College Football Betting: Is Texas A&M A True SEC Contender For Alabama?

Matthew Jordan

Saturday, October 1, 2016 3:40 PM UTC

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 3:40 PM UTC

It's very early in the season still, but easily the most impressive SEC West team other than top-ranked Alabama has been No. 9 Texas A&M. Are the Aggies contenders this season? Let's look at their NCAA futures odds.

SEC West A Two-Team Race
The SEC West looks like it may have already sorted itself out. I personally liked LSU entering the season to win the division and reach the College Football Playoff with 17 starters back, led by Heisman Trophy candidate running back Leonard Fournette. But the now-unranked Tigers are 2-2 and in disarray after firing Coach Les Miles on Sunday -- check out my SBR story on his potential long-term replacement. Auburn beat LSU last Saturday, but Auburn looks pretty mediocre. Mississippi State already has lost to LSU, not to mention a humbling home defeat to little South Alabama. Ole Miss is a good team but lost to the Tide.

Thus A&M and Alabama are the only West Division teams without a conference loss; Tennessee is the only East Division club without one. Currently on SBR's best-rated sportsbooks. Alabama is the -120 betting favorite on college football odds to win the SEC again, with the Volunteers at +250 and then the Aggies at +450.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin entered this season on a seat just as hot as LSU's Miles did, but that talk has quieted down thanks to the 4-0 start. Be aware that the Aggies started 5-0 last year before losing three of their next four in the SEC. In 2014, the team started 5-0 as well before losing three straight conference games. So don't assume Sumlin's job is safe just yet.


Knight A Godsend At Quarterback
Texas A&M has played a pretty good schedule. It beat No. 16 UCLA 31-24 in overtime in Week 1 on a 1-yard TD keeper from quarterback Trevor Knight. He threw for 239 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more scores in his A&M debut. The Aggies won at Auburn 29-16 on Sept. 17. Knight threw for 247 yards and a score and rushed for 42 yards. And then last week, A&M beat No. 17 Arkansas 45-24 as Knight threw  for 225 yards and two scores and rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns. There are still 27 undefeated teams in the FBS. Only Texas A&M and Stanford have gotten there while beating three Power Five opponents.

And it's Knight who could be what's different with the 2016 Aggies. They haven't been settled at quarterback since Johnny Manziel left. Plenty of five-star recruits have been under center since Johnny Football, but it hasn't worked out for whatever reason. Two five-stars, Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, transferred out last season. That opened the door for Knight to transfer in from Oklahoma -- he had lost his job to Baker Mayfield -- and start right away (eligible as a graduate transfer). Knight has a tremendous group of big-play receivers in Josh Reynolds, Christian Kirk, Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil.

What has been another issue under Sumlin is finding a running game, but the Aggies lead the SEC in total rushing yards (1,077), rushing yards per game (269.3) and yards per rush (7.04). The running ability of Knight has added to that.  In the past two seasons, when the Aggies went 8-5 each year, they averaged 149 rushing yards per game in 2014 and 169 last  year.

We will soon find out what this team is made out of, however. The ninth-ranked Aggies should win this week as 18-point favorites on college football picks at South Carolina, although that could be a trap game. Then comes the two-game stretch that should define the season: Oct. 8 vs. No. 11 Tennessee and Oct. 22 at No. 1 Alabama.

It's a big advantage that A&M gets a bye week ahead of Alabama, while the Tide must play at Tennessee the week before facing the Aggies. But the Tide have won three straight against A&M and by a combined 77 points the past two seasons. That game is what Sumlin will be judged on.

After facing Alabama, the Aggies should be favored the rest of the regular season: Oct. 29 vs. New Mexico State, Nov. 5 at Mississippi State, Nov. 12 vs. Ole Miss, Nov. 18 vs. UTSA and Nov. 24 vs. LSU. It's not inconceivable that if A&M were to lose very close at Alabama but win every other game impressively that it could get into the College Football Playoff even without winning the SEC West.

I'm not buying the Aggies yet. I think they lose to the Vols and Tide but can finish 10-2 and get a potential New Year's Six bowl game. That would be enough for Sumlin to keep his job. 

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