Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ 2019 preseason Top 25. We’ll be featuring a new team in our Top 25 every day until Miami and Florida start the 2019 season on Aug. 24. In each preview we’ll have an NFL draft prospect analysis by Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm and additional insight from Rivals writers who know the teams the best.
No. 17 Texas A&M
2018 record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC)
Returning starters: 7 offense, 4 defense
How good is Kellen Mond?
Mond made some serious strides in his first season under coach Jimbo Fisher. Mond played in 10 games as a freshman in 2017 and was 117-of-227 passing for 1,375 yards and eight touchdowns with six interceptions. He improved across the board as a sophomore and was 238-of-415 passing for 3,107 yards and averaged nearly 1.5 yards more per attempt. He also tripled his touchdown passing output to 24 while just throwing three more interceptions than he did in 2017.
What does 2019 have in store? Fisher said at SEC media days that the coaching staff had been working with Mond on some more advanced plays than he called in 2018.
“But also, you call the play, it's one or two [reads], but now if you do get these matchups, you may get one, two, three or four,” Fisher said. “And expanding – like I say, you take Algebra 1. Algebra doesn't change, but Algebra 2 gets more complicated. You just keep adding more to the formula as you go.
“That's where he's getting to. He's been really fun ... he understands he has to be a student of the game, and I think that's the most fun we have. He works his tail off. Nobody works any harder, but he also works in the film room, too. You know from the conversations you had with him, the questions he asked you, it's starting to be really fun. He's being able to use all of the resources around him.”
A big season from Mond as a passer will go a long way to keeping Texas A&M fighting for the top half of the SEC West.
Replace Trayveon Williams’ production
Mond will have more on his plate in 2019 outside of his natural growth as a quarterback simply because he won’t have Trayveon Williams in the backfield with him.
Williams was the leading rusher in the SEC in 2018 as he ran for 1,760 yards and 18 touchdowns. In line to replace him is Jashaun Corbin, a four-star recruit who ran for 346 yards in 2018 as a freshman. But he can’t be counted on to do everything Williams did right away himself.
“That young freshman last year we had, Jashaun Corbin, he's a very talented guy,” Fisher said. “He can catch it, run with power, speed, agility.”
”Again, Trayveon is the guy – you are talking about a guy that is third in the country that led the SEC in rushing, over 1,700 yards. You don't ever replace those guys. That's a standard which is set. I think Jashaun is a hard worker. I think behind that with [Jacob] Kibodi as a tailback and [Deneric] Prince and those guys, we have a great group of guys, Cordarrian Richardson, Isaiah Spiller coming in. We like our backs more where we are at now.”
A&M’s also got a talented group of receivers for Mond to throw to. TE Jace Sternberger, the team’s leading receiver in 2018, is gone. But the top four wide receivers are back for 2019, including Quartney Davis, who had 45 catches for 585 yards and seven scores. The A&M offense should average over 30 points per game for the fourth straight season.
Survive the gauntlet
Fisher called A&M’s schedule “tremendous” at SEC media days. There are plenty of other descriptors for it as well.
Texas A&M may have the toughest schedule in college football. Not only are the Aggies in the same division as four other teams in the top 19 of our poll, but A&M plays at Clemson on Sept. 7. And then draws Georgia on Nov. 23, a week before heading to LSU to finish the season.
Getting four other potential top-10 teams in the same season is tough, even if you’re a top-10 team yourself. It’s a schedule that may put the Aggies a year away from getting into double-digit wins for the first time since Johnny Manziel exploded onto the scene in 2012 en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.
There are always a few teams every year in college football who are considerably better than their final record. And Texas A&M could well end up being one of those teams. Even if the final record is 10-2 or 9-3.
Biggest game: Alabama (Oct. 12)
There are about five or six contenders here so we’ll go with the obvious one. Alabama comes to College Station on the second Saturday in October with both teams coming off bye weeks. It’s just one of three true road games for the Crimson Tide all season. The Tide won just 27-19 in 2017, the last time Alabama played in College Station.
P Braden Mann
Yes, we’re putting a punter here. There’s a really good explanation. Promise.
Mann was exceptional in 2018 as a junior. He averaged 51 yards per punt and nearly 45 yards per net punt on 50 kicks. That gross punting average was nearly three yards ahead of the punter in second place (Ryan Stonehouse of Colorado State, a player who had a half-season altitude advantage) and his net punting average also led college football despite a whopping nine touchbacks. That’s a side product of having a really strong leg.
Mann will be counted on to have another fantastic season in 2019 as A&M breaks in a lot of new faces on defense. Having a guy who can flip the field in a flash is an underrated asset for a defense that is replacing its top six tacklers from 2018.
Biggest question mark
From Mark Passwaters at Rivals’ Aggie Yell: The biggest question the Aggies have now is depth. They may have lost a good number of players on the defensive front seven but have experienced backups to replace them. But who replaces them? That’s the issue. Justin Madubuike, Tyree Johnson, Bobby Brown and Micheal Clemons are set as the starters on the defensive line, but they need to figure out the reserves. Buddy Johnson and Anthony Hines are the starting linebackers, but the Aggies need to figure out who will back them up. There are no real glaring holes on this team, but they could get very nervous if they suffer an injury or two.
Aggie Yell’s breakout player
WR Caleb Chapman
DT Bobby Brown may play more, but he was already on the freshman All-SEC team in 2018. Chapman missed all of last year with a torn ACL, but has been moving quickly up a crowded depth chart with his combination of speed, size and hands. He could end up in the two-deep this year.
Top 2020 NFL draft prospect
DL Justin Madubuike
From Yahoo Sports NFL draft analyst Eric Edholm: We’re big enough fans of Madubuike that we included him on our list of 10 off-the-radar prospects who could develop into 2020 first-round picks. The 6-3, 305-pound junior emerged last season as a legitimate penetrator — doing some of his best work against some of the country’s best OL talent. Madubuike had 5.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles, with the bulk of that damage coming surprisingly in games against Clemson, Alabama and LSU. His performance at LSU was especially eye-opening, making 10 tackles (including several big ones) in the 7-OT thriller.
Madubuike isn’t yet a finished product based on what we’ve seen from him to date, and the Aggies lose some supporting cast up front. But if he can build on a fine sophomore season, the upside is tremendous. He’s got enough punch and quickness off the ball to be an early selection.
Scouts also have mentioned WR Kendrick Rogers as a potential sky-rocketer. He’s just starting to scratch the surface but also has had big games in big spots.
WR Kendrick Rogers
Rogers had his best performances in Texas A&M’s biggest games in 2018. He had seven catches for 120 yards and two scores in the Week 2 loss to Clemson … and didn’t score again until he had two touchdowns on three catches for 53 yards against LSU in that multi-overtime thriller. He then had six catches for 44 yards and a score in the Gator Bowl blowout of NC State. If Rogers can be that productive for even half the season, he’ll be worth a pick, especially in SEC-only leagues.
A&M’s schedule and the losses on the defense make 7.5 an understandable number from an oddsmaker’s perspective. But we’re going to go with over. Pencil in losses to Alabama, Clemson and Georgia. And then we’re going to go with a 2-1 run against Auburn, LSU, and Mississippi State. See, we told you this schedule was ridiculous.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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