Who will throw to Christian Kirk?
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn football preview! The Tigers take a bye in week 9 of the 2017 college football season, then head to College Station, Texas to take on Texas A&M. On paper, this is a very favorable situation for Auburn. Texas A&M has been notorious the past 3 seasons for November slides, and this one will be played on November 4th. It seems Auburn typically plays the Aggies early or at midseason in Auburn and isn’t ready. The College Station games have usually been played later in the year, and Auburn has come out on top both times. Auburn is widely expected to contend for the SEC West title this year, while lofty predictions such as that have been few and far between from the Aggie camp where head coach Kevin Sumlin is reportedly on the “hot seat” this season. I thought it was quite telling when Sumlin skipped the post-game press conference after the Aggie spring game.
This year, The Auburn Tigers will have opened the season with Georgia Southern, then traveled to Clemson. Auburn will then enjoy an early homecoming game against Mercer before traveling to Missouri prior to a home clash with Mississippi State. The Rebels follow at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the following week before a road trip to LSU. Auburn then travels to Fayetteville to fight Arkansas before a well-earned bye week. Texas A&M opens at the Rose Bowl, taking on UCLA. Home tuneups follow against Nichols State and Louisiana-Lafayette. The Aggies then head to Arlington Texas to take on Arkansas. September finishes at home against South Carolina, then the first week of October, Alabama comes to College Station. The Aggies then travel to Florida before a bye week on October 21st. Texas A&M finishes October hosting Mississippi State before Auburn comes to town.
Every spring and summer since Texas A&M joined the SEC, it seems that there’s a question of who will start at quarterback in the fall, and this year is no different. There is a three-way race once again this year, although my guess would be that as talented as he may be, the coaches will try to redshirt true freshman Kellen Mond. Mond appears to have the most upside of the candidates, but I can’t see an embattled head coach rolling the dice with a true freshman in the SEC West, unless there’s no choice. Mond and redshirt freshman Nick Starkel did make a play or three during the Aggie spring game, but also had long stretches where neither was very accurate. The most experienced candidate, senior Jake Hubenak, had only 47 passing yards on 13 attempts and really didn’t try to throw it downfield.
The past couple of years, a list of Texas A&M receivers tended to make one’s eyes bug a bit at the huge collection of talent and speed present. Names like Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil, Jeremy Tabuyo and Josh Reynolds kept defensive coaches awake at night. Opposing coaches will sleep better this year as all 4 guys are headed to the NFL. That said, junior Aggie receiver Christian Kirk is at the top of a lot of preseason all-star lists. Still, teams will double cover Kirk and try to pressure the Aggie quarterbacks until it is proven dangerous to do so.
With a lot of unknowns in the passing game, I expect the Aggie offense to be more balanced. The Aggies should have a solid offensive line, great running backs, and an emerging tight end group with a lot of promise. I expect the offense to start out featuring sophomore running back Trayveon Martin, who led the team in rushing last season with 1057 yards.
The defense took some massive blows during the off-season, and this was a unit that basically collapsed down the stretch last year. Star defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall headed to the NFL, and the top two tacklers in the back seven, Shaan Washington and Justin Evans, are gone as well. A few weeks ago, it was revealed that junior starting cornerback Nick Harvey will miss the upcoming season after knee surgery. I did not see much in the Aggie spring game but cushion coverage. Still guys got open and occasionally gashed the patchwork secondary. The Aggies do have a good starting defensive tackle rotation but will have to find a lot of answers before the season begins in September.
The Aggie special teams were surprisingly decent last season, and with nearly every piece of the puzzle returning, I would not be surprised if the Aggies are great this year. One thing that stood out to me was that Texas A&M returned 4 punts for touchdowns, 3 by Christian Kirk. The Tigers will have to punt away from him!
Unit matchups, after the jump!
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