Aggies

Running back Isaiah Spiller is back to lead the Texas A&M offense after rushing for 1,036 yards as a sophomore last season.

COLLEGE STATION — For the first time since arriving at Texas A&M, head coach Jimbo Fisher doesn’t have Kellen Mond at quarterback.

But with a veteran-laden defense and a powerful running game, the sixth-ranked Aggies believe they can contend for their first national title since 1939 despite a new face at quarterback.

Fisher returns for his fourth season at Texas A&M after leading the Aggies to a 9-1 record last year, with their only loss coming to national champion Alabama in the second game of the season.

Haynes King and Zach Calzada have been taking snaps with the first team since camp started, and Fisher wouldn’t say which one of them leads the quarterback competition so far.

“We’re in a really, really good situation,” he said. “I love our quarterbacks, however that situation turns out.”

Offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey also didn’t indicate who he favors for the job and raved about both players.

“Haynes is probably one of the best pure athletes on the team, but Zach has also got some athletic ability of his own,” Dickey said. “Zach may be one of the best throwers of the ball that I’ve worked with. He’s a very gifted thrower. Haynes is also a very gifted thrower. Both are very competitive.”

Regardless of who wins the job, Fisher and Dickey are counting on the team’s veterans to help ease the quarterback’s transition into a starting role.

“The one thing you have to guard against with a new quarterback is the feeling they have to make every play and everything is all on their shoulders,” Dickey said.

Speedy Spiller

Running back Isaiah Spiller is expected to power Texas A&M’s offense after running for 1,036 yards as a sophomore last season. He was a Doak Walker Award finalist in 2020 after ranking third in the Southeastern Conference by averaging 103.6 yards rushing a game during a season in which the Aggies ranked second in the SEC in yards rushing per game.

“He’s as good a running back as there is as far as making people miss, running between the tackles, catching the ball out of the backfield, and then we can line him up in the slot,” Dickey said. “He’s a playmaker out there.”

Texas A&M’s running game should get a boost this season with the development of Devon Achane, a sprinter on the track team, who ran for 364 yards on just 43 carries as a freshman last season.

Defensive leaders

DeMarvin Leal leads a defense that returns nine starters, and the defensive end is projected to be one of the top players in the country. The junior led the Aggies last season with eight quarterback hurries and had 37 tackles. At 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds, he is a disruptive force whose fumble recovery against Florida last season set up Texas A&M’s game-winning touchdown.

Anchoring the line

Left guard Kenyon Green is the only returning starter on the offensive line. He was a standout last season, helping the Aggies rush for 205.1 yards a game while allowing just seven sacks all year. The 6-4, 325-pound Green started every game last season and has 23 starts in his career.

Schedule

The Aggies open the season Sept. 4 against Kent State before playing Colorado in Denver on Sept. 11. They open SEC play Sept. 25 when they face Arkansas at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

The game already circled on many calendars is Oct. 9 when Texas A&M hosts top-ranked Alabama. The Aggies will try to snap an eight-game skid against the Crimson Tide and get their first win in the series since a 29-24 victory in 2012 in Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Trophy-winning season.

The schedule also includes home dates against Auburn and South Carolina, and visits to Missouri and LSU.