Welcome back to my preview of the 2023 Texas A&M schedule. If you missed it, go back and check out Part 1, where we lightly touched on Jimbo's tenure at A&M in comparison with other coaches (through the lens of the SP+) and looked at games 1 through 6. Let's get back to the schedule.
Next up, the Ags go on the road for the second time in 2023 to play their second Tier 1 team in a row, then a probably much needed bye week. Following that comes the greatest rivalry in all of CFB when the Gamecocks come to town to defend the Bonham Trophy, and then A&M goes on the road once more to face Ole Miss, the lone Tier 2 team on the schedule. Currently, the Aggies are projected as a 6 point underdog in Knoxville, a 10 point favorite at home against South Caro, and 1 point underdog against the Rebels.
What I’m Watching For
Can the Aggie Secondary Hold Up?
If the first few SEC matchups are going to tell us how good the Aggie Front 7 is, I believe this stretch will tell us if the secondary is at an elite level or not. That’s not to say these offenses won’t run the ball, in fact Tennessee returns two 700+ yard rushers and Ole Miss brings back Judkins (205 yards, 6 yards/rush, and averaged 4 yards after contact against the Aggies in ‘22) after being one of the most run heavy teams in the country.
Still, when you think of Josh Huepel and see videos of Joe Milton effortlessly heaving the ball 60 yards down the field…
or think about Jaxon Dart throwing for 338 yards at Kyle Field…
or even think about how a few times last season, Spencer Rattler actually looked like… NOT Spencer Rattler (how bout that 97.8 QBR against Tennessee?)...
It’s easy to see why I’ll be focusing on an Aggie secondary that finished 107th in the country in Passing Explosiveness last season and lost a few members off that unit. Jimbo and Durkin have tried to mitigate those losses to the draft and transfer portal by bringing in some big names of their own, guys like Tony Grimes, Josh DeBerry, and Sam McCall. Tyreek Chappell returns after he led the team in passes defended last year with 8, and the safety group (led by Richardson and Gilbert) is experienced, not to mention Bryce Anderson at the Nickel spot showing some truly incredible stuff as a true freshman. Still, I'm nervous though, especially with two of those games being road spots. Few things in the game seem to be as soul crushing as giving up huge passing plays in a stadium full of the enemy.
The final stretch allows for a little bit of breathing room, with Mississippi State projected to be a nearly 9 point underdog coming to town, and ACU being an FCS squad (and not a particularly great one at that). Then the Aggies go on the road to Baton Rouge in what will likely be the last time this game is played on Thanksgiving Weekend. They’re projected to be a 7 point underdog before the season gets started, with LSU being the third and final Tier 1 opponent.
What I’m Watching For
How Does this Team Handle Revenge?
At this point in the season (well-before this point honestly), we’ll know pretty well what this team is schematically, statistically, etc. So instead of throwing out some more of last year’s stats and pretending that has much to do with this season, I’ll just review how both these games played out last season, and how they could make for an interesting revenge spot in 2023.
Going into Starkville last season, the Aggies were 3-1, with that 1 loss being a particularly bad one against Appalachian State. Still, they’d pulled out wins against Miami and Arkansas, a win against Mississippi State could put the season right back on track. Despite two fumbles by the Aggies (one an unusual cough up by Devon Achane, 6 yards away from a touchdown), the Aggies were only down 14-3. A disastrous blocked kick returned for a touchdown and a slow methodical Bulldog drive put the Aggies down 28-10 in the 4th, and any hope continued to dissipate with a Max Johnson injury, a 75 yard touchdown pass by Will Rogers, and a Haynes King pick six. The Aggies fought hard next week against Alabama, but to me it feels like the season slipped away completely in this 42-24 loss.
The Bulldogs had a tough offseason, I don’t envy Zach Arnett and the job he has and I can’t properly put into words how weird it feels, and will feel for a long time, to not have Mike Leach in College Football. But I can say this, State lost a lot of what was a Top 20 DSP+ unit, and while the offense is 15th in Returning Production, they’ll be under a totally new system with OC Kevin Barbay stepping in to call plays.
Barbay’s previous coaching spot? Appalachian State. Revenge game x2, right?
On the other side of things, by the end of the season, hope was a four letter word we were no longer using in College Station. Meanwhile LSU found themselves in an incredible position, the SEC West title sewn up, and the idea of a playoff spot was not that crazy in Brian Kelly’s first year as the head coach. As has sometimes been the case in this matchup, the team with nothing to lose came out firing and walked away with a win. Remember how much the LSU squad stewed over the 7 OT loss in Jimbo’s first year? Something tells me this one might stick twice as hard.
Again, it’s the last game of the season. There is no telling where these two teams will be by Thanksgiving. The idea that this could be a battle for the SEC West Title seems just as likely as both of these teams battling for a 6th or 7th win for the season. This will be the best combination of maturity and pure talent that Jimbo has had during his time at A&M, how will they handle one of the most hostile environments in CFB against a team that is NOT treating it like any other matchup?
If that doesn't get you ready for College Football, I don't know what will.
It’s the end of the off-season which means I’ll never be higher on this team than I am now. I don’t think Petrino is a miracle worker when it comes to this offense but I think he gets it more than serviceable. Delay of games and random timeouts after a false start at an all time low. Front end of this defense will be so much better than last year and it will make a huge difference. Fans will screech about Durkin’s three-man fronts, all while Mckinnley Jackson strip sacks the QB while the opposing team tries to triple team him at the line of scrimmage.
I think the Aggies take 1 of 3 from Bama, Tennessee, and LSU, with Bama being the most likely. From there I think they drop another game they “shouldn’t”, something like Ole Miss or Arkansas. 9-3 in the regular season, playing meaningful football late in the season, it'll be a breath of fresh air from last season. There will be plenty of frustrations, because it's Aggie Football, and plenty to complain about. And it's okay to do that, just like it's okay to hope during the offseason.
Last season was incredibly tough as a fan, I don't think I'm alone in saying that. It made me stop caring so much, stop writing, and wish for a merciful end. Even if this season is disappointing, I hope I can fight through those feelings better. Few things are worse than wishing something away and immediately missing it when it's gone.