- Travis Haney, ESPN Staff Writer
BRISTOL, Conn. – As detailed earlier in the week, Auburn and Texas A&M both had the same central issue last season en route to 8-5 finishes: the propensity to give up big plays, and a lot of points.
Both programs responded by hiring proven, greatly respected SEC defensive coordinators (Will Muschamp at Auburn, John Chavis at A&M) – and yet there’s a substantial gulf between projections for the Tigers and Aggies. That’s pretty striking when you consider that the teams did have identical records, A&M won its bowl game (Auburn didn't) – oh, and the Aggies beat Auburn, on the road.
But when the coaches’ preseason poll was revealed Thursday morning, Auburn fans quickly found the Tigers at No. 7 while A&M fans scrolled and scrolled, never to find their team. The Aggies will begin the season unranked.
The A&M staff, and even other coaches, is certain Chavis will make an immediate difference.
“He’ll make it clear what he wants from them, and he’ll get those results,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, who had two stints as Tennessee’s OC when Chavis was the Volunteers’ DC.
Chavis’ units have consistently had excellent line play, and in College Station he’ll inherit arguably the conference’s most disruptive pass rusher. Myles Garrett last fall broke Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC record for sacks by a freshman, finishing the year with 11.5. He’ll be joined this season by freshman tackle Daylon Mack, the No. 6 overall prospect in the '15 recruiting class.
Add budding stars such as sophomores Otaro Alaka and Armani Watts, and there’s confidence that the defense will show improvement, and perhaps dramatically. At minimum, the case is as strong as Auburn's to do so.
On offense, Kyle Allen seized the quarterback job late in his freshman season and leveraged the December practice time to become the offensive MVP in the bowl win against West Virginia. A&M coaches believe fully in his ability to take a step in his first full season as the starter, especially with help from high-end receiver talent in Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil and freshman Christian Kirk.
Knowing that Kyler Murray, the No. 1 dual-threat QB in the '15 class, is right behind him will only propel Allen.