Aug. 29 NCAA Football Preview — Texas State (0-0) at No. 12 Texas A&M (0-0)

(Kellen Mond photo courtesy Adam Hagy/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Thursday, Aug. 29, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, 8:10 p.m. EDT.

After overachieving in his first season at College Station, Jimbo Fisher looks to begin a better encore act as 12th-ranked Texas A&M opens its season Thursday against Texas State.

The Aggies finished runners-up to Alabama in the SEC West and capped Fisher’s inaugural season with four straight wins. They pounded North Carolina State 52-13 in the Gator Bowl for their first bowl victory in four seasons, and preseason expectations again have them battling LSU and Auburn for second behind the Crimson Tide in the West.

Junior Kellen Mond returns at quarterback for Texas A&M, making positive progress under center last year after throwing for 3,107 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2018. He also added 474 rushing yards and seven TDs, and those numbers may increase until the Aggies find a consistent replacement for Trayveon Williams and his 1,760 rushing yards.

Texas State has won 10 games combined in its last four seasons and is coming off a last-place finish in the West Division of the Sun Belt Conference after going 3-9. Jake Spavital has been tasked with rebuilding the Bobcats, with the 34-year-old having served as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas A&M, California, and West Virginia over the last five seasons before arriving in San Marcos.

Spavital expected to start Witt at QB for Bobcats

Spavital is making his first appearance at College Station since 2015 and has garnered a reputation for developing quarterbacks at all his previous stops, with seven of them playing in the NFL at one point, including 2018 Heisman winner and No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray.

That is not to say Tyler Vitt will suddenly challenge Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence for college football’s most prestigious individual trophy this year after beating out Gresch Jensen and Jaylen Gipson.

But Spavital is going to do all he can to give the sophomore every chance to succeed. Vitt, who took over as starter midway through 2018, completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 1,159 yards and seven touchdowns in nine games but was also intercepted 10 times.

“You guys probably know, I’m pretty greedy with quarterbacks. That’s my baby,” Spavital told the San Marcos Daily Record at the opening of fall camp. “And these guys have got to earn it. Nothing’s gonna be handed to them. You know, I mark and manage every single thing that they do, from a one-on-one rep to a walkthrough rep to a team rep, seven-on-seven. Everything’s monitored, everything is recorded.”

Vitt’s top target will be Hutch White, who had 34 catches for 298 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Fellow junior Jeremiah Haydel is the team’s top deep threat and caught 16 passes for 324 yards and four scores last year.

Texas State allowed 30 or more points on six occasions and forced only 10 turnovers in its final nine games after recording eight takeaways in the first three. The Bobcats, though, have a pair of solid linebackers in Bryan London II and Nikolas Daniels.

London was an all-Sun Belt first-team selection after leading the conference with 109 tackles. Daniels was right behind him with 108, including seven for losses, as the seniors anchor Texas State’s 3-4 defense.

The Bobcats have not fared well against ranked opponents since making the jump to FBS in 2012, losing all four games by a combined 198-29 margin. That includes a 64-3 pummeling at home by then-No. 6 Houston in the most recent such matchup in 2016.

It’s also a family affair for Spavital, whose brother Zac is the defensive coordinator.

“I like what I see in our coaching staff,” said Jake Spavital. “My brother, Zac Spavital, is in his first season at defensive coordinator, and he’s doing a great job at implementing his defense. It was just timing. We were looking around at possible candidates, and then we found out Bob Stitt was available. I’ve always admired his work. Bob Stitt at offensive coordinator will play a big part for us, and we couldn’t be happier to have him on board. I’ve always admired him, dating back to his time as head coach at Colorado School of Mines. Hopefully, he can bring what he was doing there over to us, here at Texas State.”

Mond key to meeting high expectations at A&M

Fisher is expecting plenty of Mond, which is understandable given Texas A&M’s season-ending four-game winning streak in which he threw for 855 yards and 12 touchdowns against only two interceptions in 123 attempts.

While the touchdown number is partially skewed because of the marathon seven-overtime win over LSU in which he had six scoring passes, the pair have definitely hit a comfort level in terms of expectations and performance.

“He understands he has to be a student of the game, and I think that’s the most fun we have,” Fisher told The Eagle about Mond. “He works his tail off. Nobody works any harder, but he also works in the film room, too. You know from the conversations you had with him, the questions he asked you, it’s starting to be really fun. He’s being able to use all of the resources around him.”

