UCLA football 2017 season preview: Texas A&M

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has led the Aggies to three underwhelming 8-5 seasons. (Photo by Sam Craft/AP)

With 12 days until UCLA takes the stage at Pac-12 Media Days at Hollywood and Highland, it’s about time we start looking ahead to football season. Each day, we’ll examine a UCLA opponent and outline possible storylines for the matchup. Let’s start from the top:

Texas A&M at UCLA
Sunday, Sept. 3 | Rose Bowl
4 p.m. PT, FOX

The heat rises under Kevin Sumlin’s seat as Texas A&M’s record remains the same. The Aggies have had three straight 8-5 seasons and have yet to win a division title entering their sixth year in the SEC.

Strong starts followed by consistent November collapses have doomed the Aggies (8-5, 4-4 SEC in 2016) to mediocrity. Texas A&M’s upset victory over then-No. 16 UCLA in the season opener last year propelled the Aggies to a No. 4 ranking in the first College Football Playoff rankings before they went 1-3 in November and lost the Texas Bowl to Kansas State.

Flooded with questions at SEC Media Days about his job security, Sumlin said he already feels the most pressure to win from himself.

“Nobody wants to win more than me,” the head coach said this past week.

Game Storylines

— Same game, different place: UCLA gets a do-over for last year’s overtime loss, and this time, it’ll be at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins haven’t lost a season-opening game at home since 2004. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen threw three interceptions against the Aggies in Kyle Field, but didn’t throw any during the three home games he played before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. In fact, of Rosen’s 16 career interceptions, only four have come in the Rose Bowl.  

— Quarterback questions: Texas A&M has three quarterbacks, but no clear starter between senior Jake Hubenak, redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and top recruit Kellen Mond. Hubenak, who started his career as a walk-on at Oklahoma State, is the only option with game experience. He started two games last year when Trevor Knight went down with a shoulder injury and nabbed with a win against UTSA and a loss to Ole Miss. Mond was a five-star dual-threat quarterback from IMG Academy according to Rivals.com and ended up in College Station after Texas A&M’s brief flirtation with former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham ended with Stidham transferring to Auburn. Starkel held an offer from UCLA out of Liberty Christian High in Argyle, Texas, but chose the home-state Aggies.

— Respite for Rosen?: The Texas A&M defense, led by defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, terrorized Rosen in last year’s game. The UCLA quarterback was sacked five times while the Aggies piled up 10 total tackles for loss. With Garrett and Hall both onto the NFL, Texas A&M will have to look elsewhere for pass rush. UCLA’s much-maligned offensive line will have a chance to show improvement against a weakened Texas A&M front.

Players to watch

— WR Christian Kirk: Kirk is Texas A&M’s only returning receiver. But he is a good one. The junior from Scottsdale, Ariz., led the SEC in receptions last year with 83 and had three punt returns for touchdowns, the most in the country. He earned all-conference honors at three positions — receiver, all-purpose and return specialist — and was named a preseason first-team All-SEC selection in those positions Friday.

— RB Trayveon Williams: Although the Aggies will have an inexperienced quarterback, their starting signal-caller will receive a big boost from Williams. He was the first true freshman in Texas A&M history to rush for 1,000 yards. After racking up 1,057 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground last year, Williams was named to the True Freshman All-America Team by ESPN and the Freshman All-SEC Team.

— S Armani Watts: Watts’ decision to return for his senior year was a big boost for a defense that will lose about half of its starting lineup. With cornerback Nick Harvey expected to miss the entire year due to a knee injury, Watts is one of only two returning starters in the secondary. Cornerback Priest Willis returns with seven starts in 2016. Last year, Watts missed four games due to a knee injury, including the final three, and compiled 56 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. He’s the team’s leading active tackler with 241 in his career.

Texas A&M in a GIF:

via GIPHY

UCLA 2017 schedule:

Sun., Sept. 3: Texas A&M at UCLA, 4:30 p.m. PT, FOX/FOX Deportes
Sat., Sept. 9: Hawai’i at UCLA, 2 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks
Sat., Sept. 16: UCLA at Memphis, 9 a.m. PT, ABC/ESPN2 mirror
Sat., Sept. 23: UCLA at Stanford
Sat., Sept. 30: Colorado at UCLA
Sat., Oct. 7: BYE
Sat., Oct. 14: UCLA at Arizona
Sat., Oct. 21: Oregon at UCLA
Sat., Oct. 28: UCLA at Washington
Fri., Nov. 3: UCLA at Utah, 6:30 p.m. PT, FS1/FOX Deportes
Sat., Nov. 11: Arizona State at UCLA
Sat., Nov. 18: UCLA at USC
Fri. Nov. 24: California at UCLA, 7:30 p.m. FS1/FOX Deportes
Fri., Dec. 1 or Sat., Dec. 2: Pac-12 Football Championship Game

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  • Sas

    Thuc Nhi,
    This game looked a lot more exciting around this time last year and even after losing at A&M it looked like both teams would be tough from there. But both programs have continued to fall apart consistently in the bigger moment’s of the season. What do you think about this game? Who’s seat is hotter Mora’s or Sumlin’s? And can you guess-stimate the crowds attendance for this one? Both teams are looking for respect and this game is a must win in my opinion.

  • Tyler Durden

    SAS your comment is sort of funny to me. Every year is a new slate for each team. All teams face the same challenges, and it only takes a few key player injuries for the season to tank. That reality applies to all teams. “Hot seats” for coaches occur when the players lose faith in the coach and turn on the coach. I don’t see that happening with coach Mora anytime soon.

    • Pudly76

      Offensive line couldn’t block, receivers couldn’t catch and you don’t think there’s a hot seat? I wonder how bad it needs to get.

      • Tyler Durden

        And the running backs coach, receivers coach, and oline coach are all replaced. There are also new players coming in. Again, each each is a new slate for every team. The idea that last year translates to the next is ignorant. Back to reality.

        • Pudly76

          What is ignorant, is not realizing that th last two seasons you’ve replaced you OC, without positive results. That is reality, the fact that your receivers drop passes when wide open has nothing to do with the coach, they’re open, they just can’t catch. That’s reality. You my friend are fantasizing.

          • Tyler Durden

            You should go to vegas. Bet on the season records of teams and who will be fired at the end of the year. Since you think you know so much.

          • Pudly76

            Your the one that used the word ignorant first, intolerant of other views. Silly boy. I was only stating a contrary opinion. Fact is I’ve been watching college football for over 50 yrs, and I don’t claim to know it all, but last year will always bleed into this year, and this year into next. Turn arounds are more the exception than the rule.

          • Tyler Durden

            I call it like I see it. Back to reality. Silly boy.

          • Pudly76

            Then why don’t you pick up any college football magazine and educate yourself, he is listed on the hotseat in everyone, not some not a few, all of them. Or you can bury your head in the sand some more.

          • Tyler Durden

            The reality is that SC has just as much of a chance of going back under sanctions again as they do winning the rose bowl again. No one knows how it will all play out. All teams start fresh each year. New coaches new players, new uniforms etc….

          • Pudly76

            Where do you come up with that? What happens to all the underclass men? Your line is the same, even if one is replaced it will be mostly the same.
            As far as sanctions go, it would be a three to four year process of charges, answers, findings and appeals. Good luck.

          • Tyler Durden

            There are new players coming in. I’m not going to pick up some magazine and read somebody else’s opinion like you. The UCLA football staff does not care about some magazine opinion. Coaches are on the hot seat when internal staff and players lose faith in the coach. I don’t see that happening any time soon.

    • Sas

      Tyler. Good luck.