Here's why Texas A&M will be the most overrated team in the country entering 2022
Almost every time I looked at a post-spring Top 25 ranking, I had the same thought.
Man, y’all are way too high on Texas A&M.
I say that as someone who was banging the drum for the Aggies at this time last year. I predicted that A&M would win 10 regular-season games in 2021, including the all-important showdown against Alabama (I admittedly backed off that pick the week of the game once Haynes King was out). I don’t think there’s any world in which Jimbo Fisher is on the hot seat, and I believe that the Aggies have a legitimate championship window from 2023-24.
But even A&M fans have to admit that a preseason top-5 ranking is … optimistic.
Even if Haynes King is healthy and looks the part, remember that we’re talking about a team who went 4-4 in SEC play and ranks No. 84 in FBS in percentage of returning production. That stat doesn’t account for losing defensive coordinator Mike Elko to Duke, and it was recorded before Demond Demas and Caleb Chapman hit the transfer portal.
If we were talking about a team like Ohio State, Alabama or Georgia with question marks like that, it’d be one thing. But we’re not. We’re talking about a team without a division title in the Big 12 or SEC this century. A&M hasn’t even had consecutive top-15 seasons since 1994-95.
So why then is A&M getting all of this love? Two reasons.
The first is that fresh off Georgia winning a national title and ending the 1980 jokes, A&M is the next long-suffering program that could end a championship drought. The Aggies’ title drought dates to 1939. It’s not a coincidence that A&M’s lofty preseason ranking coincided with Fisher signing the highest-rated recruiting class in the 247sports era. There’s buzz around College Station, as there should be.
The problem is that an elite freshman class isn’t a reason for a preseason top-5 ranking. Maybe it is in basketball, but it certainly isn’t in football.
The other reason for A&M’s buzz is obvious. Outside of Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State, there’s a significant drop-off. Why? Look at all these programs with new coaches:
- Notre Dame
Those teams are all usually right in that conversation near the top of the preseason rankings. On top of that, Clemson just had its worst season in 7 years, it lost both of its top assistants and Dabo Swinney’s refusal to utilize the transfer portal has the normally sure-handed Tigers facing more questions than answers.
(I initially had Clemson at No. 4 in my way-too-early top 10 and instantly regretted it. The Tigers won’t be at that spot when I update my rankings this fall.)
As a result, it’s a strange preseason top 10 to fill out. You’re either going to put a lot of faith in a first-year coach or you’re going to side with promising teams that don’t have rich history like Baylor, NC State and Utah. I opted more for the latter. Putting Baylor and Utah in the No. 5 to No. 7 range, fresh off New Year’s 6 bowl appearances, made more sense to me than giving preseason love to a program with a first-year coach like Notre Dame or USC (but I admit I’m higher on Oklahoma now than I was 4 months ago).
Let’s also remember another important detail here. Preseason rankings aren’t supposed to be about predicting a team’s final record. Strength of schedule shouldn’t have anything to do with a preseason ranking. If we’re talking about betting odds for regular-season win totals, that’s a different subject.
Preseason rankings do matter, though. In a sport with an 8-month offseason, preseason rankings sell recruits, tickets and narratives. There’s no denying the path to the Playoff is easier for a preseason top-5 team that goes undefeated compared to a preseason unranked team that goes undefeated.
Even if A&M improves, that path is still difficult. Given the production A&M lost, it’s hard to assume that Fisher is going to have the depth necessary to sustain a potential top-5 ranking. Fisher just had his first Round 1 prospect since Jalen Ramsey in 2016, when he still was at FSU. Mind you, he had the same coordinators in each of his first 4 seasons at A&M. At a place with abundant resources, that’s not a sign that he’s suddenly going to have a roster full of top-end NFL prospects, which is exactly what you need to compete at a top-5 level in the Playoff era.
Maybe this would be a different story if A&M had scholarships available to be active in the transfer portal, but that wasn’t the case. The Aggies got 2 players from the portal, 1 of which is Micaiah Overton, AKA the older brother of 5-star 2022 signee Lebbeus Overton and the other is, well, Max Johnson, AKA the older brother of 4-star 2022 signee Jake Johnson.
We don’t know that either will start. Max Johnson had the most casual 27-6 TD-INT ratio in the history of college football, though it was for a 6-win LSU team that ranked No. 80 in scoring. Even if Johnson beats out King for the starting job, is he suddenly about to take A&M’s offense into overdrive? It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely.
So then that begs the question — if A&M isn’t a top-5 team, where should it start? I’d say more like No. 12-14, and I’ll only say that because I’m cautiously optimistic about King being an X-factor. The offensive line should be better as a whole and Devon Achane has legitimate All-American potential. But a defense with nearly its entire front 7 to replace scares me, as does the dwindling amount of pass-catching options outside of Ainias Smith (Evan Stewart is trying to become the first true freshman receiver to ever pop in Fisher’s offense).
Yet even with those concerns, I fully expect far too many people to assume that the Aggies are next. Maybe sanity will set in over the summer and AP voters will wisely rethink just why so many publications put A&M in their spring top 5. Or perhaps that’s just wishful thinking.
All signs point to the Aggies being overrated to start 2022. If and when that happens, I’m fully prepared to sound like a broken record.
Man, y’all were too high on A&M.