Texas A&M fans have waited for the Aggies to take that proverbial next step each season since … well, it seems like forever now. While the Aggies have been competitive, a national title has been almost out of the question since the “Wrecking Crew” days under R.C. Slocum.
Granted, A&M had a great run in 2012 with Johnny Manziel and his Heisman Trophy talent leading the way, but the defense (57th in the country that season) kept the Aggies from being a true title threat.
Jimbo Fisher is now in charge, and with him — and his $75 million contract — the 12th Man will be expecting more. It could take Fisher some time to take the Aggies to that level, but the pressure will begin this season. If the Aggies perform well, A&M fans will see a bright future. If not, that honeymoon period (if there is such a thing at a high-profile job like this) will be over.
For the Aggies to start climbing the ladder in the SEC’s hierarchy, these three players must raise their games in 2018.
Roshauud Paul, sophomore wide receiver — Wide receiver is a big question mark for the Aggies with the absence of All-SEC performer Christian Kirk creating a major hole. While seemingly no one will fill the role Kirk had as an all-around playmaker, Paul showed late in the 2017 season that he could be a threat on offense.
He figures to have more opportunities, too. As a freshman last year, Paul caught 16 passes for 187 yards. Don’t be surprised if he triples or quadruples that yardage total this season.
Donovan Wilson, senior defensive back — New defensive coordinator means new hope for the Aggies defense, and no one wants to put 2017 behind more than Wilson, who suffered a season-ending broken left foot in the opener against UCLA.
The Aggies were woeful in pass defense last season, allowing 237.6 yards per game (85th in nation). Wilson’s absence was part of the problem, as he made 59 tackles and intercepted 1 pass in 2016. Now healthy, he must be both a major force in the secondary and serve as a veteran leader. The Aggies passing defense will be dependent on him.
Nick Starkel, sophomore quarterback — “But he hasn’t won the starting job over Kellen Mond?” you might ask. That’s true, but for Fisher’s system to be at the top of its game, it needs Starkel excelling behind center. He’s an accurate passer who will need to improve his 60 percent completion rate from 2017, but as someone that has been through a season playing against top competition, that is more than likely to come.
The arm is not a problem for Starkel, as he threw for 1,793 and 14 touchdowns in just seven games last season.
Following spring practice, Fisher said the key to both quarterbacks succeeding will be “being decision-makers,” and Starkel has shown some progress on that. Fisher has had some excellent quarterbacks who took their team from good to great, and now the Aggies need Starkel to do just that.