AUBURN | Auburn’s 2017 football schedule includes two tough road games in September, three more in October and two big November rivalry games at home.
Today, we continue an early look at each opponent with a third-straight road game against an SEC West rival.
WHO: Texas A&M (8-5 last season, 4-4 SEC West)
WHEN: Nov. 4
WHERE: Kyle Field (102,733)
WHAT’S NEW: Ron Cooper was hired from Florida International to coach the secondary. Kevin Sumlin also hired Mark Hocke from Florida State to take over the strength and conditioning program.
WHO TO WATCH, OFFENSE: Christian Kirk, a preseason All-American, is one of the nation’s top playmakers as a wide receiver and punt returner. He led the SEC with 83 receptions last season totaling 928 yards and nine touchdowns. Kirk also returned three punts for touchdowns.
WHO TO WATCH, DEFENSE: Safety Armani Watts is back from a knee injury to anchor the Aggie secondary. The senior has 241 tackles, 20 pass breakups and six interceptions in 35 games including 29 starts. He’s a potential first-rounder in the 2018 NFL Draft.
OUTLOOK: The biggest question for Texas A&M going into the 2017 season is who will be the starting quarterback and what kind of production can they get out of a position that has traditionally been the focal point of a Sumlin offense. Sumlin is not planning to name a starter between senior Jake Hubenak, redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and true freshman Kellen Mond until a couple of weeks before the start of the season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Mond is the starter by the Auburn game.
The rest of the offense is in better shape, especially at running back with the return of sophomore Trayveon Williams, who had an 89-yard touchdown run against Auburn, and senior Keith Ford. TAMU returns it’s starting interior offensive line but must replace both tackles. Kirk will be the leader of a very young and inexperienced group of wideouts, which is another area of concern in the passing game, but the Aggies have recruited very well at the position in the last two classes.
Defensively, TAMU must replace bookend defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall and three starting defensive backs. Defensive tackles Kingley Keke and Zaycoven Henderson will anchor the front seven while there’s hope defensive end Jarrett Johnson will step up with a big senior season. Linebackers Otaro Alaka and Anthony Hines, a true freshman, will try to improve a defense that ranked 10th in the SEC allowing 441.8 yards per game.
AUBURN CONNECTION: Terry Price, who coached for 10 seasons at Auburn, is entering his sixth season as the Aggies defensive line coach. Noel Mazzone, who was Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 1999-2001, is in his second season as offensive coordinator.