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CU Buffs opponent preview: Texas A&M aiming for national title

Aggies finished fifth in the final College Football Playoff rankings

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In his fourth season as head football coach at Florida State, in 2013, Jimbo Fisher led the Seminoles to a national title.

Entering his fourth season at Texas A&M, Fisher is aiming to match that feat.

“I’m all for it if that’s what happens, I promise you that,” Fisher said this week at SEC media days. “I think from the cultural change of you putting how you believe, what you want, how you want to play, the things you want to do into place, I think from that standpoint and the success standpoint we’ve had, I think there are a lot of similarities (to Florida State).”

Leading up to preseason camp, BuffZone.com will preview each of Colorado’s 2021 opponents and in this second installment, we look at the Texas A&M Aggies.

When the Buffaloes meet the Aggies on Sept. 11 in Denver, they will see a program that is significantly improved from the days when these teams were Big 12 Conference rivals.

CU won four of six meetings with A&M from 2000-09 and both losses were by one score. During that decade, A&M averaged 6.3 wins per year and never finished a season in the Top 25 rankings.

The current Aggies have national title aspirations.

Last season, the Aggies (9-1) were fifth in the final College Football Playoff rankings – missing the CFP semifinals by one spot – and then finished fourth in the final Associated Press poll, their best final ranking since winning the 1939 national title.

Although four-year starting quarterback Kellen Mond is gone – he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in April – the Aggies have 15 starters back and have been ranked among the top six or seven in the country by most publications.

“Very excited about our football team coming up,” Fisher said. “I feel like we have a very good team. We’re making a lot of good progress with the culture of our organization. We’re getting to where we need to be and starting to be able to compete for championships and compete at the highest levels, which is why we’re there and what we’re there for.”

The biggest obstacle in front of A&M’s title hopes is Alabama, the defending national champ and annual favorite for the crown. Alabama and A&M are both on the SEC West division and that’s the team Fisher has targeted to beat. A&M has lost eight in a row to the Crimson Tide and the last three haven’t been close, but Fisher is working on setting a new standard.

“How you do that is that Kent State is Alabama; Colorado is Alabama; New Mexico is Alabama,” he said. “You play at that standard all the time.”

To do that this year, the Aggies have to first find a replacement for Mond. They are loaded with talent at running back and receiver, have maybe the best tight end in the country, one of the best offensive linemen and nine starters back from one of the nation’s best defenses.

At quarterback, it’s a new era, with sophomore Zach Calzada and freshman Haynes King going into preseason camp battling for the job.

“Hopefully Kellen, how he prepared, how he grew, and what he did is passed on to those guys,” Fisher said. “I think he’s educated those guys.

“I think Zach is an NFL talent. I think Haynes King is an NFL talent. … Those guys have great minds. I’m telling you, I was extremely pleased with both of those guys in spring ball. They have great knowledge of what we’re doing. … I think we’re in a really, really good situation.”

If the Aggies get their quarterback situation settled, they could give Fisher an opportunity to play for his second national title.

“This team, we’re ready,” defensive end DeMarvin Leal said at SEC media days. “We know what our standard is, and we know we’ve all made the commitment to each other just to be the best that we are and to do that every single day. As far as playoffs, we’re definitely going to be able to work our tails off to get there.”

Texas A&M Aggies

Date with CU: Sept. 11, 1:30 p.m., at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver

Head coach: Jimbo Fisher, 4th year (26-10; 109-33 career)

Series: Colorado leads 6-3

Aggies in 2020: 9-1, 8-1 in SEC

Offensive players to watch (2020 statistics):

  • RB Devon Achane, So., 5-foot-9, 185 pounds (43 att., 364 yards, 4 TD; 5 rec., 97 yards, 1 TD)
  • QB Zach Calzada, So., 6-4, 200
  • LT Kenyon Green, Jr., 6-4, 325 (2nd-team All-American at guard)
  • QB Haynes King, Fr., 6-3, 200 (2-for-4, 59 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; rush: 6 att., 43 yards)
  • WR Chase Lane, So., 6-0, 190 (29 rec., 409 yards, 2 TD)
  • RB/WR Ainias Smith, Jr., 5-10, 190 (43 rec., 564 yards, 6 TD; rush: 49 att., 293 yards, 4 TD)
  • RB Isaiah Spiller, Jr., 6-1, 225 (188 att., 1,036 yards, 9 TD; 20 rec., 193 yards)
  • TE Jalen Wydermyer, Jr., 6-5, 255 (46 rec., 506 yards, 6 TD)

Defensive players to watch:

  • LB Aaron Hansford, Sr., 6-3, 240 (49 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 3 sacks)
  • DT McKinnley Jackson, So., 6-2, 335 (13 tackles, 2 TFL, 1.5 sacks)
  • CB Jaylon Jones, So., 6-2, 205 (30 tackles, 6 pass breakups)
  • CB Myles Jones, Sr., 6-4, 185 (39 tackles, 2 TFL, 5 PBU)
  • DE DeMarvin Leal, Jr., 6-4, 290 (37 tackles, 7 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT)
  • S Leon O’Neal Jr., Sr., 6-1, 210 (48 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU)
  • DT Jayden Peevy, Sr., 6-6, 310 (34 tackles, 5 TFL)
  • S Demani Richardson, Jr., 6-1, 210 (36 tackles, 2.5 TFL)

Notable: This is the first meeting between the former Big 12 rivals since a 35-34 CU win on Nov. 7, 2009, in Boulder. … CU is 4-1 against the Aggies at home. … A&M has 15 returning starters, including nine on defense. … Spiller was one of only three SEC running backs to top 1,000 yards (1,036) last season. … Calzada, competing for the starting job at quarterback, didn’t have any stats in 2020, but was 12-for-24 for 133 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in 2019. … Last season, A&M ranked among the top three in the SEC in several defensive categories, including total yards allowed (317.3 yards per game), pass defense (225.3), run defense (92.0) and points allowed (21.7). … Senior kicker Seth Small made 11 of 13 field goals in 2020 and 29 of 36 over the past two years. … Senior Jahmir Johnson is expected to take over at right tackle after transferring from Tennessee, where he started at left tackle. … Green, Leal and Wydermyer have all received preseason first-team All-American recognition from various publications.