New offense, new defense, new coaching staff. And that's just the beginning of the changes for the Texas A&M Aggies this season.
About the only thing that hasn't changed is the quarterback. Stephen McGee is entering his third season as the Aggies' starter, but even he had to beat out sophomore Jerrod Johnson and redshirt freshman Ryan Tannehill in fall camp.
First-year coach Mike Sherman inherits a team with talent but numerous holes. Competition has been fierce at all positions, and plenty of jobs are still up for grabs and could continue to change hands once the season gets under way.
Here's a breakdown of the Aggies heading into Saturday's season opener against Arkansas State.
The offensive backfield is one of the few areas where the Aggies have quality depth and experience. Jorvorskie Lane's move to fullback has allowed Mike Goodson to slide into the starting tailback roll, giving A&M a strong 1-2 rushing punch. Redshirt freshman Bradley Stephens and true freshman Cyrus Gray also have shown some big-play potential during two-a-days with long runs and receptions, giving A&M even more weapons. McGee finally will get a chance to showcase his passing skills in the new West Coast offense, but he'll be depending on a thin, inexperienced line to protect him. Experience is also an issue at wide receiver and tight end. Keller Fossil Ridge ex Howard Morrow and true freshman Jeff Fuller have stood out among the receivers, who have had problems holding onto the ball in the preseason, and former receiver Jamie McCoy is stepping in for Martellus Bennett at tight end. If the offensive line can enjoy some early success and, most importantly, avoid injuries, the Aggies' offense should hold its own. The biggest question mark is at left guard, where true freshman Brian Thomas could earn the starting job.
The 2007 season produced some ugly numbers for the Aggies, who ranked 83rd in the nation in total defense, 91st in pass efficiency defense and 104th in sacks. That final number is the biggest concern for new defensive coordinator Joe Kines, whose primary focus has been on getting pressure on the quarterback. A&M defenders are raving about Kines' aggressive 4-3 scheme, which will allow them to take more chances and make big plays. Depth is a concern at linebacker, where the Aggies lost two leaders in Mark Dodge and Misi Tupe and have dealt with a preseason injury to outside linebacker Garrick Williams. None of the three starting linebacker positions are set on the Week 1 depth chart. There has also been some shifting in the secondary -- Jordan Pugh has moved to cornerback and Jordan Peterson is now at free safety -- but five of the returning players there have combined to start 91 games. Defensive end Cyril Obiozor is the lone returning starter on the defensive front, but Michael Bennett, Amos Gbunblee, Kellen Heard and Lucas Patterson should give the Aggies a formidable front-line presence.
Justin Brantly, the third-ranked active punter in the nation with a 43.9-yard average, is probably the most dependable player on the Aggies roster. He is the only A&M punter ever to average over 43 yards per punt in his first three seasons. That's the good news. The bad news is no placekicker on the roster has ever attempted a field goal in college. Senior Richie Bean and freshman walk-on Randy Bullock have taken their battle for the starting job into game week, with no word yet on the starter. It will be interesting to see if true freshman Cyrus Gray can make an impact on the return game.
The Aggies could get off to a strong start but can't overlook their first two opponents. Arkansas State came shockingly close to upsetting Texas in last year's opener, and New Mexico can be tough to beat in Albuquerque. There should be no trouble getting up for Miami after last season's blowout, and Army rounds out the non-conference slate. If A&M can manage to head into conference play unbeaten, the Aggies could gain enough confidence to challenge the top teams in the Big 12. Injuries on the offensive line or at linebacker could be devastating, but look for A&M to have a respectable showing.
The bottom line? The guess here is 7-5 and a lower-tier bowl, which wouldn't be a bad start for Sherman considering the number of new faces in the starting lineup.
What do you think? Hit the comment below to make your prediction on how the Aggies will fare this season.
-- Lori Dann