the Aggies went from bad to worse once injuries hit in 2022.
If you think 2022 was just the byproduct of injuries and you forgot how bad A&M was early in the season, see “State, Appalachian.”
Therein lies the problem with giving A&M early Top-25 love. What’s it based on? If your default response to that has anything to do with the historic 2022 class, I’d remind you that 5 of those top-100 recruits already hit the portal. Seven players who were rated as 4- or 5-star recruits from A&M’s 2022 class are gone.
Of course, one of the guys who didn’t bolt was the aforementioned Weigman. The former 5-star recruit is a worthy source of optimism after showing promise as a true freshman with a depleted A&M roster down the stretch. At the same time, we’re talking about someone with 4 career starts and 1 game with 200 passing yards. That doesn’t scream “put this 5-7 team in the preseason Top 25.”
And while preseason rankings aren’t really about quarterback depth, it’s probably worth noting that after Haynes King and Eli Stowers hit the portal, A&M’s backup is 171-pound true freshman Marcel Reed.
There are more ways that this goes wrong than right. We’re talking about a program that started No. 6 and finished unranked in each of the past 2 seasons. The Aggies compiled an 11-11 record vs. FBS competition and they went 6-10 vs. the SEC during that stretch.
That’s far more relevant to a preseason ranking than going through the Aggies’ 2023 schedule and attempting to project wins and losses. By the way, future schedules should never be factored into preseason rankings. You’re not trying to predict where a team will finish. You’re trying to say where you think a team is if it stepped on the field today.
If A&M stepped on the field today, I’d expect to see an above average squad in the trenches. I’d also expect to see a totally unproven backfield and a talented, but thin group of pass-catchers for Weigman, who should be put in better spots with Petrino at the controls … as long as Fisher doesn’t micromanage. Even Fisher doesn’t know if that’ll be an issue. He’s never surrendered play-calling duties until now.
The Aggies can go 10-2 next year and I’d still argue that they didn’t deserve to start in the top 25. Not on the heels of a 5-7 season. Not for a team that has only started AND finished in the AP Top 25 twice in the 21st century. If we want to make that determination after the trip to Miami (FL) or after the SEC opener against Auburn, that’s fine. I’ll have no problem leading that charge if that’s what our eyes tell us.
But to this point, our eyes have told us that a team fresh off a 5-7 season won’t be worthy of getting the benefit of the doubt.
And yes, a preseason ranking is a benefit.