Texas A&M Football: Realistic Expectations for the Aggies' 2014 Season

Michael Taglienti@@miketag98Featured ColumnistMay 15, 2014

Texas A&M Football: Realistic Expectations for the Aggies' 2014 Season

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Texas A&M football team has the month off before the start of the first summer session of school. When school starts again, the Aggies will begin preparing for a 2014 football season that will see them in the thick of the race for the SEC title. 

    The Aggies recently had three players from the 2013 team selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. The loss of that kind of elite talent has led most pundits to predict that the Aggies will digress from their 9-4 record in 2013. 

    The experts are failing to account for a defense that should be vastly improved after the Aggies played numerous freshmen in 2013. The defense was young and not always physically capable of standing up to SEC offenses in 2013, but that will change with a year of experience under their belt and another year in the weight room. 

    The offense will be more balanced than they were in 2013 because there will be a lighter load on the quarterback. With Johnny Manziel in the NFL, the coaches will spread the ball around more and lean on their stable of talented running backs. 

    The Aggies offense will not reel off five and six scoring series in a row like they did in 2013, but with an improved defense they will not have to. The 2013 version of the Aggies defense will create more pressure on opposing quarterbacks which will result in more turnovers and more offensive possessions for A&M. 

    The Aggies have one of the toughest schedules in the nation again with 10 teams who played in bowls in 2013 on the 2014 lineup. This is a look at the realistic expectations for the 2014 Texas A&M football season. 

South Carolina

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    RICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    The Aggies will open the 2014 season on August 28 in the first televised game of the SEC Network against South Carolina in Columbia. It will be a Thursday night matchup to kick off the 2014 college football season. 

    Both the Aggies and the Gamecocks will be breaking in new quarterbacks. South Carolina has a distinct advantage in this area in that Dylan Thompson played extensively in 2013, completing 52 of 89 pass attempts for 783 yards and four touchdowns. 

    The Aggies still do not know who will line up under center against South Carolina. Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill will fight it out for the starting job in August. 

    This game will be decided in the trenches where the Aggies will be tasked with stopping the Gamecocks' sledgehammer of a running back Mike Davis. South Carolina will try to pound the 5'9", 216-pound bowling ball behind an offensive line that returns four starters from 2013. 

    The Gamecocks defense returns seven starters but only one on their defensive line. The Aggies should be able to create some time for their new quarterback to make plays. 

    Asking a new quarterback to go on the road into a packed stadium and win his first start is asking a little too much. Expect South Carolina to find a way to grind out a close victory in this game. 

    Predicted Score: South Carolina 24 Texas A&M 23


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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Aggies take on the Lamar Cardinals in their home opener at Kyle Field on September 6. The Cardinals finished 5-7 in 2013 and compete at the FCS level. 

    This should be a game where the Aggies coaches can get a look at a lot of their younger players. The defense will be tested by Lamar quarterback Caleb Berry, who passed for 3,332 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2013.

    The Aggies will be able to overpower the Cardinals in the trenches. Aggies fans should expect some true freshmen to score their first career touchdowns in this game. It will be a feel-good event for an Aggies team trying to move on from the season-opening loss to South Carolina.

    The Aggies will roll up over 600 yards of offense in this game as both Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill will see playing time. The Aggies will have a kickoff return or a punt return for a touchdown against Lamar.

    Predicted Score: Texas A&M 56 Lamar 13


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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Aggies will take on the Rice Owls for their third game of the 2014 season. The Owls are coming off a 10-4 campaign which included a 52-31 season-opening loss to the Aggies. 

    Rice lost their leading rusher and leading passer from 2013 with the graduation of Charles Ross and Taylor McHargue. They return five starters on offense and six on defense and will be young at the skill positions. 

    The Aggies will use this game to continue to build as a team. Rice will be tougher than Lamar but will not be a match for the Aggies' offensive firepower. This is another game where the A&M coaches will be inserting backups in the second half. 

    Predicted Score: Texas A&M 59 Rice 19


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    Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

    The Aggies will go on the road to play SMU on September 20. The Mustangs return seven starters on offense and six on defense who played during their 42-13 loss to Texas A&M at Kyle Field in 2013. 

    SMU went 5-7 in 2013 and did not make a bowl game. They should be improved in 2014 despite the loss of quarterback Garrett Gilbert who was a sixth-round pick by St. Louis in the NFL draft.

