Vanderbilt facing uphill battle at No. 10 Texas A&M

NCAA Football

Expectations are high for Texas A&M as the No. 10 Aggies host Vanderbilt in the season opener for both SEC teams on Saturday night in College Station, Texas.

The Aggies and third-year head coach Jimbo Fisher are coming off an 8-5 campaign capped by a Texas Bowl win against Oklahoma State.

Texas A&M placed a league-high eight players on the coaches’ three-team, preseason All-SEC squad. That includes first-team defensive lineman Bobby Brown III and second-team quarterback Kellen Mond, a senior who has thrown for 7,379 yards and 52 touchdowns while running for 1,315 yards and 18 scores.

Two returning starters for the Aggies recently opted out of the season: wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon, who led last year’s squad in catches (66) and receiving yards (872), and linebacker Anthony Hines III, who ranked second last year in tackles (73) and tackles for loss (10.5).

“It always catches you off guard, because you hate to lose those guys,” Fisher said this week. “But at the same time, with all the things happening out there today in this world and in recent times, there’s so many different things — the way they affect young men, the way they affect families.

“… There’s a lot of things that happen. We wish those guys nothing the best. We understand and respect everything they do. Those guys are outstanding students and outstanding people.”

The Commodores also had key players opt out, including a pair of probable starters on the offensive line in guard Cole Clemens and right tackle Jonathan Stewart.

That came after starting left tackle Devin Cochran transferred to Georgia Tech. Backup linemen Stephen Spanellis and Bryce Bailey also opted out, leaving a line that was already likely to struggle in a bad place.

That’s not a good spot to break in a new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator, but that’s Vandy’s task.

All four Commodores players who took snaps last year are gone. Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will likely go with true freshman Ken Seals, a Texas prep star at Weatherford High. Seals enrolled in January and has demonstrated touch, accuracy, a quick release and some escapability — all of which he’ll need on Saturday.

“I’m excited about where we are on the offensive line. We’ve got some guys who are still working their way up and their way back from quarantine,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “We’ve got a solid eight or nine guys we’re going to depend on heading into Game One.”

The Commodores went 3-9 last season, with each loss coming by at least 17 points. Unsurprisingly, the Aggies are 30.5-point favorites.

Vanderbilt pins its hopes on a defense that allowed 31.8 points a game last season. It, too, has a new coordinator in Ted Roof.

The Commodores return 11 starters and a good deal of experienced depth behind its first team. Linebackers Andre Mintze and Dimitri Moore made the coaches’ preseason third team, and defensive lineman Dayo Odeyingbo was a second-team pick.

–Field Level Media

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