Ready or Not, MORE College Football

John Lemon

Today I pick up where I left off predicting the records of our Big 12 and SEC Texas schools, along with LSU. Last time I wrote about Baylor, Texas Tech and TCU. Next up is Texas.

In years gone by, when discussing the Longhorns, I would have acknowledge their great history and tradition but, been kinda mean describing how they just seem to “fail upwards”, in recent years that are “good”, and just can’t seem to get out of their own way, in recent years that are “bad”. Well, now, one of my sons is a proud Texas Longhorn. Honestly, his mother and I are proud too. So, I will try to be kinder and gentler.

I really don’t think head coach Steve Sarkisian is a great coach, or even a historical Texas caliber coach. This is where I think the Longhorn’s problems will begin. That doesn’t mean the Longhorns won’t do well this season, because I believe they’ll have a good year, thanks to Tom Herman (who I think is overrated). What it means is that their success will be based on a lack of competition and athleticism on the other side of the field.

Texas has a question mark at quarterback, do they start the back-up from last year that has shown development and consistency (Casey Thompson), or does the fast, strong armed freshmen (Hudson Card) get the start? This decision should not be affected very much by the pass catchers, the receivers are a good group. My key factor would be which quarterback can help the offensive line with strength and mobility the way Sam Ehlinger did. Even with Ehlinger’s skill set, Texas gave up twice as many sacks as they made last year. The offensive line looks to be the same as last year with less talent, but that doesn’t mean it will stink. Texas has brought in Kyle Flood as the offensive coordinator, and while I don’t think he is a good fit for offensive coordinator, he is a good line coach, meaning preparation and play will be improved.

The running backs are the strength of the Texas offense. As a unit last year, they averaged over 5 yards a carry, and two of the top three running backs on the roster had averages over 6 yards per carry in several games. You should look for this to continue.

Defensively, coaches say it “all starts up front”. If the defensive line is the engine a defense runs on, Texas may not be able to get the engine to turn over. I really, don’t believe that will happen. The Longhorns added a good player (Ray Thornton) that transferred from LSU, and in spring practice the returners looked like they were coming together as a unit. Let’s see how the leadership of Keondre Coburn (nose tackle) works out. I don’t see a great pass rush or defensive havoc, but they should stop the run and will force enough double teams to cause opposing mistakes in pass protections.

The linebackers aren’t real good, and it will be up to an Alabama transfer (Ben Davis) to anchor them. This will be good news for opponents with close to equal talent, that can penetrate to the second level with their running game, have a good short passing game scheme, and/or can run play action.

In the secondary Texas returns three starters. They have experience and I look for them to start showing their talent on the field this year, instead of just in the preseason stat sheets. A good quarterback with a good deep threat receiver, or more than one decent deep threat reciever, will have some success on these guys, but all in all they will be good.

Texas starts off with 4 wins (Louisiana, Arkansas, Rice and Texas Tech). Then the Longhorns lose two to TCU and Oklahoma. After that Texas will beat Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas (stomping the “chicken hawks”), West Virginia, and Kansas State. Texas goes 10 and 2, heads off to a New Year’s bowl, and gives Coach Sarkisian all the undeserved credit.

Moving on to the Fighting Texas A&M Aggies. I really like this coaching staff and the group of players they have gotten at College Station. Be warned, A&M is my dark horse national champion.

Just like the Longhorns, the Aggies (even though they won’t ever admit it) have a question mark at quarterback. It’s not about who will start (Hayes King will be the starter) but, about how good will they be. The answer is good enough. King may be better (once he gets to play) than Kellen Mond, that’s his talent level. If he plays well, this season won’t even be a “speed bump” on the Aggies way to a national championship. If he doesn’t play well we get to see if Coach Fischer is right and anybody can play quarterback in his system.

What about running backs? Spiller (averaged more than 5 and a half yards per carry with over 1000 yards rushing) and Achane (averaged over 8 yards a carry with more than 350 yards rushing) will “spill over” into the back fields of every defense on their schedule.

What team in the SEC only gave up 7 sacks last season? Texas A&M. That’s because they gave up 3 to North Carolina in the Orange Bowl. An entire SEC regular season with ONLY 4 SACKS! This year’s offensive line isn’t last year’s, but same coach, same conditioning, and same game plan, plus they have added Jahmir Johnson from Tennessee. An untested quarterback with the new starters on the line will cause the sacks to increase, but A&M shouldn’t be in a position to need stellar play from the offensive line and quarterback to get the run game going. The only way I see that defenses can attack this line is in the middle, but good luck with that.

A&M’s receivers weren’t good last year, for several reasons. This year the unit is deep and looked pretty good over the spring. With the returning talent and experience, the A&M receivers can do everything that will be asked of them to complement their running game.

