Seven months after the confetti fell on national champion Alabama, a new college football season is upon us. As part of Sports Illustrated Content of the 2021 preview, we’re rolling out Scouting reports for all of SI’s top 25 preseason teams, with all the names, stories, and great games you need to know. Starting at No. 25 in Nevada and going through No. 1 in Alabama, we will have five teams daily Monday through Friday.
The big story: Texas A&M
A&M had a great 2020. The Aggies won 9–1 with an Orange Bowl victory, and their only defeat came to a powerful Alabama team. However, it could be difficult to replicate last year, as starting quarterback Kellen Mond moved to the Minnesota Vikings. That’s not to say Texas A&M doesn’t have the full running of a top-tier team: the Aggies return nine starters in a well-equipped defense and keep several of their best offensive players (Isaiah Spiller, Ainias Smith, Devon Achane), But this impending quarterback riddle adds an obstacle to his 2021 campaign.
Not to be missed: Isaiah Spiller
While Texas A&M works the competition on the quarterback, it’s fair to say that much of the offensive workload will fall on their loaded bottom field. Spiller returns as one of the SEC’s top runners, having run 1,036 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020, good for third in the conference. He already garnered many accolades in his first two years with the Aggies, including the honors of the 2020 All-SEC first team and being named a semifinalist for the Doak Walker 2020 Award. Spiller on the brink of another stellar year.
Key question: How will the post-world era materialize?
The quarterback contest at College Station seems open, as Haynes King and Zach Calzada are the two candidates to take over. Both King and Calzada are extremely young, with essentially no experience in college football: King played in two games last season and threw six passes; Calzada has not seen the field since 2019, when he threw five passes in three games. The good news is that they are surrounded by hurry and get talented, so the transition can be much worse.
X Factor: Defense
The Aggies’ D will be absolutely vital. The good news is that it should be as consistent as last year, when it had the top SEC unit and allowed 22 points per game. Texas A&M will feature veterans across the field, including defenders Aaron Hansford, Andre White and Chris Russell and defensive backs Leon O’Neal and Demani Richardson. Experience and defensive talent will be key to supporting the new Aggies quarterback while keeping the score low.
Circle Date: October 9 against Alabama
The only Texas A&M-laden team last year failed to defeat is also the one that probably has the best chance of beating the Aggies this year. They were lucky with their SEC East opponents in 2021, will travel to Missouri and host South Carolina instead of facing off against top competitors Georgia or Florida, but Texas A&M’s path to the SEC championship will always have to go through the Crimson Tide.
The end result
The only important question about Texas A&M is QB. It’s a giant question — and one that will have to be resolved quickly and successfully — but otherwise, last year’s glory is far from a distant memory for the large number of Aggies returnees. If King or Calzada appear as a good enough replacement for Mond, Texas A&M will regain the place it left in 2020.
More previews of the 25 best teams:
• núm. 21 LSU
• No. 18 Florida
• No. 15 Miami