When the Aggies run
All eyes will be on the offensive line and running back Ainias Smith. The line was the main reason Texas A&M averaged only 15.6 points in the team’s five losses last season. With four starters returning, the Aggies should shred a Vanderbilt defense that ranked 115th nationally against the run last year, allowing 208.8 yards rushing per game. Smith moved from wide receiver to running back last season to complement fellow sophomore Isaiah Spiller, who finished last year strong. Vandy does return its 11 leading tacklers, so the run defense should be improved. EDGE: TEXAS A&M
When the Aggies pass
Senior Kellen Mond, the league’s most experienced quarterback, will be throwing to the SEC’s most inexperienced wide receivers — so inexperienced that the combination of underclassmen who will start the game is anyone’s guess. A&M tight end Jalen Wydermyer is a proven commodity, but Vandy’s linebackers, led by Cedar Hill’s Dimitri Moore (99 tackles), are good enough to limit his effectiveness. Vandy defensive end Dayo Odeybingo will be a good test for A&M’s senior offensive tackles looking for a bounce-back season. EDGE: TEXAS A&M
When the Commodores run
Vandy is hopeful sophomore Keyon Brooks will be a clone of departed 1,000-yard rusher Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Brooks should find some room considering A&M linebacker Anthony Hines III opted out of the season last week. A&M senior linebacker Aaron Hansford is first up at replacing Hines. EDGE: TEXAS A&M
When the Commodores pass
True freshman quarterback Ken Seals, who is from Weatherford, is expected to start for Vandy. His key will be weathering A&M’s pressure. The Aggies are deep and talented up front and want to do a better job pressuring the quarterback this year. They also want to force more turnovers after creating only 14 to rank 107th in the country last year. Vanderbilt’s revamped offensive line should give A&M’s defensive line a confidence boost. EDGE: TEXAS A&M
Vanderbilt had place-kicker Oren Milstein opt out less than a month ago. He’ll be replaced by Pierson Cooke, who handled kickoffs last year. A&M has a veteran kicker in Seth Small but is breaking in a new punter in Nik Constantinou. EDGE: TEXAS A&M
Will Kyle Field be intimidating at 30% capacity? It might favor Vandy, which is used to playing before small crowds. A&M needs a strong start to put negativity from the recent departures behind it and build momentum for Alabama. Vandy, picked to finish last in the SEC East, is looking for respectability. EDGE: TEXAS A&M
• Keep it simple: Vanderbilt will open its third straight season with a new quarterback and this time with a new offensive coordinator in Todd Fitch as well.
• Shelter under Roof: Vanderbilt returns its 11 leading tacklers for first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who has worked at Georgia Tech, Duke, Auburn and Penn State.
• Pressure the QB: Vanderbilt forced only 11 turnovers to rank 121st in the country last season. Roof’s aggressive style should change that.
TEXAS A&M MUST
• Find Buddy a buddy: Linebacker Anthony Hines III’s departure has left a huge hole in what had been expected to be a Top 20 defense. Senior linebacker Buddy Johnson will need a new running mate.
• Find two wide receivers: Quarterback Kellen Mond needs playmakers on the outside to complement TE Jalen Wydermyer.
• Find a groove: Texas A&M has four quarters to get ready for second-ranked Alabama and fifth-ranked Florida.
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