For its first game of the season against Football Bowl Subdivision competition, Clemson will make the trip to Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, a venue that holds more than 100,000 fans.
It will be the Tigers’ first trip to Texas A&M since 2004 when the Aggies defeated the them, 27-6. Clemson won the following season at Death Valley on a last-second field goal by Jad Dean for its only win in four tries in the series.
The Aggies are slated to return the favor and visit Memorial Stadium in 2019.
Last meeting: Clemson won 25-24 on Sept. 4, 2005, at Clemson Memorial Stadium.
Last season: Texas A&M went 7-6, 4-4 in the Southeastern Conference, and lost to Wake Forest 55-52 in the Belk Bowl.
Coaching staff: The Aggies hired a familiar foe of Clemson’s, Jimbo Fisher, away from Florida State to take over for Kevin Sumlin, who was relieved of his duties after six seasons. Darrell Dickey will coordinator Fisher’s offense after five seasons as the offensive coordinator at the University of Memphis. Dickey has served as the offensive coordinator at seven FBS schools across his 30-plus-year career. Defensive coordinator Mike Elko comes to Texas A&M after one season of directing Notre Dame’s defense. Elko was a semifinalist for the Broyles Award, which is given annually to the top assistant coach in college football.
Returning players: With 19 starters returning, there are plenty of pieces to the puzzle in place for Texas A&M. How exactly those pieces fit together for a staff that Fisher rebuilt almost entirely, however, is anybody’s guess? Nick Starkel returns as the starting quarterback from last season, but fellow sophomore Kellen Mond will have the opportunity to push for the job, particularly as both will be adjusting to Fisher’s pro-style approach. Leading rusher Trayveon Williams also returns, though the Aggies mustered just 156 rushing yards per game last year. A&M should be strong in the linebacking corps, as middle linebacker Tyrel Dodson and outside linebacker Otaro Alaka are both back.
Additions: Considering the coaching turnover, the Aggies put together a surprisingly solid recruiting class — ranking No. 16 nationally and featuring 11 four-star recruits per Rivals.com. Arguably the most highly regarded prospects in its class are a trio of prospects from the Lone Star State: receiver Jalen Preston, defensive end Max Wright and defensive back Leon O’Neal.
Subtractions: Elko faces an uphill battle inheriting a defense that finished just 78th nationally in total defense after it lost three of four starters in the secondary — Priest Willis, Donovan Wilson and Armani Watts — and also three key seniors on the defensive line in Jarrett Johnson, Zaycoven Henderson and Qualen Cunningham. On offense, in addition to losing dynamic receiver Christian Kirk, the Aggies also bid farewell to their No. 2 pass catcher, Damion Ratley.
Key matchup: One could quite reasonably suggest that this is the key matchup for any team hoping to beat the Tigers this fall, as the return of Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins — three players who could have easily taken their talents to the next level — to go along with the mammoth Dexter Lawrence, makes figuring out how to block this fearsome foursome is going to be a tall order. For the Aggies, who were both woeful in the ground game last season (88th nationally at 4 yards per carry) and struggled to protect the passer (29 sacks allowed), this could be a problem. With nine offensive linemen with starting experience returning, A&M fans will hope that extra experience brings improved performance.