Editor’s note: Our 14-day Crystal Ball series continues with Texas A&M in the SEC West. Coming Monday: Florida and the SEC East.

After the way things ended at Florida State, I had my doubts about Jimbo Fisher.

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I think many did. Some nationally probably still do.

My doubts weren’t just about the fact that Florida State needed a makeup game to reach bowl eligibility in Fisher’s final year. I wasn’t sure how Fisher would handle moving to a new place and taking over a program for the first time. It was a different transition than he had at FSU in 2010. He was FSU’s offensive coordinator for 3 years before replacing Bobby Bowden.

But all Fisher did last year was deliver the Aggies’ best season of the post-Johnny Manziel era. The $75 million man yielded the Aggies’ first winning record in SEC play and spot in the final Associated Press Top 25 of the Playoff era.

Was it a perfect season? No. If we’re being honest, had the LSU game been properly officiated, it’s a 7-5 regular season. That would have tied for the program’s lowest regular-season win total since joining the SEC in 2012.

So heading into Year 2 of the Fisher era, what should we expect from A&M, especially with such a daunting schedule?

2018 record: 9-4 (5-3), 2nd in SEC West

Kellen Mond’s rise

Mond might as well have changed his name last year because he was a completely different player than he was as a freshman. He was more decisive, he read defenses better and he seemed every bit like the game-changer he was recruited to be. He accounted for more than 3,500 yards from scrimmage and 31 total touchdowns as a sophomore (Tua Tagovailoa and Drew Lock were the only other SEC quarterbacks to hit both marks).

Still, there’s plenty of room for improvement. The game can still slow down for him a bit more. Fisher wants him to get rid of the ball quicker and to take fewer sacks. His 57% accuracy could stand to improve a bit, as well.

Mond believes he’s already the best quarterback in the SEC. I disagree, but his ceiling gives him the ability to be a top 10 signal-caller nationally.

Finding the new Trayveon Williams

Just find a guy who can account for 2,000 yards and keep on rolling, right? Easier said than done. Williams had one of the more underrated seasons in the SEC in recent memory. He could hit the home-run play, catch passes out of a backfield and take over a game at a moment’s notice. That’s why he left early to play on Sundays.

Williams’ replacement looks like it’ll be Jashaun Corbin, his understudy as a true freshman. Corbin’s 5.7 yards per carry came in a limited sample size. The talent is certainly there for the former 4-star recruit who committed to Fisher at FSU before following him to A&M. The question is if he can handle a workload like Williams.

Last year, Williams had nearly 300 touches. A&M will line up in a variety of formations to disguise looks for its featured back. Corbin stands to benefit from that, just as Williams did last year.

If Corbin repeats the success of Williams, they might start referring to Fisher as a running back whisperer instead of a quarterback whisperer.

Mike Elko’s defense was solid, but …

It has some improvement to do. Nobody in America had a more significant difference in their run defense (No. 2) and their pass defense (No. 98).

I’ll say this. It’s a good thing it’s not the other way around. If that were the case, Fisher probably would have been fine if Elko left for another job. Instead, he’s now set to make $2.1 million annually as the 3rd-highest paid defensive coordinator behind only Clemson’s Brent Venables and LSU’s Dave Aranda, AKA Fisher’s original target.

Elko’s defense has always been predicated on stopping the run. At 3 schools the past 3 years, Elko’s run defenses all ranked in the top half of the country. He loves to load the line of scrimmage and dare teams to throw. It helps when you have guys like Justin Madubuike up front. He’ll be the key veteran from a front 7 that lost the likes of Kingsley Keke, Daylon Mack, Otaro Alaka and Tyrel Dodson.

The good news is the secondary that struggled last year returns promising 2nd-year player Leon O’Neal Jr., and the other starting safety, Derrick Tucker, has earned rave reviews in camp.

Simply put — A&M’s secondary must be better to navigate that daunting schedule.

Game-by-game predictions

Week 1: vs. Texas State (W)

Texas State lost to Rutgers by 28 last year.

Week 2: at Clemson (L)

You’re going to hear a lot of talk about A&M’s 2018 effort against Clemson, and understandably so. It was one of the top games of the season and it gave Aggies fans hope that they’d be able to get to Clemson’s level in a hurry. But that was before Trevor Lawrence took control of the offense. With his top skill players back, that’s a nightmare Week 2 matchup for that young defense to deal with on the road. But I also wouldn’t expect Mond to back down from a Clemson defense that he torched last year.

Week 3: vs. Lamar (W)

Could we see a bit of a Clemson hangover? Sure. But these are the type of games in which Corbin should get rolling and the Aggies should get some of those blue-chip recruits some important early reps.

Week 4: vs. Auburn (L)

Mond’s mobility frustrated the nation’s top defensive line last year (Clemson). Why can’t he do the same this year to Auburn’s formidable front? He certainly could, but I worry about how A&M’s front 7 is going to handle Auburn’s run game. Whether it’s Joey Gatewood or Bo Nix, I could see them wearing down the Aggies and grinding out a tough road win in College Station.

