SDS Crystal Ball: Predicting every game for Texas A&M football in 2018
It’s difficult to have a splashier offseason than the one Texas A&M just had.
The Aggies did the impossible, which was hire the guy who many believed wasn’t going anywhere. All the Aggies did was write a $75 million check to one of the four active coaches with a ring.
All Jimbo Fisher did since then was run camp, recruit and ride horses with Marty Smith. But mainly, recruit. As of this writing, Texas A&M has the No. 3 recruiting class in the 2019 rankings with an absurd 25 verbal commitments.
The big-time Fisher investment and the recruiting exploits won’t necessarily yield significant on-field differences in 2018. Those will take some time.
So let’s dig into Texas A&M’s 2018 outlook.
2017 record: 7-5 (4-4)
My Jimbo question
Again, I give Scott Woodward a ton of credit for going out and getting the coach he wanted. If Fisher brings A&M SEC championships, nobody in College Station will bat an eye at the $75 million price tag. My 2018 question isn’t about conference titles. I don’t think this roster is at that level yet.
My question is about this new type of transition for Fisher.
Many will point to Fisher leading Florida State to a 10-win season in Year 1. They should probably also point out that Fisher had 3 seasons in Tallahassee under his belt before he took over. It was as easy of a transition as a first-time head coach could ask for. Fisher was the coach in waiting for the legendary Bobby Bowden. Still, those were players that Fisher recruited, and he was facing teams that he had already game-planned for.
This is a totally new ballgame. He’s coming to a completely different program and coaching in a completely different conference. Can Fisher handle that transition well? Of course. I just don’t think it’s fair to assume that A&M’s new yearly floor is 9 wins.
We know that Fisher is going to want to do things his way. He’s implementing a totally new offense with a roster he didn’t recruit. That’s not always easy to do in the SEC West.
The delicate quarterback situation
Obviously all eyes are on the quarterback situation. How Fisher handles this could define how well his team performs in Year 1. Reports out of camp suggest that Fisher doesn’t know who he’ll pick between Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel. Both flashed their talent in 2017, and both elected to stick around for the start of the Fisher era.
Whether the latter stays true through 2018 remains to be seen. It’s natural to assume that the backup will transfer given that both quarterbacks have multiple years of eligibility left. History suggests that when Fisher picks his quarterback, he doesn’t turn back.
On the flip side, what if Fisher chooses the wrong guy? Of course, that’s not the way his mind operates. In Fisher’s head, once he picks his quarterback, he’s going to do whatever he can to make sure they succeed.
Still, what happens if Fisher picks a quarterback who struggles out of the gate while the other transfers? That’s suddenly a dicey situation to face with a daunting schedule ahead.
Mike Elko is used to this
In May of 2017, I was at IMG Academy working on our “Stories Down South” podcast feature. The first coach we saw there was a guy wearing a Notre Dame polo. We talked for about 10-15 minutes, mostly about IMG-related things. I’ll be honest. I had no idea who he was until I Googled him. It turns out, that was Mike Elko.
I can guarantee that if Elko walked up to me in May of 2018, I would have known exactly who he was.
That’s because all Elko did in his only season at Notre Dame was turn around a defense that was largely responsible for a 4-8 season. Brian Kelly hired Elko after he spent 3 seasons at Wake Forest, where he led the No. 22 scoring defense in his final season (something else I didn’t know back in 2017). That’s why Kelly was so steadfast that Elko wasn’t leaving South Bend.
But he did. And now Texas A&M gets to reap the benefits of Elko’s defensive prowess.
Week 1: Northwestern State (W)
Fisher was the first coach to speak at SEC Media Days, and he’ll be the first SEC coach to play a game in 2018 (Thursday, Aug. 30). That’s all I got. A&M isn’t losing to a 4-win FCS squad.
Week 2: Clemson (L)
Everyone knows about Clemson’s loaded defensive line, but I think this is when reality really sinks in to A&M fans. Those are the type of teams A&M needs to be able to beat in the trenches to deliver on that national championship process. In the second game in a new offense, Clemson’s defense is a frightening sight.
