The honeymoon is over in College Station where Texas A&M has taken steps backwards the past two seasons after a big splash in the SEC. How will the Aggies fare this year on the college football odds?
They're picked dead last in the SEC West Division, college football's version of the Magnificent Seven, and there are a lot of reasons to believe the Texas A&M Aggies will live up to those expectations.
In fact, the NCAA football futures odds at 12/1 to win the Southeastern Conference seem a little generous given the schedule the Aggies face this year -- and every year -- in the league. At the same time, this could be a sneaky bunch, and seventh in the SEC West is still good enough for 10th in the conference, so Texas A&M is still going to be capable of shaping the league race with an upset here or there.
An upset is just how the Aggies began their 2014 college football betting schedule. Getting 9½ on the road at South Carolina, A&M built a 17-point halftime lead before coming home with a 52-38 victory. In the team's first game without Johnny Manziel running the offense, Kenny Hill broke the school record with 511 passing yards and the Aggies appeared to be ready to pick right up where they'd left off.
Four more victories ensued, including an overtime win against Arkansas, pushing the team up to No. 6/7 in the polls and giving the Aggies a 2-0 start in SEC play. Then, the wheels fell off.
Improving Defense Top Priority For Sumlin
What followed were three successive conference losses, capped by a 59-0 embarrassment at Alabama, that game leading head coach Kevin Sumlin to replace Hill at QB with true freshman Kyle Allen. The Aggies then did manage to beat Louisiana-Monroe, a team they were favored to beat by more than four TDs, before saving some face with another big road upset, taking down then-No. 3 Auburn as 23 point underdogs.
Hill is gone now, the school granting his release from the program earlier this year and leaving Allen entrenched as the starting quarterback. Nobody else on the current roster took a snap in 2014, giving incoming freshman and highly recruited Kyler Murray to move right into the backup role.
Sumlin is focusing on two areas his team must improve upon to consistently beat the college football odds this year -- increasing depth on defense and establishing the running game on offense. Texas A&M took a big step towards the former by hiring defensive coordinator John Chavis away from LSU. The Aggies ranked last among SEC teams allowing more than 450 yards per game, more than 200 of those on the ground where they also sat last in the conference. Signing Daylon Mack to play on the interior of the line should immediately improve depth on defense.
Getting the running game going should be a little easier than quickly upgrading the defense. Texas A&M returns its top 3 tailbacks from 2014 -- Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams -- and also bring back a strong stable of receivers bolstered by frosh Christian Kirk.
Can Aggies Make Kyle Field A True Advantage?
Maybe all of the construction at Kyle Field the last few years has contributed to the issue, but the Aggies have struggled to win conference games at home since joining the SEC. They're 5-7 in those matchups after dropping three of four contests in College Station a year ago.
Texas A&M will get a chance to show that can be turned around with a schedule that's front-loaded with home games. The Aggies have Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State at home, plus South Carolina by the time we get to mid-November, only leaving the Lone Star State once time at that point. The bad news is the continued construction at Kyle Field will cause them to spend the final two games on the road at Vanderbilt and Thanksgiving weekend in Baton Rouge vs. the LSU Tigers.
The Aggies aren't sneaky enough to make it to the SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome on December 5, much less pull off the upset as 80/1 college football futures odds to win it all. Still, they're very capable of a 9-10 win season if the defense is improved, and we'll get to see what Chavis has done to that unit in the team's very first game against Arizona State on September 5 in Houston.