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Our 13th annual preseason Top 25: No. 6 Texas A&M set to make another run at CFP berth

Texas A&M tight end Jalen Wydermyer, center, celebrates his touchdown catch against Arkansas with teammates Isaiah Spiller, left, and Hezekiah Jones. All three will play important roles this season for the Aggies.

For the last 12 years, the American-Statesman's sports staff has spent July breaking down our own preseason Top 25 rankings. Last year's eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, second, third and ninth in our 2020 poll.

No. 6 Texas A&M

The Aggies made their move last season, their most successful season since Johnny Manziel's Heisman Trophy-winning 2012 campaign when they went 11-2, upset No. 1 Alabama and blew out Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. But similar success this season will have to come with an unproven quarterback. With Kellen Mond now in the pros, the battle is between two freshmen, Zach Calzada and Haynes King, who have combined to appear in five career games. Look for RB Isaiah Spiller to be the featured performer in this year's offense; he was a 1,000-yard rusher with nine touchdowns last season.

Texas A&M was No. 14 in our preseason poll last year. The Aggies were No. 5 in the final CFP rankings and No. 4 in the AP and coaches polls.

More:Texas sends critical letter to Big 12 officials, signaling the Longhorns intend to leave for SEC

About the Aggies

2020: 9-1, 8-1 in the SEC — second place in the West Division behind eventual national champion Alabama. The Aggies beat North Carolina 41-27 in the Orange Bowl to finish the season with nine straight wins.

Coach: Jimbo Fisher, 109-33 in 11 years at Florida State and A&M, and 26-10 in three seasons with the Aggies. He won the 2013 national championship with the Seminoles.

Returning starters: 14 (5 offense, 9 defense)

Shoes to fill: QB Kellen Mond (Vikings, 3rd round); DT Bobby Brown (Rams, 4th); OT Dan Moore (Steelers, 4th); LB Buddy Johnson (Steelers, 4th); WR Camron Buckley (transfer, Indiana); DB Derrick Tucker (transfer, Tennessee State); WR Shadrach Banks (transfer, TCU).

Catching up

The Aggies don't appear to be altogether pleased about the possible move of Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 to the SEC. The arrival of the Longhorns would once again plunge Texas A&M into big brother's shadow a decade after the last time they met on the field. Fisher has built his program into title contention, but dealing with a possible division that would see Alabama leave but Texas and OU join definitely would spice things up.

Texas A&M running back Isaiah Spiller should be the focal point of the Aggies' offense. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season and scored nine touchdowns.

Returning leaders

  • Passing: Haynes King 2-4-59, 1/1 (2nd on team)
  • Rushing: Isaiah Spiller 188-1,036-9 (led team), Devon Achane 43-364-4 (2nd), Ainias Smith 49-293-4 (3rd)
  • Receiving: TE Jalen Wydermyer 46-506-6 (led team), RB Ainias Smith 43-564-6 (2nd), Chase Lane 29-409-2 (3rd)
  • Tackles: LB Aaron Hansford 49 (2nd), DB Leon O'Neal Jr. 48 (3rd)
  • Sacks: DL Tyree Johnson and Michael Clemons 4 (T-2nd), LB Aaron Hansford 3 (5th)
  • Interceptions: DB Leon O'Neal Jr. 2 (led team)

More:Longhorns spend almost $430,000 installing new FieldTurf inside Royal-Memorial Stadium

Returning all-conference

  • Offense: RB Isaiah Spiller (1st team), TE Jalen Wydermyer (2nd), OL Kenyon Green (2nd)
  • Defense: DL McKinnley Jackson (all-freshmen)
Haynes King was Kellen Mond's backup last season and ended up redshirting. With Mond now a Minnesota Viking, Texas A&M needs either King or fellow redshirt freshman Zach Calzada to step up and win the starting job.

