HOOVER—Since Johnny Manziel left Texas A&M in 2013, the Aggies have finished 8-5 three straight years, starting four different starting quarterbacks in that span. The biggest questions for head coach Kevin Sumlin heading into the 2017 season are who will be the starting quarterback, and will he stay for a while?
Former quarterbacks Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray all have left the program. Hill transferred to TCU after a turbulent second year on the team. Allen joined Houston, while Murray went to Oklahoma.
The Aggies bring back 14 starters (five offense, seven defense and two special teams) from last year’s team that made it to the Texas Bowl.
Jake Hubenak returns for his senior season as the leading passer from last year. He finished with 844 passing yard and threw for six touchdowns.
“There isn’t really a frontrunner,” Sumlin said Wednesday at SEC Media Days. “I think Jake was a little nervous sometimes early on in his career.”
The Aggies bring back their leading rusher from a year ago in Trayveon Williams, who ran for 1,057 yards and rushed for eight touchdowns. He was the first true freshman Aggie to rush for more than 1,000 yards, while maintaining an average of 6.8 yards per carry, sixth-best in the SEC.
Christin Kirk takes over as the No. 1 receiving target for the Aggies. He finished just shy of 1,000 yards with 928. He added nine touchdowns.
“He’s one of the better guys in the country with the ball in his hands,” Sumlin said. “He fills the void for us on the field and he’s filled the void for us with the younger guys.”
However, there are big losses on both sides of the ball.
For the first time in program history, Texas A&M had a player taken at No. 1 in the NFL Draft, when Myles Garrett was taken by the Cleveland Browns. Justin Evans was picked in the second round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Evans finished second on the team in tackles with 87 and finished with a team high four interceptions. Daeshon Hall was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the third round. Hall finished his season with 50 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
Graduate transfer Trevor Knight racked up 2,432 passing yards and 19 touchdowns in his lone season as the Aggie starter at quarterback. Three of Knights favorite targets (Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil) left for the NFL. The trio combined for 1,697 yards.
Texas A&M starts its season on the road at UCLA on Sunday, Sept. 3.
Head coach: Kevin Sumlin
2016 record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)
Returning starters: 14
Toughest question Sumlin faced: When you lose the top pick of the draft, you lose your starting quarterback, you lose a lot of other people, parts that were real relevant to your team, how would you make a case for you’re going to be even better than last year?
Sumlin’s reply: “Yeah, I don’t know. I think everything’s relative. I think that for most fans, for everybody, some people sum it up in wins and losses. I think as coaches, you do that a little bit. You do some of that, but you also sum it up by being a better football team because the schedule’s different. Your schedule’s always different. So, you know, can you be a better football team with the same record? Can you be a worse football team with the same record? You know, I can sum it up that by looking at how we’re going to play and what tempo we’re going to play at, what kind of physicality we’re going to play at and how we’re going to finish.”
You need to know: Trayveon Williams comes back as the best freshman running back in program history. He accumulated 1,057 yards on the ground and reached the end zone eight times. One of the biggest holes that Sumlin will need to face is the defensive line. The Aggies lost Miles Garrett and Daeshon Hall to the NFL draft. The two led the team in sacks with a combined 13, Garrett with 8.5 while Hall finished with 4.5.
Best player quote: “Developing everyday as a leader. I have wanted to step into that major leadership role. Last year it was Trevor Knight, who had to lead the team as captain and was very vocal person. Now I have to step into that role along with guys like Armani, Koda, and Donovan Wilson. We have to as a group step up to become vocal leaders to lead this team now. With workouts, every day we are making sure our guys get better. Staying on them and making sure we are pushing them every day because if we aren’t doing that then we aren’t making them any better. Really excited with the leadership we have and looking for to leading this team.”- Junior Wide Receiver Christian Kirk said on being the face of the team.