On the defensive line, the Aggies return three starters (one being an All American last year) and add a bunch of good players. Last year they racked up 28 sacks and only gave up an average of 92 YARDS PER GAME on the ground. They were some “bad dudes” and look to be almost as good (bad dudeish) this year. Watch out.

Kind of like their Longhorn rivals, the linebacker position is a question mark. It’s not because of a lack of ability to perform, like with Texas, it’s because I just don’t know who will step up to take Buddy Johnson’s place. This is a pretty good unit, with 2 returning starters. Linebackers are not a weakness for the Aggies, I just don’t see a marquee player.

Here comes the “no fly zone” enforced by the Texas A&M secondary. The Aggies could look like a good NFL secondary this year. There are seven players back with starting experience. That’s not even recognizing the fact that each of these players is athletic with a very high position skill set. I dread the weekend in October when the Aggies travel to Columbia, Missouri, to play my Tigers.

The Aggies will go undefeated in 2021. This is the year that it is a true “coin toss” on who wins the A&M-Alabama game, and Nick Saban knows it. Your Fighting Aggies will beat Kent State, Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, Mississippi St., Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina, Auburn, Mississippi, Prairie View A&M, and LSU. A&M won’t be tested until the Alabama game, and if they aren’t hobbled by injuries, Alabama goes down. My Tigers just don’t have the talent this year and A&M is too good. So even though I may cry, Texas A&M goes 12 and 0 and heads to the playoff. If they go 12 and 0 in their regular season, get ready to crown them National Champions.

Last, but least, are the Louisiana State University Tigers. That’s a lot for Louisianans to spell so we shortened it to LSU. The purple and gold Tigers will have a good year by everyone’s standards except an LSU fan.

At quarterback LSU returns Myles Brennan. He is talented and smart, but has a new offensive coordinator (Jake Peetz). Who knows if he is will be a good coordinator, but he has been a solid quarterback’s coach at Alabama and in the NFL. If Brennan can figure out the offensive scheme, the Tigers are going to be good. I think he will.

LSU’s running back room is pretty empty as far as experience goes. John Emery returns, he was the only guy on scholarship early this year, and he has yet to show he can produce in college like he did in high school. Mr. Emory should be able to succeed at doing what Brennan needs (unless it’s rush for 100 plus yards per game), and the freshmen on the roster were really good in high school, but I don’t see a 1000 yard rusher in any of them.

With the lack of experience at running back, it’s a good thing LSU has a top-notch offensive line. The Tigers return the entire line along with their back-ups. Last year was a mess, with COVID and injuries, but this year they will “gel” and, barring injuries, do a whole lot better.

If LSU is inexperienced at running back, they aren’t much more experienced at receiver/tight end. Their starting pass catchers are going to be freshmen with one exception, Jaray Jenkins (sophomore). LSU has more than just freshmen at these positions, but the underclassmen look better. There will be one bright spot though, Kayshon Boutte (freshman) has the speed, size, and skills to be a 1000 yard receiver. Even with its lack of experience, the talent in this unit will be able to succeed at “meat and potatoes” things, and should be ok, even if they don’t understand every facet of opposing coverage.

Coach Orgeron loves his defense, and on the defensive line LSU returns 4 starters, and the back-ups look like they could be even better than the starters. At linebacker, LSU stays solid returning Damone Clark (over 60 tackles last year), and adding Mike Jones (right around 30 tackles last year) from Clemson. I can’t see any real problems for LSU at the linebacker position.

LSU learned last year you can’t have a great defense without CONSISTENCY in the secondary. Pre-season superstar Derek Stingley, …wasn’t, and they lose JaCoby Stevens to the NFL. This unit stunk up a lot of games last year. In 2021, Stingley is back (with the same hype but having attended the “school of hard knocks”) with help from Major Burns (Georgia transfer) and Eli Ricks. Having more practices this year, and some hard taught lessons from last year, I don’t think the new defensive scheme will confuse the players. They will be substantially better this year. Shoot, they couldn’t be worse?

The Bayou Bengals will start out on a tear. LSU will beat UCLA, McNeese St., and Central Michigan. Three of their next five are really toss-ups on paper. Mississippi St. should be an easy win, but Auburn will be close. They will stomp Kentucky, but have a real battle beating Florida, and after living dangerously to squeak out a win against Florida, get beat by Ole Miss. Next, LSU loses to Alabama, but beats Arkansas and UL Monroe, finishing the season with a loss against Texas A&M. LSU goes 9 and 3, Coach “O” saves his job and goes unhappily to a bowl game, not to the playoff.

I hope you have as much fun reading these predictions as I had writing them.