The Texas A&M Aggies have pushed through the dark clouds circling over College Station the last week. Linebacker Santino Marchiol’s accusations against the program were met with strong support by players for Jimbo Fisher and his staff, and the team is ready to move forward and start their 2018 season in grand style.
On Thursday, the Aggies play host to the Northwestern State Demons in one of 12 games on the slate for Thursday night. Texas A&M has a new coach, returns seven starters on both side of the ball and the new culture in place makes the Aggies a threat in the SEC in 2018.
The Aggies have reached double-digit wins only once since 2000 — that was in 2012 when Johnny Manziel took home the Heisman Trophy.
The program is rebuilt, rebranded and hungry to not only challenge for the SEC West crown, but also take home their first bowl win since the 2014 Liberty Bowl.
Texas A&M has one of the most electric entrances in college football, but in case you need more motivation, give yourself goosebumps and watch this hype video for the 2018 season.
Here are six things to watch on Thursday when Texas A&M kicks off against Northwestern State at 8:30 p.m. EST.
1. What do the new Texas A&M Aggies look like?
The Aggies introduce a completely different culture from the Kevin Sumlin era, and Jimbo Fisher has brought in some big guns to coach this team.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey is something of an offensive genius. He’s been an integral part offensive-driven teams at North Texas, Utah State, and most recently, the last four seasons leading Memphis to one of college football’s best offensive units.
Defensive coordinator Mike Elko has coached a Top-50 defense each of the last six seasons with stops at Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Bowling Green. His units are ball hawks in the secondary and regularly rank among the best in the nation stopping the pass.
Texas A&M is being rebranded, and they have some coaches in place to make some noise in year one under Jimbo Fisher.
2. Who’s the sheriff in town: Kellen Mond or Nick Starkel?
The two quarterbacks will see playing time in week one, but Kellen Mond is the official starter. That doesn’t mean that Starkel can’t take this job and run with it the rest of the season.
Last season, Mond started eight games, leading Texas A&M to a 5-3 record. He also became the first true freshman to throw for more than 300 yards in a game in school history, and he’s equally as effective using his legs. As for Starkel, after getting hurt in the opener last season, all he did was throw for 499 yards and four touchdowns in the Aggies 55-52 loss to Wake Forest in the Belk Bowl.
Both have a few years of eligibility left, but who will take the reins and lead Jimbo’s team the rest of the season?
3. Will Landis Durham and this defense be ready for Clemson?
The Aggies get a friendly tune-up game against Northwestern State, an FCS program, but they play host to No. 2 Clemson on September 8 at Kyle Field. If Texas A&M wants to make a statement, this defense better be ready to go.
Senior defensive lineman Landis Durham is a preseason All-SEC selection after gobbling up 10.5 sacks last season, ranking him in the Top 10 nationally. As a team, the 2017 Aggies ranked second nationally in sacks per game, and return almost all of their young talent at all three levels of this defense. Problem is, their youth showed last year as they allowed 30.7 points per game, ranking 87th in the nation.
The Aggies get Clemson in week two, then No. 1 Alabama in week four. They’ve gotta get on the same page or risk starting the season 2-2 and dropping major program-shifting games early on.
4. Do Brad Laird and the Demons have any chance?
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Northwestern State Demons have a 0.4% chance to win this game. Don’t tell that to first-year head coach Brad Laird.
Laird, who is Northwestern State’s all-time leader in passing yards, has been the defensive coordinator of Top 10 FCS defenses during two different stints with the Demons. He takes over as head coach for the first time this season, and he’s not backing down from this challenge against an SEC opponent.
“It’s great for these young men,” Laird said. “It’s great for all of us to have this opportunity. There’s only so many opportunities you get. We’re only guaranteed 11 [games this year], so don’t let an opportunity pass you by.”
If Northwestern State pulls this out, it would shock the world.
5. Who takes up the mantle of great Texas A&M offensive lineman?
Luke Joeckel. Jake Matthews. Cedric Ogbuehi. Germain Ifedi.
Texas A&M churns out NFL-caliber offensive linemen with every year that passes, and this season should be no different starting with center Erik McCoy is a preseason All-SEC selection. The junior has started all 26 games of his career so far, and he’s likely to be one of the first interior offensive lineman drafted when he decides to make the NFL jump.
Guard Keaton Sutherland is the lone senior starter, and he could be a breakout player up front for the Aggies after starting 12 games last season. Sophomore tackle Carson Green started four games last year, and the former Texas high school All-State selection could be the next great Aggies tackle.
Aside from Sutherland and McCoy, this line is young and has a lot to prove with one of the nation’s best running backs lined up behind it.
6. How good can Trayveon Williams be?
The C.E. King High School alum is a preseason All-SEC selection in 2018, and he has a chance to become one of the nation’s top backs in Darrell Dickey’s offense.
Williams became the first true freshman in program history to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in 2016. Last season, Williams has only been given 20-plus carries three times in his two season in College Station — he eclipsed 200-yards on the ground in two of those games.
This season, the junior could explode and potentially lead a stacked SEC group of running backs in rushing. If Fisher’s offensive staff gives Williams the carries he needs, the sky is the limit for the Houston native.