    They return four starters on the offensive line and all four starters on the defensive line. They will be improved in the trenches which should give their skill players more time to develop. The Mustangs will qualify for a bowl game in 2014. 

    SMU will give the Aggies some trouble early but the superior talent and depth at A&M will help them pull away late. Expect the Aggies to put the game away in the fourth quarter. 

    Predicted Score: Texas A&M 38 SMU 19


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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    The Aggies will play in the Dallas area for the second straight week when they take on the Arkansas Razorbacks in Arlington at Cowboys Stadium. The Aggies have won their last two matchups with the Razorbacks and will try to make it three in a row as they dive into conference play. 

    Arkansas failed to win a conference game in 2013 as they finished 3-9 overall in Bret Bielema's first year as the head coach. Whether they are able to improve on that record depends a lot on the play of junior quarterback Brandon Allen. 

    The Razorbacks as a team completed 49.8 percent of their passes for 1,872 yards in 12 games in 2013. Allen led Arkansas with 1,552 yards passing while completing 49.6 percent of his passes. He will have to be better in 2014 in order to keep opposing defenses from focusing on the run. 

    Arkansas' running game was led by Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams in 2013. Collins rushed for 1,026 yards and Williams rushed for 900 yards. 

    The Aggies' defensive line will have to control the line of scrimmage and hold their running game in check. As long as the Aggies limit turnovers on offense, they will win this game. 

    Predicted Score: Texas A&M 31 Arkansas 21

Mississippi State

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Mississippi State Bulldogs went 7-6 in 2013 with a very young team. The Bulldogs only lost three starters on offense and one on defense from their 2013 squad. 

    Dak Prescott returns at quarterback to lead the offense after he passed for 1,940 yards and rushed for 829 yards in 2013. The Aggies struggled to contain Prescott during a 51-41 victory over Mississippi State in 2013. 

    Prescott passed for 149 yards and rushed for 154 yards as the Bulldogs ran up 556 yards of offense. Prescott was simply too big and strong for the Aggie linebackers to tackle.

    With another year in the weight room to add size, the Aggies' front seven on defense should be able to match up better with the Bulldogs' size. If the Aggies can keep Prescott in check they will be able to scrape out a win on the road. 

    Predicted Score: Texas A&M 28 Mississippi State 23

Ole Miss

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Aggies finally get to host Ole Miss at Kyle Field in their third year in the SEC. Because of scheduling quirks, the Aggies played in Oxford, Mississippi during their first two seasons in the conference. 

    A&M and Ole Miss have played tight games two years in a row. The Aggies beat the Rebels 41-38 in Oxford in 2013. Josh Lambo's last-second field goal meant that it was the second year in a row that the Aggies came from behind to steal a win on the road. 

    Ole Miss lost three starters on their offensive line and their top receiver and running back. They return nine starters on defense and should be improved on that side of the ball.

    As long as Bo Wallace is under center for Ole Miss, the Aggies have a good chance at winning this game. Wallace has the tendency to throw the ball at the opponent. Wallace threw 10 interceptions in 2013 against 18 touchdowns. 

    He had a lot of passes dropped by opposing defensive backs. As long as he is under center, anyone who plays Ole Miss and has a decent defense has a shot at winning the game. 

    The Aggies just need to play their game on offense and defense and they will come away with a victory at home against the Rebels. 

    Predicted Score: Texas A&M 33 Ole Miss 27


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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    The Aggies will travel to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama with a 6-1 record. The Crimson Tide will continue to be one of the toughest teams in the nation. 

    The Tide have questions at quarterback but return quite possibly the best group of skill-position talent since Nick Saban took over at Alabama. Running back T.J. Yeldon, wide receiver Amari Cooper and tight end O.J. Howard all look like future first-round draft picks.

    Running back Derrick Henry is currently second string behind Yeldon, but may be the most physically gifted player on the roster. The 6'3", 240-pound athlete is the college football version of Steven Jackson. He is the backup running back but could be a Heisman candidate in 2014. 

    It will be very tough for the Aggies to find a way to win on the road. The Tide lost seven starters on defense but Saban has shown the ability to rebuild the defense after massive losses before. 

