Who are we kidding? Nobody who resides in the Southeast will contest that SEC football is the best in the country, and we feel pretty damned sure (sorry we cussed, Mom) the rest of the country knows that the SEC is the best — whether or not they are willing to admit it or not.
We break down the 14 teams that make up the SEC. Check it out, team by team:
SEC CONF. PREVIEW: Overall SEC Conf. Preview
SEC EAST PREVIEWS: Florida | Georgia | Kentucky | Mizzou | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt
SEC WEST PREVIEWS: Alabama | Arkansas | Auburn | LSU | Mississippi State | Ole Miss | Texas A&M
After yet another 8-4 season in 2021, frustrations are starting to boil over in College Station. The Aggies hired head coach Jimbo Fisher in part due to his national championship pedigree at Florida State. While Texas A&M hasn’t reached the heights of college football under Fisher, there’s still reason for optimism in Aggie land.
The Aggies bring in the No. 1 recruiting class in the country this year. The class is headlined by eight 5-star prospects, including four on the defensive line. Additionally, A&M heads into the 2022 season ranked No. 7 in the preseason coaches poll. But still, the Aggies must replace a lot of players off a top 15 defense and several key pieces on offense if they want to compete for an SEC Championship.
THE TEAM: Texas A&M Aggies
THE MENTOR: Jimbo Fisher (5th year, 34-14 record)
THE 2021 RECORD (SEC RECORD): 8-4 (4-4 SEC)
THE AFTER LIFE: Invited to play in TaxSlayer Gator Bowl against ACC Atlantic Division Champion Wake Forest. However, due to COVID-19 the Aggies could not participate in the bowl.
THE FIVE STUDS (STATS):
Devon Achane (RB): Despite sharing the backfield with NFL RB Isaiah Spiller, Achane made the most of his carries. He averaged a whopping 7.0 yards per carry and accumulated 910 yards rushing. Not only is Achane explosive carrying the ball, but he’s also a threat in the receiving and kick return game.
Devon Achane is going to be an absolute headache for defenses this year 😳pic.twitter.com/YO5ttO1TMR
— Saturday Gameday (@SaturdayGameday) July 7, 2022
Layden Robinson (RG): Robinson might be the best interior offensive lineman of the 2023 NFL draft class. According to Pro Football Focus, Robinson graded out higher than Aggie LG Keyon Green in 2021. Green eventually ended up being a top-15 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. This year, Robinson is expected to anchor the offensive line for A&M and play himself into a very favorable draft slot.
Antonio Johnson (S): In 2021, Johnson accumulated 79 total tackles and recorded 8.5 tackles for loss. Johnson can often times be found playing the nickel in coverage, and does a good job mirroring tight ends and slot receivers. His length and closing speed allow him to break on passes and prevent yards after catch. Pro Football Focus ranked Johnson as the best safety for the 2023 NFL Draft, and he is expected to be picked within the top 2 rounds.
Demani Richardson (S): Richardson put up 65 total tackles, including two sacks, in his 2021 campaign. Richardson is one of the smartest players in the nation, as he’s one of the best at reading and anticipating routes. Also, his ability to mirror tight ends and blow up plays at the line of scrimmage make him an attractive NFL prospect. He is likely to be a middle-round draft pick in the 2023 NFL draft.
Ainias Smith (WR): Smith caught 47 balls for 509 yards and six touchdowns in 2021. Smith possesses outstanding agility and is able to make guys miss in open space through quick cuts. Smith can line up in a variety of places on the field, whether it’s the slot, backfield, or out wide. If the Aggies can get their QB situation shored up, Smith could have a huge 2022 season.
Texas A&M should possesses one of the best secondaries in the entire nation. Safeties Antonio Johnson and Demani Richardson will anchor the back end of the defense. As said previously, both will likely be NFL Draft picks. Additionally, cornerbacks Jaylon Jones and Tyreek Chappel return. Both players played their best toward the end of last season.
