Why Texas A&M can win the playoff: Wealth of talent, favorable slate
EDITOR'S NOTE: FOX Sports college football columnists Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman think a handful of teams have a legitimate shot at hoisting the College Football Playoff trophy this season. This week, they'll make a case for each of those squads.
TEXAS A&M AGGIES
1. What we like: Kevin Sumlin barely missed signing his third straight top 10 recruiting class in February. Even amid a disappointing 8-5 campaign last season, A&M began showing off that wealth of young talent, led by defensive end Myles Garrett, quarterback Kyle Allen, receiver Speedy Noil and safety Armani Watts. With Allen now a sophomore surrounded by high-end receivers, expect Sumlin to produce prolific offense in the same vein as his Case Keenum-led Houston and Johnny Manziel-led Aggies squads. (And expect touted true freshman QB Kyler Murray to play some part in it.)
Sumlin also made one of the most significant defensive coordinator hires of the offseason in luring John Chavis from LSU, who produced top 12 national defenses four of the past five years. He inherits a set of personnel ideally suited to his preferred 4-3 scheme. Preseason All-American Garrett and emerging star Daeshon Hall will key a ferocious pass-rush and help the Aggies improve from porous to adequate on defense. And that in turn helps A&M make a 2014 TCU-like year-over-year jump.
2. What concerns us: Simply put, the defense was really bad the past two years, and Chavis alone might not have the necessary impact. The Aggies still lack quality depth in several areas, and they are even trying out a career running back, Brandon Williams, at cornerback. Many of A&M's key veterans have a ceiling; the unit's improvement will depend in large part on how quickly several first-year players develop.
A&M's offensive line also regressed last season after turning out several high NFL draft picks in Sumlin's first two years. The unit is expected to be more physically capable, but it needs to produce a more consistent rushing attack if the Aggies hope to score points in bunches against an Alabama or LSU.
3. What would the committee think? Arguably A&M's greatest asset in navigating the treacherous SEC West is its relatively favorable schedule. With their Arkansas game set for a neutral field (Arlington, Texas), the Aggies play just three conference road games -- and one of those is at lowly Vanderbilt. Its other crossover foe is South Carolina. Both Alabama and Auburn come to College Station, and A&M gets a bye before 'Bama.
Nevertheless, that same slate should please the committee, particularly since the Aggies open with Pac-12 contender Arizona State in Houston. Any A&M playoff aspirations likely go out the window with a Week 1 loss, because it's unrealistic to think Sumlin's team will run the table in SEC play.