The “elite SEC coach” bar has been set for Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M.

In Year 2 under Nick Saban at Alabama, the Crimson Tide won 12 games and earned a spot in the SEC Championship Game for the first time in almost a decade. In Year 2 under Kirby Smart at Georgia, the Bulldogs won 13 contests and came within a few plays of winning the national championship.

Alabama and Georgia are the two programs the rest of the SEC aspire to become. The team most ready to crash another Alabama-Georgia postseason matchup is Texas A&M, and the Aggies are getting set to make their own significant jump in Year 2 under Jimbo Fisher.

Similar to a lot of teams in the SEC aiming to improve dramatically in 2019, though, Texas A&M will be asked to do it against one of the toughest schedules in the country. A difficult slate doesn’t rule out a 10-win season for the Aggies, but because of it, the stars may not completely align for Texas A&M to make major noise in the SEC until next year.

It’s not hard to find the biggest reason to be excited about the Aggies in 2019. It’s behind center in the form of junior signal caller Kellen Mond. As a sophomore, he finished fourth among SEC quarterbacks with 3,581 total yards. 

As a passer, Mond showcased signs of stardom. He finished sixth in the conference with 3,107 passing yards and posted 24 touchdowns with nine interceptions. 

But he needs to be more accurate. Mond recorded a 57.3 completion percentage last year, which was worse than the likes of Feleipe Franks and Joe Burrow, who aren’t exactly known for accuracy either. Mond also had just a 7.5 yards per attempt average. Although not terrible, that number needs to be better if he’s going to be elite (yards per pass average will improve if Mond throws fewer incompletions).

His dual-threat capability will serve him well, as Texas A&M attempts to replace starting running back Trayveon Williams. Mond rushed for 474 yards and seven touchdowns, which was third and second among SEC quarterbacks, respectively. 

Williams rushed for 1,760 yards and 18 touchdowns, leaving a massive hole with his decision to depart early for the NFL, but rising sophomore Jashaun Corbin appears ready to burst onto the scene. The former 4-star prospect averaged nearly 5.7 yards per rush in 61 attempts last fall.

Tight end Jace Sternberger and center Erik McCoy also left early for the NFL. Because of questions along the offensive line, Texas A&M really could have used McCoy back for 2019, but the Aggies have a capable receiving core that’s poised to help Mond improve as a passer. While Sternberger led the team with 832 receiving yards, Texas A&M’s next top four receivers are all returning.

Defensively, five of the team’s top six tacklers from last season graduated, and the lone other one left early. That’s a ton of production to replace, but most experts have argued this offseason the Aggies are simply reloading on defense.

Pete Fiutak of College Football News says “things aren’t nearly as bad as they might appear” on defense for Texas A&M and also argued the unit could be better than last year “if the younger guys are the real deal.”

Fisher has done an excellent job of recruiting defensive prospects. Incoming 5-star freshman DeMarvin Leal is expected to make an immediate impact while the unit will also receive another boost with the return of senior defensive lineman Michael Clemons. He didn’t play at all in 2018 after suffering an injury in fall camp last year.

Still, it’s probably unrealistic to expect Texas A&M to win the SEC West this fall. We already discussed how difficult of a schedule South Carolina possesses this year but Texas A&M’s slate isn’t any easier. 

The Aggies, of course, face South Carolina and also draw Georgia in their cross-divisional games. The matchup with Georgia is on the road. 

Texas A&M will also visit LSU while hosting Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State. Oh, and don’t forget the Aggies will travel to face the defending champion Clemson Tigers in Week 2 as well.

Assuming losses to Clemson, Alabama and Georgia, Texas A&M could run the rest of the table and still finish without 10 wins (excluding the bowl game). With the rest of that slate including four other matchups against potential Top 25 teams, it’s hard to even envision Texas A&M remaining perfect even in the games outside the hardest three.

Then again, Texas A&M has the talent to compete with anybody. They proved that against Clemson in Week 2 last year. Mond played his best game that Saturday, throwing for a season-high 430 yards and three touchdowns against the eventual champions. Texas A&M arguably played Clemson tougher than any opponent last year.

After starting last season 2-2, the Aggies finished 7-2, which included a four-game winning streak to end the year.

Texas A&M is certainly on the rise. The slate may prove to be too tough in 2019, but the Aggies are on schedule to become a serious championship contender in the next couple years.

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