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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Kickoff at the Rose Bowl

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Photo by File

A&M and UCLA will wear a special sticker on their helmets to honor the victims

of Hurricane Harvey during Sunday’s game.

For the second-straight year, Texas A&M will kick off its 2017 football season against UCLA. This time, though, it will be at the Rose Bowl, the first time in school history the Aggies will play in Los Angeles’ historic stadium.

Last season the Aggies outlasted the Bruins in a 31-24 double-overtime victory, and they will look to do the same thing Sunday as they try to improve head coach Kevin Sumlin’s career record in season openers to 9-1.

“It’s exciting to go back to the West Coast and play in front of a lot of family and friends,” junior wide receiver Christian Kirk said. “I’m just ready to get there — I went to the Rose Bowl once and it’s an exciting place. You can feel all the history and tradition that’s been within the stadium and to get the opportunity to go in there and play a big-time game against UCLA is exciting.”

The Aggies return five starters on offense and seven on defense, but Sumlin has yet to announce who will take the first snap at quarterback. The sixth-year head coach did indicate at Tuesday’s press conference he knows who will start but wants to keep UCLA guessing.

Whether it ends up being senior Jake Hubenak, redshirt freshman Nick Starkel or true freshman Kellen Mond, Sumlin does not want to give the Bruins an idea of who to prepare for.

“We’re happy with our plan. We know what we want to do and started to work that plan last week,” Sumlin said. “We’re continuing with it as it is. They’ve all got strengths, and the young guys have some weaknesses. The older guy has more knowledge, and he should. We’ve got different levels of experience. I’ve been pleased, and the staff’s been pleased. We’ll continue down the road we started down a couple weeks ago.”

Fortunately for the Aggies, they do have several offensive weapons that should take some pressure off the eventual quarterback. Kirk, a consensus preseason All-American, is the SEC’s top returning receiver and will anchor the receiving corps while running back Trayveon Williams will try to build on last year’s 1,000-yard freshman campaign.

Keith Ford will share carries with Williams, forming one of the SEC’s best running back duos.

On the offensive line, the Aggies do not know who will start and how they will be positioned, but there is a lot of experience in the group that has continued to develop under second-year coach Jim Turner.

“I think we have a little more experience playing together,” sophomore center Colton Prater said. “Last year’s line was a lot of guys who hadn’t really played together much, but this year we’ve been together for a whole year.”

For the Bruins, Josh Rosen returns as the undisputed starting quarterback. After missing the last six games of 2016 due to a shoulder injury, he enters this year with something to prove. The junior gunslinger racked up 343 yards against the Aggies last year and displayed the type of arm talent that has NFL scouts drooling.

“There are new coaches at UCLA. The one common denominator is Josh Rosen, who was extremely impressive here at Kyle Field,” Sumlin said. “The big thing that I was impressed with was his toughness. We hit him and hit him a lot, and he got better. It’s not supposed to work that way.

“It’s a real challenge for us playing one – if not the best – quarterbacks in the nation, right off the bat.”

A&M will do its best to keep Rosen off balance with a defense that is reportedly much improved from last year’s unit that finished 10th in the SEC in total defense. Preseason All-SEC safety Armani Watts is back patrolling the secondary after showing off his playmaking ability in 2016. Linebacker Otaro Alaka is the Aggies’ leading returning tackler and senior defensive ends Qualen Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson will attempt to fill the gaping holes left by outgoing rush ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall.

Sunday’s game, which marks the third-straight season the Aggies have opened against a Pac-12 opponent, is slated to kick off at 6:30 p.m. and will be nationally televised on Fox.

“I’m excited for us and the guys to go down there and have a good time,” Williams, who rushed for 94 yards in last year’s season opener, said. “Enjoy the UCLA game, get a W and come back to College Station.”

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