College football Top 25: Can No. 7 Texas A&M withstand brutal SEC West?

The college football season is upon us and so is our annual Top 25. This year Yahoo Sports revealed the teams from No. 11 to 25 at once before we publish each of our top 10 in separate posts in the days leading up to Week 1. That continues with No. 7 Texas A&M.

Previously: 11-25, No. 10 Oregon, No. 9 NC State, No. 8 Notre Dame

No. 7 Texas A&M

  • 2021 record: 8-4 (4-4 SEC)

  • SEC odds: +1600

  • National title odds: +2500

  • Over/under: 8.5 wins

The last 12 months have shown that Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher are prepared to take on Alabama. Fisher became the first former Saban assistant to beat the Crimson Tide last fall and didn’t back down in the offseason when Saban said that A&M had “bought” its recruits via endorsement money through donor collectives. A&M ended up with the top recruiting class of 2022 according to Rivals.

Fisher vs. Saban was quickly the hottest story of the throes of the offseason as Fisher called Saban’s comments “despicable” and even called his former boss a “narcissist.” But the feud simmered as quickly as it boiled, perhaps thanks to some influence from the SEC itself. No conference does a better job of publicly keeping everyone on the same page.

A&M, meanwhile, hopes that the 2021 win over Alabama is the first step in doing a better job of hanging with Alabama on the football field. While the Crimson Tide have racked up College Football Playoff appearances, A&M is still searching for its first 10-win season since 2012. Is this Aggie team capable of doing what no team has done since Johnny Manziel was on campus?

Texas A&M checks in at No. 7 in our 2022 preseason college football rankings. (Yahoo Sports Illustration/Amber Matsumoto)
Texas A&M checks in at No. 7 in our 2022 preseason college football rankings. (Yahoo Sports Illustration/Amber Matsumoto)

Who’s the quarterback?

The biggest question for Texas A&M comes at quarterback. The Aggies went 8-4 a season ago with Zach Calzada as the starting QB for most of the season. He’s now at Auburn after completing 57% of his passes and throwing for 17 TDs to just nine interceptions — though his best game of the season by far came in that win over the Crimson Tide.

Haynes King opened the 2021 season as the starter but went down in the second game of the season against Colorado. He’s back in 2022 and will compete with LSU transfer Max Johnson to be the starter. Johnson completed 60% of his passes in 2021 and threw 26 TDs and seven interceptions with the Tigers.

Whoever ends up winning the starting QB job will have plenty of skill-position talent around him. Devon Achane could end up as a first-team All-SEC running back. He averaged seven yards a carry and gained 910 yards on just 130 rushes in 2021 while splitting time with Isaiah Spiller. Achane is also a credible receiving threat.

The Aggies do need to replace TE Jalen Wydermyer’s production but Ainias Smith and Jalen Preston return as the starters. The depth behind them is largely unproven but full of former top recruits. Five-star freshman Evan Stewart — the No. 4 wide receiver in the class of 2022 — could play a big role right away.

An experienced and talented secondary

A&M needs to replace six starters on defense and most of them are up front. Four starters return in an exceptional secondary that held opposing offenses to fewer than 200 passing yards per game. Safety Antonio Johnson was everywhere with 79 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss and he’ll team again with Demani Richardson (65 tackles) to form one of the best safety duos in the conference. The Aggies also signed two five-star defensive backs in Denver Harris and Jacoby Mathews.

Players like DeMarvin Leal and Jayden Peevy are gone off the defensive line but that’s another area where Texas A&M loaded up during the last recruiting cycle. Three of A&M’s six five-star signees in the class of 2022 are defensive linemen. Defensive tackle Walter Nolan was the No. 2 player in the country as a senior in 2021. He could immediately be a disruptor up front along with Shemar Stewart and Lebbeus Overton. But experience does tend to win out over the course of a long SEC season. A&M will need some of its more tenured players to step up along the line.

Biggest game: Oct. 8 at Alabama

A&M has one of the toughest schedules in the country in 2022 and it’s hard to overlook the significance of a Week 3 matchup against Miami. The Hurricanes are aiming to get back to the top of the ACC in 2022 and potentially pose a tough test for the Aggies.

But the obvious decision here is A&M’s visit to Tuscaloosa on Oct. 8. That game comes amid a stretch of three consecutive road games and after games against Arkansas in Arlington and at Mississippi State the previous two weeks. The Aggies’ run of the Hurricanes, Razorbacks, Bulldogs and Crimson Tide is by far their toughest stretch of the season. And it’s easy to see how fans will be disappointed with a 2-2 record across those four games given this team’s expectations.

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 27: Devon Achane #6 of the Texas A&M Aggies runs with the ball as Damone Clark #18 of the LSU Tigers defends during the second half at Tiger Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Devon Achane rushed for seven yards a carry in 2021. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Impact player: RB Devon Achane

We’re fascinated to see how Achane’s responsibilities change as he takes over as the Aggies’ lead back. He’s exceptionally dynamic returning kicks — his 96-yard TD was a huge part of the win over Alabama — and also made an impact as a receiver when the run game wasn’t working.

Will A&M limit Achane’s return responsibilities or save him for bigger moments? And how many carries will he receive? After having double-digit carries in just one of A&M’s first six games in 2021, Achane had no fewer than 10 carries in any of the team’s last six and rushed for over 100 yards in three of them.


Pick: Over 8.5 (-165)

If you’re not sold on the A&M QB situation you may be tempted to go with eight wins or fewer at +135 given the team’s incredibly tough schedule. Appalachian State’s Week 2 visit would be the toughest non-conference matchup of the season for a lot of Power Five teams.

But we think A&M can get to nine wins, especially given the rest of the SEC West. While Alabama will be excellent once again and the other five teams in the division can be good, it’s hard to foresee another great team in the division at the moment. A&M can easily be that No. 2 team in the West and contend for the division and conference title with another upset win over the Crimson Tide.