After a tumultuous 2016 season its looking like the 2017 season will be make or break for Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin. With the hot seat warming its key that Sumlin has the answer to the key questions for the Aggies heading into 2017:
Who is the starting quarterback?
Before Trevor Knight decided to transfer last year the Aggies were in a weak position at quarterback. With Knight graduating it leaves the starting spot open once again but at least this year there are some good if inexperienced options. The known quantity is Jake Hubenak who started three games after Knight got injured last year. Hubenak is a solid player with SEC experience but is unlikely to carry the Aggies to ten wins or better at this stage so probably projects as the backup.
Redshirt freshman Nick Starkel flipped his commitment from UCLA to Texas A&M after Noel Mazzone was hired as the offensive co-ordinator from the Bruins. After a year in College Station he’ll be hoping to take the vacant starting role and is a good fit for the sort of offense Mazzone wants to run. The final candidate will be Kellen Mond who signed in the 2017 recruiting class and was ranked as the #2 dual-threat quarterback in the country.
Kevin Sumlin has good options but the likes of Starkel and Mond might be a year away from reaching their potential which might be too long to wait for him to remain as head coach.
Can they replace Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall?
At the combine last weekend Myles Garrett was hugely impressive in displaying how he is a once in a generation type athlete for a college program. Replacing the pass rushing threat at defensive end is a big question for defensive co-ordinator John Chavis this off-season.
The Aggies aren’t short of potentially talented players with seniors Jarrett Johnson and Qualen Cunningham in the mix along with redshirt freshman Justin Madubuike. They were all highly recruited players out of high school but lack experience playing regularly. Both Johnson and Cunningham played in spells in recent years but both lack the ideal strength to overpower opposing tackles.
That’s why Kevin Sumlin signed junior college transfer Michael Clemons to come and compete for a starting job right away. His plans is clearly to rotate his defensive ends to avoid the starters wearing down like in previous years.
Will the defense be able to play at a high level for a whole season?
This is the hardest to answer right now. Following the defeat to Alabama last year the defense struggled to stop opposing offenses especially on the ground. For the first time since Sumlin took over at A&M we will see a new strength and conditioning coach in Mark Hocke who replaces Larry Jackson. Mark Hocke ran the Georgia strength program in 2015 before working as a coaching assistant at Florida State last year.
Despite losing a few key players, the Aggies do seem to have more depth on the defense. A number of starters decided to return for another year and a lot of young players have another year of experience on the field. The secondary should be full of experience and the linebacker group shouldn’t be paper thin again.