    In order to get a win on the road the Aggies are going to have to find a way to contain two of the best running backs in the nation. On offense they are going to have to score on Saban's defense which is typically ranked in the top five in the nation. 

    It will be too tall of a task for the Aggies in 2014. 

    Predicted Score: Alabama 27 Texas A&M 19


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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    Team in the Southeastern Conference all have the same scheduling quirk. They play an SEC opponent early in the season and then play an out-of-conference opponent in November. Usually it is a team from a weaker league and a way to get a break before a final push at the end of the year. 

    Other conferences typically schedule those types of teams at the beginning of the season so they can build up the experience levels of their teams before conference play starts. The Aggies are facing Louisiana-Monroe on November 1 following a bye week after the Alabama game. 

    Louisiana-Monroe is not the kind of school you want to play in one of these games. The Warhawks are a well-coached team that always has good talent. They are not intimidated by playing bigger schools on the road. 

    In 2012 the Warhawks traveled to Little Rock and upset No. 8 Arkansas. The 2014 version of the Warhawks return eight starters on both sides of the ball. They did lose their catalyst on offense in quarterback Kolton Browning to graduation.

    This is a game where the Aggies have to come out ready to play and simply execute on offense and defense. Louisiana-Monroe is not going to go away and they will make you play a four-quarter football game. The Aggies will win this game as long as they come out fired up at home.

    Predicted Score: Texas A&M 41 Louisiana-Monroe 23 


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    john bazemore/Associated Press

    Auburn will likely be the preseason favorites to win the SEC. The Tigers return nine starters on offense and six on defense from a team that won the SEC and played in the BCS title game in 2013. 

    The Aggies have to travel to Auburn to take on the Tigers. Auburn lost running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson to early entry into the NFL draft. They return quarterback Nick Marshall in his second season in Gus Malzahn's offense. 

    The also added junior college receiver D'haquille Williams who will be a nice complement to Sammie Coates on the outside. Marshall's passing improved as the 2013 season went on and Williams and Coates will help prevent defenses from cheating up on the run. 

    Winning at Auburn will be a tremendous challenge for the Aggies. They will be a talented, veteran team in 2014 that should compete for the national title. Finding a way to outscore Auburn's offense against a Tiger defense that should be improved in 2014 may be too much to ask. 

    Predicted Score: Auburn 31 Texas A&M 23


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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    Missouri is the opposite of Auburn in that they were a veteran team in 2013 who played for the SEC title. They lost the majority of their top playmakers to graduation. 

    Missouri returns four starters on offense and five starters on defense. They return four offensive linemen but must replace their quarterback, all of their starting receivers and their starting running back. 

    Luckily for Mizzou, backup quarterback Maty Mauk saw extensive playing time in 2013. Mauk passed for 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns against only two interceptions in relief of James Franklin.

    At times Mauk moved the offense better than Franklin did. He will get to work behind a veteran offensive line while they try to bring new skill players along. 

    On defense Missouri loses their top two playmakers in defensive ends Kony Ealy and Michael Sam. They will need to replace three of the four starters in their secondary. 

    The Aggies get Missouri at home and this should be a chance to get revenge after losing by seven in Columbia in 2013. At this point in the season, Missouri will be struggling for bowl eligibility while the Aggies will be trying to remain in the race for the West division. Expect A&M to win this one by a comfortable margin. 

    Predicted Score: Texas A&M 43 Missouri 20


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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The Aggies will take on the LSU Tigers on Thanksgiving Day in College Station. The Tigers return six starters on offense and seven on defense from their 2013 squad. 

    They suffered major losses at the skill positions on offense where they lost their top passer, top two receivers and two of their top three rushers. It does not matter how good a program you have, when you lose a running back like Jeremy Hill and receivers like Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. it is going to hurt. 

    LSU will try to pound the ball behind an offensive line that returns four starters from 2013. In a way, this is Les Miles' ideal kind of team. He prefers to run the ball and play defense and that will definitely be the focus of the 2014 squad. 

    The Tigers will not be able to keep up with an A&M offense that will be hitting on all cylinders at this point in the season. Expect the Aggies to get up early and force LSU to pass the ball. The Aggies defense will snag a couple of interceptions to put the game away and earn the Aggies their first SEC win over the Tigers. 

    Predicted Score: Texas A&M 31 LSU 17

    Predicted Final Regular-Season Record: 9-3