Week 5: vs. Arkansas (W) (in Dallas)

My fingers are crossed for a Nick Starkel-A&M reunion. What theater that would be to watch Starkel battle his former team in Jerry World. A 7-year winning streak for A&M suggests this rivalry is one-sided, but 4 of the past 5 games were decided by a touchdown, 3 of which went into overtime. I’d expect another close game, but too much Quartney Davis and Kendrick Rogers allows A&M to step on the gas in the 4th quarter.

Week 6: Bye

Week 7: vs. Alabama (L)

I looked at Mond’s numbers against Alabama because it seemed like he always holds his own against the Crimson Tide. In 2 games, he has a combined:

  • 56% accuracy
  • 433 yards
  • 7.0 yards per attempt
  • 2-3 TD-INT
  • 32 rushes, 112 yards, 2 TDs

That’s not as good as I thought, but given the confidence we’ve seen from Mond the last year, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had his best game yet against Alabama. The problem is Tua Tagovailoa should still be able to pick apart that secondary. There could and should be plenty of points scored, but even in College Station in what should be a wild atmosphere, I’m not willing to predict Nick Saban’s undefeated record against his former assistants ends.

Week 8: at Ole Miss (W)

I have questions about Ole Miss shutting down versatile offenses. A&M, I expect, will be that. But this could be a low-key solid strength-on-strength matchup between the Aggies’ run defense and RichRod’s ground game. Still, I’ll take the road team to light up the scoreboard.

Week 9: vs. Mississippi State (W)

There’s a lot to like with this MSU squad. Kylin Hill has All-SEC potential, the group of linebackers is one of the SEC’s best and Cameron Dantzler is a true lockdown corner. That’s why this should be a down-to-the-wire game. But I like a battle-tested A&M squad to close things out by wearing down the MSU defense via the run. This could be a signature game for Corbin.

Week 10: vs. UTSA (W)

A 3-win Conference-USA team ain’t rolling into College Station and pulling off a stunner. But beware of A&M looking ahead to that bye week coming off a couple of SEC wins.

Week 11: Bye

Week 12: vs. South Carolina (W)

Will Muschamp has lost 10 consecutive games to ranked opponents dating to his first season at South Carolina in 2016. The Gamecocks have such a daunting schedule that by this point, you could go 1 of 2 ways. Either they’ll be battle-tested and ready for anything — something you could say about A&M — or they’ll be banged up and limited in terms of depth. I’d probably say the latter has a better chance of happening by Week 12. I’ll take an A&M squad coming off a bye to win the battle in the trenches and win a tight game.

Week 13: at Georgia (L)

Georgia has done 2 things extremely well under Kirby Smart the past 2 years — dominate the division and truck teams at home. Forget Group of 5/FCS teams. Against Power 5 opponents in Sanford Stadium the past 2 seasons, Georgia is 8-0 with an average margin of victory of 24 points per game. I think Georgia is too good on the offensive line for A&M. It might not be a typical 24-point win, but the Dawgs should win by a couple of scores at least.

Week 14: at LSU (L)

We won’t get 7 overtimes this year, but we should get another thriller. The problem? With how last year’s game played out and with LSU fighting for a New Year’s 6 Bowl berth, I expect that atmosphere to be — dare I say — even more electric than usual. I like the odds of LSU having a versatile offensive attack that keeps A&M off-balance. LSU’s secondary has a much better showing than it did against A&M last year and this time, there’s no premature Gatorade bath for Ed Orgeron.

2019 projection: 7-5 (4-4, 4th in SEC West)

#GigEm

So a 7-win season wouldn’t exactly make that $75 million feel like money well spent. I get that. And I get that having the program’s worst regular-season win total of the Playoff era wouldn’t necessarily show progress.

But goodness. We’re talking about matchups against 4 of the 5 top teams in the country. That’s not a year that sets up for a Playoff berth or a New Year’s 6 Bowl. If Fisher leads A&M to a New Year’s 6 Bowl, give him every Coach of the Year award in existence.

The problem is this roster isn’t formed from top-5 recruiting classes. Not yet. A&M’s 2019 season should be evaluated based on how it stays on the field with those 4 aforementioned squads. If we get a bunch of 2018 Clemson repeat performances, right on. The wins will come. That’s a good sign moving forward.

If A&M is getting pushed around at the line of scrimmage and those games are over midway through the 3rd quarter, it’s fair to wonder how far the Aggies are from being a Playoff contender. Even though it’s a 7-win projection, I think A&M will win some extremely favorable bowl matchup, get to 8 wins and earn a spot in the final AP Top 25.

Texas A&M hasn’t had consecutive Top 25 finishes since 2012-2013. Now would be a good time to get that streak going again.