Was it really just five years ago that Texas A&M had the best quarterback in the country?
Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy in 2012, and A&M won 11 games. And as a sophomore in 2013, Manziel led the Aggies to a 9-4 record.
That’s been the high-water mark for quarterbacks and wins since then. It’s almost as if the Aggies have been cursed at the quarterback position.
When A&M plays host to Nicholls State on Saturday night, the Aggies (0-1) will be without starting quarterback Nick Starkel, who broke his ankle early in the second half against UCLA. Starkel, a redshirt freshman, was a late addition to the recruiting class in February 2016, after the Aggies’ top two quarterbacks transferred before the 2015 bowl game.
Coach Kevin Sumlin will start either true freshman Kellen Mond, who finished the game against the Bruins, or journeyman senior Jake Hubenak, who has played for both Oklahoma State and Blinn College.
Sumlin said he will not make an announcement until game time. He said both quarterbacks will play. Starkel might be sidelined for the rest of the year. He had surgery Monday to repair the break.
Mond is a slick runner, but he struggled mightily passing the ball against UCLA. Hubenak can operate the A&M offense — he’s started three career games — but doesn’t do much running the ball.
Mond replaced Starkel in the second half. Curiously, the more experienced Hubenak stayed on the bench.
The Bruins stacked the line, daring Mond to pass. And he couldn’t. He was 3 of 17. The A&M defense also floundered in the second half, allowing the Bruins to erase a 34-point lead for the 45-44 victory.
“Jake was available to play,” Sumlin said. “Kellen had been in the game, and I thought he brought things to the table with his legs. He made some freshman mistakes.”
Sumlin said defenses will force the Aggies to throw the rest of the season.
“They’ll make Kellen (Mond) be a complete quarterback,” he said. “We have to address that. It’s on tape. It’s the same on offense, defense and special teams. You have to address those issues before moving on, whether it’s a player or scheme.”
If it’s Mond who starts, he would be the seventh first-team quarterback Sumlin has used since Manziel left after the 2013 season. Nationally, Georgia and Florida State also will be forced to start true freshmen after injuries took out the guys atop the depth chart.
Six scholarship quarterbacks have transferred from A&M since Manziel earned the starting spot.
However, A&M isn’t the only team nationally bleeding quarterbacks. It’s a national trend. When Alabama coach Nick Saban picked true freshman Jalen Hurts as the starter last year, three other Crimson Tide quarterbacks transferred. But Saban’s team oozed such talent everywhere else that the Tide didn’t need Hurts to win games by himself.
Other coaches aren’t hesitant to start transfers. Seven of the 10 Big 12 schools start quarterbacks who were transfers. That includes TCU, which starts former Aggie Kenny Hill. Kyler Murray, a five-star prospect who left A&M in December 2015, now is second team at Oklahoma behind Baker Mayfield, a one-time starter at Texas Tech.
A&M even used a transfer last season. Former Oklahoma starter Trevor Knight proved to be an effective, albeit temporary, catalyst for the offense.
No matter who starts, A&M is likely to call a heavy dose of running plays. Trayveon Williams rushed for 204 yards against UCLA while Keith Ford had 114. Together the two had 40 carries. But if A&M can’t make its offense two-dimensional, it’ll be a long season.
Nicholls State at Texas A&M, 6 p.m., ESPNU, 1370