Texas A&M 2018 team preview

With Fisher now in charge, Aggies look for a culture change

Jimbo Fisher had success at Florida State. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

After a underwhelming season in 2017, when Texas A&M finished with a 7-6 record while failing to win a single game versus a top 25 ranked opponent, the program decided to move on from head coach Kevin Sumlin. Though the Aggies were fighting an uphill battle all season after losing starting quarterback Nick Starkel to a broken ankle, another lackluster year led to the firing of coach Sumlin after his arguably underachieving six years at Texas A&M.

Following the decision to fire Sumlin, the Aggies quickly turned the page to their next chapter by hiring former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, who led the Seminoles to a National Championship title in 2013 and finished with a career record of 83-23 in nine seasons.

There is no question that coach Sumlin underachieved with the abundance of athletic talent and recruiting depth that coach Fisher will luckily inherit. A&M fans are expected to maintain high expectations for the 2018 season considering the fact that Fisher brings with him a strong track record of success, with a program that is built like and attracts the same type of talent he had at Florida State.

The question that comes to mind now is how many wins will it take, or how quickly Jimbo will need to lead his new team to a National Championship in order to please the A&M boosters and fanbase? Can anyone possibly meet expectations that will most likely be placed on the shoulders of Fisher? 

As I turn my attention to the players, we need to examine the roster coach Fisher will have as he takes control of his new team. Fisher finds himself in an ideal situation as he will have the opportunity to begin his time at Texas A&M with a large collection of returning starters from the 2017 season.

With that said the Aggies will have to find replacements for some of their top playmakers in 2017, which includes All SEC athletes Christian Kirk (WR) and Armani Watts (S). Kirk concluded his career at A&M ranked No. 2 all-time in total receptions in school history and No. 3 in SEC history, while Watts led the Aggie secondary with his athletic playmaking abilities and his aggressive ball-hawking mindset.

Along with the loss of Kirk and Watts, the Aggies will return without starting running back Keith Ford, who ran for over 500 yards while collecting 12 touchdowns in 2017, and lastly WR Damion Ratley who hauled in six total touchdowns and gained 700 yards in 2017. 

Though the Aggies did not lose a large quantity of personnel, they will suffer with the loss of a few quality athletes. Altogether coach Fisher will have his hands full trying to replace his top three touchdown leaders, but you can expect A&M’s stash of athletes to produce the necessary stars.

Despite losing those key players, there are still multiple other players Aggie fans should be excited to see return to the field in 2018. Leading the charge will be quarterbacks Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond. Both players saw a significant amount of playing time in 2017 and faced their fair share of ups and downs. You can expect a major quarterback competition to take place before the season, but I would not bet against coach Fisher finding a way to get both QB’s on the field.

Mond definitely displayed a tremendous amount of raw playmaking ability in 2017 that Fisher will not allow to go unused. A few other offensive players returning that should draw some serious attention and excitement are Junior RB Trayveon Williams and sophomore WR Jhamon Ausbon. In 2017, Williams led the Aggies rushing attack on his way to nearly 800 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, while Ausbon finished his freshman season with over 500 receiving yards. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Texas A&M can rest easy with the return of four of their top five tacklers in 2017. The two most important of those players being linebackers Tyrel Dodson and Otaro Alaka, who combined for 182 total tackles, 11 sacks and 4 interceptions last season. Also, the national spotlight will be shining bright on returning DE Landis Durham who tallied 10.5 sacks in 2017.

The Aggies will rely heavily on Durham to chase down opposing quarterbacks and at minimum repeat that same level of play. Lastly, with the loss of star safety Watts, coach Fisher will be excited to welcome in the 75th ranked recruit in the nation and 8th ranked safety in his class (according to 247sports.com), Freshman S Leon O’Neal Jr, in the hopes that he will pick up Watts weight in the secondary.

Everyone knows that Fisher is a very capable coach, and that Texas A&M will put one of the most talented teams in the nation on the field every year. The question at hand is how quickly can Fisher get his new team back into championship contention.

Yes, expectations should be high for a program like Texas A&M, but anytime a coach takes over a new team, you can expect there to be a fair share of growing pains. I truly believe that with coach Fisher at the helm the Aggies will soon contend for a National Championship, but patience and belief will be key in his success.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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