“You’re never the quarterback until your team will go through hell for you,” said Fisher on Monday.” That’s period. Does the offense do everything they can to protect you? Fight, scratch, claw, make plays for you, want to get you the ball. And that defense on the other side, ‘all I know is lets get him the ball and something good’s going to happen.’ And I’m not saying it because of superior talent or things, but that guy finds a way to get us in the end-zone. He leads us, and I love that guy. He gets that from his teammates. His teammates respect him for his work ethic, his demeanor, his competitive nature, and more importantly, his genuineness for our team to do well.”

“Certain quarterback coaches, I feel like they might just take a step back if you do something wrong, but I mean I feel like even if I do something right — if I throw a touchdown and my read is the wrong read — he’s still going to tell me just so I know,” Mond said. “He always wants me to be perfect. And you know, myself, I want to be perfect, too. So I feel like that’s why we kind of have a perfect match.”

Mond no longer has tight end and 2018 leading pass-catcher Jace Sternberger to throw to now that he’s with the Green Bay Packers, but he does have a quartet of quality receivers in Quartney Davis, Camron Buckley, Jhamon Ausbon, and Kendrick Rogers — all of whom had at least 27 receptions last season. Davis led the way with 45 catches for 585 yards and seven touchdowns.

Texas A&M will have plenty of new faces in its front seven after five starters left from a defensive unit that finished third among FBS teams against the run in allowing just 95.2 yards per contest. Leading the way are Justin Madubuike and Jayden Peevy, with the former totaling 40 tackles — including 10.5 for losses — and 5.5 sacks.

Safety Leon O’Neal is looking to use his stellar Gator Bowl performance as a springboard into his sophomore season and is part of an experienced secondary that also includes Charles Oliver, Myles Jones, and Debione Renfro.

Renfro, the team’s second-leading returning cornerback, was suspended for the opener for what Fisher said was a violation of team rules. Oliver is expected to take his starting spot.

Notable Trends

Texas A&M is:

  • 8-0 ATS in its last eight non-conference games.
  • 9-2 ATS in its last 11 home games.
  • 10-4 ATS in its last 14 games.

Texas State is:

  • 2-15 SU in its last 17 road games.
  • 2-19 SU in its last 21 games as an underdog.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Texas A&M -20 1st Half (-110)

A confidence pick in Mond, who had a full offseason to absorb all the nuances of Fisher’s offense along with his cadre of experienced receivers. The Aggies averaged 27.7 points in the first half of their three buy games and there is little confidence in thinking Texas State will muster much offense against Texas A&M’s first-string defense in Vitt’s first live setting under center in Spavital’s new system.

****4-Star Pick****

OVER 56.5 points (-110)

The hook is a nuisance since it is on a touchdown total, but the feeling is Mond gets the Aggies going quickly and they hang a half-hundred on Texas State. Texas A&M games cleared 60 points in all three of its non-Clemson games and finished at 54 versus Clemson. The Bobcats have yielded 44.5 points per game in their last eight non-conference road contests, with includes a 59-16 thrashing administered by Fisher’s Florida State team in 2015.

There are enough new faces on the Aggies defense to think there will be one blown coverage for a Texas State touchdown, but anything the Bobcats get beyond that is just a bonus to make sure the over hits.

OVER 30.5 points 1st Half (-115)

Riding with the l0w-end hook and taking the under in another confidence pick in Mond. The key will be how well Texas A&M’s secondary deals with Texas State’s new offensive system if Vitt is able to show some mobility out of the pocket. The Bobcats biggest strength is at receiver with White and Haydel, and them breaking loose for a potential big play in busted coverage is something that can only help the over.

***3-Star Picks***

Texas A&M -33.5 (-110)

The Aggies should roll in this one behind Mond, who has a stable of receivers to throw to that will help compensate moving on from Williams in this game. Texas A&M averaged 49.3 points in the three non-conference home wins not against then-No. 2 and now defending CFP champion Clemson and did so by an average of 37 points.

The Bobcats were scheduled because Spavital uses a system similar to the one the Aggies will see when they go to Death Valley for their next contest. While no one is going to confuse Vitt with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, it will serve as a good tune-up for the Aggies ahead of seeing the real thing.

61-70 Total Points Match Band (+350)

This may require the Bobcats to score at least 10 points, but their track record against ranked teams offers confidence in Texas A&M scoring at least 50, and if the Aggies are able to contain Vitt and force enough 3-and-outs, the points will come with the clock barely moving after incomplete passes — especially in the first half when Mond and company should wreak havoc.

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