FYI

How the pandemic affected Texas A&M: The Aggies roared to a 5-1 start, with the only loss coming to eventual national champion Alabama. The mid-November matchup against Tennessee was moved to Dec. 12 after the Aggies suffered a virus outbreak. That date had been slated for A&M-Ole Miss, but that game was ruled a no-contest due to a player and staffer testing positive. The Aggies would have surely been favored in that canceled game in College Station — which could have been the difference in Notre Dame getting that fourth CFP spot instead of the Aggies.

Rebuilding the line: Four offensive linemen left, leaving Kenyon Green as the only returning starter. The good news is the Aggies have signed three consecutive nationally top 10-ranked recruiting classes, including the 2021 group (No. 8) that yielded highly-regarded line prospects from the Houston area, guard Bryce Foster and tackle Reuben Fatheree. This year's line looks like it'll be experienced at the outside and young inside. Green, the anchor, moves from left guard to left tackle. Layden Robinson, who played four games at guard last year, should slide into Green's left guard spot. Redshirt freshman Aki Ogunbiyi looks like the leader at right guard, though Josh Bankhead, another redshirt freshman, also is a possibility, and Tennessee graduate transfer Jahmir Johnson would take over at right tackle. At center, the Aggies have their latest Matthews — Luke, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and the younger brother of former A&M standouts Kevin, Jake and Mike.

Worth the money: A&M was criticized in 2017 for giving Fisher a guaranteed $75 million contract for 10 years, but those critics have been largely silenced. The Aggies went 9-1 last season and were within one spot of their first CFP appearance. Fisher won his national title at Florida State in his fourth season there, and this will be his fourth in College Station.

More:Texas football's record against SEC teams really might surprise you

2020 national stat rankings

Where Texas A&M ranked nationally in various statistical categories last season — and how the Aggies ranked in 2019.

  • Scoring: 37th (2019 — 62nd, +25 spots)
  • Scoring defense: 28th (T-37th, +9)
  • Total offense: 33rd (72nd, +39)
  • Total defense: 9th (29th, +20)
  • Passing: 59th (64th, +5)
  • Pass defense: 56th (41st, -15)
  • Rushing: 27th (68th, +41)
  • Rush defense: 2nd (30th, +28)
  • Sacks: 27th (58th, +31)
  • Interceptions: 29th (61st, +32)
  • Red zone offense: 36th (41st, +5)
  • Red zone defense: 117th (67th, -50)
  • Turnover margin: 25th (T-100th, +75)
  • Time of possession: 3rd (11th, +8)

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25 Ole Miss: Rebels have plenty of firepower to work with

No. 24 Washington: Huskies back for more after 3-2 season

No. 23 Louisiana:Ragin' Cajuns out to prove that they belong

No. 22 Penn State:Nittany Lions want to keep the momentum going

No. 21 Oklahoma State:Cowboys have offensive questions, for a change

No. 20 Iowa:Hawkeyes hope this is the year to bump the Buckeyes

No. 19 Coastal Carolina:Upstart Chanticleers look here to stay, ready or not

No. 18 Texas:Longhorns are starting over at coach, quarterback, offense, defense

No. 17 Wisconsin:Badgers eager for a bounce-back season in Big Ten

No. 16 Miami:Hurricanes banking on D'Eric King's return from injury

No. 15 Oregon:Ducks out to make it three straight Pac-12 title game wins

No. 14 LSU:Last year's hard knocks may pay off for this year's Tigers

No. 13 Indiana:Hoosiers have restocked their shelves with transfer talent

No. 12 USC:Trojans are trending in the right direction in Pac-12

No. 11 Florida:Minus the big names, Gators starting over on offense

No. 10 North Carolina:Tar Heels work transfer portal to keep things going

No. 9 Notre Dame:Irish should lean on Williams and the running game

No. 8 Cincinnati:Bearcats have risen to the Group of Five mountaintop

No. 7 Iowa State:Returning star power has Cyclones looking strong again

No. 6 Texas A&M:Set to make another run at CFP berth

Coming tomorrow

Our top five begins with No. 5. Want a hint?

This SEC school has won as many Heisman Trophies as it has national championships: 2.