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Despite Texas' Recent Momentum, Texas A&M Set Up Better Than Longhorns in 2016

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin
Texas A&M head coach Kevin SumlinThomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterFebruary 17, 2016

Texas A&M and Texas don't play on the football field, but in the battle for offseason supremacy in the Lone Star State, the rivalry is alive and well.

The latest scoring play came in the form of a coaching search.

Brick Haley, the current Longhorns defensive line coach, will stay with the program despite overtures from the Aggies, according to Chris Hummer of 247Sports. According to the report, Texas head coach Charlie Strong made an offer that was "close enough" to the one offered by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin to keep Haley in Austin.

This comes on the heels of the Longhorns' becoming one of the monsters of national signing day, vaulting from a class ranked in the high-20s-to-low-30s that morning, depending on the service, all the way to 11th by the end of the day.

At the same time, Texas A&M has drawn headlines for all of the wrong reasons, most recently due to the arrest of defensive end signee Alton Robinson on robbery charges, according to David Ibanez of KSAT-12 in San Antonio, Texas. Prior to that, the double depature of former 5-star quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray cranked up the heat on Sumlin's seat to "scorching"—which matches the status of Strong's.

Who's better set up in 2016?

Despite the recent wave of bad news, it's Texas A&M.

And it isn't even close.

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin
Texas A&M head coach Kevin SumlinRogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

Very quietly, the Aggies have done a lot to fix massive problems in the program while also tweaking a few things that should impact it in the short term.

Trevor Knight was a much-maligned backup at Oklahoma after failing to build on his four-touchdown performance as a freshman in the 2014 Sugar Bowl over Alabama, but he was one of—if not the—most sought-after quarterbacks on the graduate transfer market.

Texas' offseason quarterback quest netted the Longhorns on the list of FCS star Dakota Prukop, according to 247Sports, but Prukop chose to sign with Oregon. Jerrod Heard showed flashes of brilliance in place of Tyronne Swoopes last year but had as many picks as touchdown passes (five) and needs to progress.

The Aggies also hit a home run in the offensive coordinator search, first simply by letting go of former coordinator Jake Spavital and then replacing him with UCLA's Noel Mazzone. As he told reporters when he was hired, Mazzone will bring a much more physical approach to the Aggie offense and loves to run the football, but he'll do so with tempo out of the spread. Basically, he'll keep Texas A&M's identity while adjusting the scheme ever so slightly to fit what SEC football demands.

Texas head coach Charlie Strong
Texas head coach Charlie StrongRay Thompson/Associated Press

Strong managed some addition-by-subtraction on the offensive side of the ball as well by bidding farewell to quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson and offensive line coach Joe Wickline, replacing them with Tulsa's Sterlin Gilbert and Matt Mattox, respectively. It was long overdue, after the Longhorns managed just 370.8 yards per game a year ago (91st in the nation)—which was actually an improvement from 2014.

But the stench of desperation from the week-long saga to land Gilbert—who has never called plays at the FBS level—coupled with Mazzone's track record of success, gives the Aggies another edge.

Offense has been a major issue at both Lone Star State schools, but the moves Sumlin has made this offseason, coupled with his ability and creativity as an offensive mind, make Texas A&M much more trustworthy.

Defensively, it might appear to be a different story.

Don't be fooled by appearances, though.

Texas' defense should vastly improved from the 2015 season in which it gave up 452.6 yards per game. With Strong at the helm and a linebacker like Malik Jefferson leading the charge with veteran corners Davante Davis and Holton Hill, a gigantic leap forward should be expected. Texas A&M's defense should be—gasp—pretty good as well, thanks to a loaded roster and stability within the coaching staff.

Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett
Texas A&M DE Myles GarrettMatthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Aggies have a terrifying defensive line that features tackle Daylon Mack and ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, as well as an established safety in Armani Watts. On top of that, they get linebacker Otaro Alaka back from essentially a year off due to injury and have former UCLA corner and stud recruit Priest Willis eligible now after sitting out his transfer year. 

This off a defense that finished seventh in the SEC in scoring defense (22 points per game) and eighth in total defense (380 yards per game). That might not seem overly impressive, but it was Year 1 under new coordinator John Chavis and a vast improvement from 2014, when the Aggies gave up 28.1 points and 450.8 yards per game.

More familiarity with the system, coupled with a more mature roster that includes even more star power, should make the Texas A&M defense formidable again in 2016.

Texas A&M might not be better than Texas. That'll be a close race, and could go either way. But the Aggies will still be solid, which is all they need to be if and when the offense operates in a way Sumlin wants it to. While both head coaches have taken steps to kick-start stagnant offenses this offseason, it's much easier to have faith in Sumlin than in Strong in that department.

Don't be fooled by the negative offseason headlines. Texas A&M will be just fine in 2016 and certainly has more going for it short-term than its intra-state rivals.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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