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Future looks bright for Aggies, but recent history says to approach with caution

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Senior WR Ainias Smith (0) stiff arms Miami DB James Williams (0) during Texas A&M’s game against Miami at Kyle Field on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

The Texas A&M football team’s three player representatives at the 2023 SEC Media Days each sported a pair of black-framed sunglasses to Nashville, Tennessee. Graduate WR Ainias Smith wore Balenciaga, senior DL McKinnley Jackson donned Gucci (from head to toe) and junior DL Fadil Diggs rocked a pair of Off-White shades.
Was the trio trying to send a message to the members of the media? Maybe.
“It’s just a little swag,” Diggs said. “We just wanted to look good.”
With the amount of talent amassed on the Aggies’ 2023 roster, there’s no denying that the future should be bright for the maroon and white.
Top 10 recruiting classes between 2019 and 2022, the latter of which ranked tops in the country, the addition of talented transfers and returning production make this squad arguably the most loaded of coach Jimbo Fisher’s six seasons with the program.
Just ask the headman himself.
“I think our two-deep probably has as much experience as we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Fisher said of the team’s 80% returning production. “[I] like that dynamic of where we’re at, and I think this is a team with a chip on its shoulder … every coach says they’re excited every year. We are, but the thing that got me the most excited, I think, one, is our leadership.”
But the key word four paragraphs above is “should.” A&M should win each nonconference matchup, including a road bout with Miami. The Aggies should contend for a top spot in the division. A&M should make a push for an upper-tier bowl game.
The theme of A&M football for the past decade has been less with more. One would be hard-pressed to find another program with a similar blend of talent, fan support, facilities and location within a recruiting hotbed. Instead, the Aggies have fallen mostly into the middle of the wolfpack that is the SEC.
A&M’s 78 wins over the past ten seasons ranks fifth in the conference, just one victory behind Auburn. That’s not a bad number in a league as strong as the SEC, especially given the reign of Alabama and LSU within the SEC West.
Regardless, fans are seemingly left unsatisfied at the conclusion of each season. A&M hasn’t won more than nine games overall or picked up over eight regular season victories in those ten seasons. The shortened 2020 campaign may be the outlier in that decade, in which the Aggies finished 9-1 with an Orange Bowl trophy in hand. Many argue that A&M was snubbed from the College Football Playoff, which is a valid point.
2022 marked the epitome of the Aggies’ underachievement, as the team went 5-7 with just two conference wins and a loss to Appalachian State of the Sun Belt. The only distraction from what was happening on the field was what was going on off of it, as disciplinary issues put A&M in the national spotlight, albeit for the wrong reasons.
A 38-23 win over No. 6 LSU to wrap up the season at least served as a high note in a season Aggies all around would like to forget. That process began as soon as students cleared Kyle Field after storming the turf to celebrate the win. With Media Days upon us and the season opener less than 50 days away, Fisher and the Aggies are all-in on 2023.
“I think it’s a team that has something to prove, and we know that,” Fisher said of this season’s crew. “There’s nothing to hide about that, how we’ve got to play … As I say, some of your problems a year ago can be your strengths this year, but again, those have to translate onto the field and the things that go on.”
Fisher seemingly relinquished his play-calling duties following a season in which the Aggies averaged just 22.8 points per game to rank 101st in the nation. He opted to hand the reins of the offense to offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino, the former coach of Arkansas and Louisville before leading FCS Missouri State for the past three seasons.
It’s unclear, though, how play-calling responsibilities will be distributed between the two coaches. Fisher didn’t elaborate much on the topic when speaking to the media, but instead described play-calling as a group effort amongst the entire coaching staff.
“Hopefully, [Petrino will] call the game,” Fisher said. “We’ll have suggestions on things we do, whether it’s offense or defense. Every coach is always involved. It’s a more collective thing than people want to give it room for, but when you get to calling and you get on a roll, you’ve got to have a guy that can do it, and I think Bobby can definitely do that, and [he] does it as well as anybody in college football.”
Fisher also declined to speak on what sort of schemes and strategies the A&M offense will utilize in an effort to not release too much information to opponents that may have an ear open. However, Smith mentioned that fans can expect a more exciting brand of football from the Aggies under Petrino.
“One thing I’ll definitely say is Coach Petrino has come in and sparked the energy, sparked some light in us, opened up the playbook a little bit more,” Smith said. “Not going to speak too much on scheme-wise, but it’s very exciting.”
Smith also touched on the coaching staff’s efforts to develop an uptempo offense, something the Aggies lacked last season as they looked sluggish on both sides of the ball.
“We definitely have, let’s just say, a quicker mindset on how we should run our offense,” Smith said. “Definitely want to start with a lot more energy, a lot quicker, and being a lot more consistent throughout the entire season, for sure.”
Such an approach should pair nicely with an A&M roster with no shortage of highlight reel wideouts. Smith anchors a wide receiver corps featuring sophomore Evan Stewart, sophomore Noah Thomas and junior Moose Muhammad III, whose multiple one-handed grabs against LSU graced many a social media timeline.
Stewart exhibited explosiveness and impressive playmaking ability when the football came his way in his freshman campaign, while Smith’s senior year was cut short as he suffered a leg injury in the SEC opener versus Arkansas. The Missouri City native opted to hold off from the NFL Draft and return to Aggieland for his fifth season as a mature, experienced team leader.
“I wanted to make the best decision not only for myself but for my family and everybody that was relying on me,” Smith said. “I feel like that whole back half of the season was just interesting, not only for myself going through the injury, but for the team.”
Diggs, Jackson and senior DB Demani Richardson pace a defense that surrendered 21.2 points per game last season. That’s a respectable number, but what hampered the team was an inability to get off the field on third down plays and late game drives.
DBs Antonio Johnson and Jaylon Jones and LB Andre White Jr. are key losses to the unit, yet the defense brings back experienced young bucks in sophomore DB Bryce Anderson and sophomore defensive linemen Walter Nolen and Shemar Stewart. Junior LB Edgerrin Cooper and senior LB Chris Russell Jr. complement a defense entering 2023 with high expectations.
“Every day, like I say, we hold each other accountable,” Jackson said. “We can’t be one-dimensional, just stopping the run one or two times. You have to be consistent every day. That’s what the game comes down to. Being consistent, holding each other accountable, pushing each other through limits and your expectations.”
With plenty of experience returning on both sides of the ball, the pieces appear to be in place for a strong bounce back year by the Aggies. With Alabama potentially dethroned from the top of the world of college football, A&M should have a reasonable shot at a division title.
If this script sounds familiar, it’s because the Aggie faithful have been hearing it for about the past decade. The maroon and white enter the fall with high expectations, only to see those goals slowly unravel as the season progresses.
But this isn’t a “Negative Nancy” kind of article. A&M will bring a talented and mature squad into Kyle Field in the coming Saturdays, with a realistic shot at cementing a spot among the sport’s top dogs. But can the players and coaches deliver on those lofty goals? Time will tell.
In the meantime, followers of the program ought to remain cautiously optimistic.

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