Week 3: Louisiana-Monroe (W)
See “Week 1: Northwestern State.” Replace “FCS” with “Sun Belt.”
Week 4: at Alabama (L)
I wonder how long it took Fisher to realize that he’d see Clemson and Alabama in September of his first season. Seriously. On the plane ride over? Before he signed the contract? After they came out with those pocket schedules for 2018? I’d love to know. Nick Saban’s perfect record against his assistants is safe for now.
Week 5: vs. Arkansas* (W)
This is the game that the Aggies can’t afford to lose. Chad Morris has the ability to become the fly in the ointment for the Aggies in a few years. With his recruiting ties in the state of Texas, Morris would love nothing more than to get a huge statement win in Jerry World. But while both offensive minds will try and implement their systems in Year 1, it’s Fisher who has the roster with a better chance of executing that.
Week 6: vs. Kentucky (W)
This is where it’ll be nice to have Elko on board. Notre Dame allowed just 9 rushing touchdowns all year, which was fifth in FBS. You stop Kentucky by stopping Benny Snell. This could be a trickier game than one would think for the A&M offense, but I’d still expect a win by a couple scores.
Week 7: at South Carolina (W)
I’m not as high on the Gamecocks as some are. I’m a bit in wait-and-see mode with this new offense. I’m not in wait-and-see mode with Trayveon Williams, who I think will be huge in what figures to be a down-to-the-wire game. Fisher pulls out his first SEC road win and the Aggies get on a nice little win streak.
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: at Mississippi State (L)
A&M fans don’t want to hear this, but MSU is more talented and better prepared to make serious noise in 2018. Joe Moorhead doesn’t have to do a ton of tweaking to get that offense thriving in his system, whereas I think that’ll be a tougher road for Fisher. The Bulldogs play lights out at home and end A&M’s 3-game winning streak.
Week 10: at Auburn (L)
This is when it really hits Fisher just how brutal the West is. In a 2-week stretch on the road, A&M could easily face 6 or 7 front seven guys who become All-SEC players. That’s daunting. This is the type of game that Fisher will need to win with regularity if he’s going to be a perennial division winner. Much easier said than done.
Week 11: vs. Ole Miss (W)
The last win of Sumlin’s A&M tenure came in Oxford. Back in College Station for the first time in 5 weeks, the Aggies feast off some home cooking. Monster days for Williams and whoever fills that change-of-pace role.
Week 12: vs. UAB (W)
UAB had a nice bounce-back season after the program was shut down a few years ago, but it was probably pretty telling that even a disastrous Florida team put up 36 points in a blowout win last year. Cupcake week gives A&M win No. 7.
Week 13: vs. LSU (L)
A lot has changed at LSU since Fisher was there 12 years ago. For starters, LSU has won 7 consecutive games against A&M dating to the 2011 Cotton Bowl. History doesn’t win games, but it’s hard to get past A&M allowing 54 and 45 points to predictable LSU offenses the past 2 years. I expect Joe Burrow to be plenty comfortable by late November, and the Tigers’ balanced attack will fuel their eighth straight win against the Aggies.
2018 Projection: 7-5 (4-4)
Final Standings: 5th in SEC West
It’s a transition year. It’s a “welcome to the SEC” year. It’s a foundation year. It’s whatever you want to call it. It has its ups and it has its downs.
Nothing should change for Aggies fans when it comes to faith in Fisher. It’s not fun to say that the realistic expectation is to simply maintain the 7-win floor that Sumlin had. That’s just in Year 1. Nobody walks into the SEC West and starts cranking out division titles like it’s nothing. Even Saban needed a year of 7 wins before he got the ball rolling.
It’ll take some time. I get the feeling that Fisher is going to be brutally honest about his team this year. Why shouldn’t he be? He’s not going anywhere anytime soon, and he knows the roster overhaul is coming. He definitely won’t be walking on eggshells in College Station.
The beta test stage of the Fisher experiment produces some up-and-down results. That’s perfectly fine.
If we’re still having this conversation a few years from now, that’s a different story.
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