While the Aggies lose a lot of production on the defensive line, they aren’t short on talent. The Aggies have five former five-stars who could figure into the rotation this next season.
On offense, both Ainias Smith and Devon Achane are two of the best skill players in the SEC, and they will help the Aggies produce explosive plays.
The Aggies still have uncertainty at the QB situation coming into the 2022 season. Last year, projected starter Haynes King got hurt in the second game of the season. King comes back this year, but his status as QB1 is not guaranteed. LSU transfer Max Johnson also comes into the program, looking to take on the starter role. Throw in 5-star freshman Conner Weigman, and you have yourself a QB battle.
Although the Aggies have a wealth of talent on the defensive line, they have to replace four starters at the position. Because of this, Texas A&M may have to put lots of underclassmen in the defensive line rotation.
Also, after Devon Achane and Ainias Smith, the Aggies do not have a lot of proven production from their skill players. With star TE Jalen Wydermyer, gone, it will be imperative for more receivers and tight ends to step up.
BIGGEST NON-CONF GAME OF THE YEAR (AND WHY):
The biggest non-conference game this season is clearly against Miami (FL), as they’re the only P5 team Texas A&M plays out of conference. The Hurricanes have a new regime under HC Mario Cristobal, and certainly won’t be an easy out for the Aggies. Cristobal was able to poach 2021 Broyles Award winner and former Michigan OC, Josh Gattis, away from Ann Arbor. The Canes also have one of the top NFL QB prospects in redshirt sophomore Tyler Van Dyke. The combination of Gattis and Van Dyke could put a lot of pressure on A&M’s defense.
BIGGEST CONF. GAME OF THE YEAR (AND WHY):
Many Aggie fans will clamor to say Alabama is the biggest conference game. But it seems very unlikely that Texas A&M will defeat the Tide on the road. Unless, of course, they have another Johnny Football in the fold.
Instead, the biggest conference game of the year will come against Arkansas on September 24. The Hogs and Aggies are the favorites to finish in second place in the SEC West behind Alabama. Moreover, this series has a knack for producing nail-biters. This game could set the tone and narrative for both teams’ seasons.
DARKHORSE THREAT ON THE SKED (AND WHY):
Mississippi State is a dark horse team the Aggies need to look out for. The Bulldogs bring back a high-performing, experienced QB in Will Rogers. Rogers also has several of his weapons back in WR Jaden Walley, RB Dillon Johnson, and RB Jo’quavious Marks.
On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs will be strong in the front seven, as all of the starters on the defensive line return. Additionally, the Bulldogs bring back experienced linebackers in Jett Johnson, Tyrus Wheat, and Nathaniel Watson. All three linebackers are capable of making plays in the backfield.
Mississippi State’s balance on both sides of the ball could allow them to pull off an upset if the Aggies aren’t careful.
THE HAPPY HISTORY NUGGET:
In 2014, Aggie fans set the all-time SEC attendance record. 110,633 Aggie faithful packed Kyle Field to witness their team take on No. 3 Ole Miss. Unfortunately, Texas A&M lost the game 35-20.
WHICH TEAMS WILL THEY BEAT?: Sam Houston State, Appalachian State, Miami (FL), South Carolina, Ole Miss, Florida, Auburn, UMass, LSU
WHICH TEAMS WILL THEY LOSE TO?: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State
FINAL RECORD, POSTSEASON PREDICTION?: 9-3 (5-3 SEC) in the regular season. The Aggies will play in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida.
While this prediction may seem harsh to some, the Aggies are breaking in new players at key positions this season. That generally doesn’t bode well for an SEC championship or college football playoff run. However, the experience the new players gain this year could help the Aggies make a leap the next few seasons.
PRESEASON ALL-SEC PLAYERS:
Second-Team RB: Devon Achane
Second-Team, OL: Layden Robinson
Third-Team, WR: Ainias Smith
Second-Team, DB: Antonio Johnson
Third-Team, DL: McKinnley Jackson
First team, P: Nik Constantinou
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