When the Texas A&M Aggies were announced as a permanent SEC crossover opponent for South Carolina before the 2014 season, the Gamecocks were fortunate that it didn’t happen a year prior while Johnny Manziel was still the incumbent at QB. It really didn’t matter in the end: Kenny Hill and the Aggies bulldozed the Gamecocks 52-28 in what would turn out to be a harbinger of a 7-6 season for Carolina and the beginning Steve Spurrier’s ultimate end at the helm.
So whatever happened to that Kenny Hill kid that broke Manziel’s single-game school record with 511 yards passing? Well, he went from potential star to Kyle Allen’s backup and ended up transferring to TCU after the 2014 season. Allen was set to be the guy, but he transferred (after 2015) to Houston.
That’s right. If you’re scoring at home, that’s four Day 1 starters at QB for the Aggies in four years. For the record, that’s the same as the Gamecocks - Connor Shaw, Dylan Thompson, Connor Mitch and the mystery man that will get the call against Vanderbilt on September 1.
Ironically, with their last two first day starters having transferred (as well as Allen’s apparent successor, Kyler Murray), Texas A&M hopes that the answer lies in, well, a transfer. Trevor Knight, who lost his job to Baker Mayfield (himself a transfer) at Oklahoma and essentially swapped spots with the Sooner-bound Murray, won the job and will look to prove that he can still sling it with the best quarterbacks out there. And with the team’s core receivers returning, he’ll have plenty of weapons to choose from despite the team losing 1,100+ yard rusher Tra Carson to the NFL.
Last year: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)
Best returning player: Myles Garrett
If you’re Kevin Sumlin, barring an injury to the junior from Arlington, you start making plans for life without Myles Garrett in 2017. Several mock drafts have him going in the top three in 2017 - unless he has a unforeseen drop off in his production, that sounds about right. Problem is, the best defensive lineman in the SEC (and easily one of the best in the country) just keeps getting better (12.5 sacks and 19.5 TFLs in 2015, up from 11.5 sacks/14.0 TFLs in 2014). The good news: the Gamecocks’ O-line held him off fairly well in last year’s meeting in College Station. They’ll need to do it again, especially with the possibility of a true freshman having his confidence shaken while under center.
Prognosis: 2016 may shape up to be another eight-win season for the Aggies. That’s just because the teams above them in the pecking order, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU, are simply more talented right now. They could surprise us and knock off one of those three teams - actually, I wouldn’t be surprised. But Kevin Sumlin will need to find some way to break through the ceiling and show that the Aggies are better than a middle-of-the-table SEC West program. No doubt at this point in time that they are better than the Gamecocks. While that gap might shrink over time, I’m not ready to give Carolina this victory.