- By Suzanne Halliburton American-Statesman Staff
After months of competition through spring and preseason camp, Jimbo Fisher has settled on his first starting quarterback at Texas A&M.
Kellen Mond will trot out with the first team Thursday night when the Fisher era begins with the Aggies. Nick Starkel probably will play against Northwestern State, a FCS team serving as season-opening fodder for a big-time payday.
Fisher announced his decision Wednesday, although chatter out of College Station earlier in the week suggested that the top job was Mond’s.
“He’s been very consistent in his play and I think he’s played very well from the pocket,” Fisher said of Mond on the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday morning. “I just think he had a better camp. He’s worked very hard, he understands defenses and protections much better. … I’m proud of the work he’s done.”
The choice of Mond was somewhat of a surprise, although on paper, he projects as a better quarterback than Starkel. Both quarterbacks are sophomores, although Starkel had benefit of a redshirt season.
Mond, who had been an early commitment to Baylor, was considered one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the country when he signed with A&M in 2017. He’s from San Antonio Reagan High School, but transferred to the prestigious IMG Academy in Florida for his senior year.
The previous A&M staff was so high on Mond that they stopped recruiting Jarrett Stidham, who was being wooed again after transferring from Baylor. Stidham now is the starter at Auburn and was the preseason second-team All-SEC quarterback.
Starkel was a one-time commitment to Oklahoma State. He pledged to the Aggies late in the 2016 recruiting process after A&M’s top two quarterbacks transferred.
Starkel, the more polished passer, began and ended last season as A&M’s starter. He broke his ankle in the season opener, but came back by November. In the Belk Bowl, his last game, Starkel threw for 499 yards in a loss to Wake Forest. The yardage was an A&M bowl record and it also was the second-highest in school history.
Mond started eight games last season, filling in for Starkel. He was 5-3.
Fisher likes mobile quarterbacks and Mond’s skill set translates well to the new A&M offense. He rushed for 340 yards last season, which was third best on the team. His top rushing performance was the 109 he gained in a win over Arkansas.
But Mond struggled with his accuracy. He completed only 51.5 percent of his passes last fall, throwing for 1,375 yards with eight touchdowns and six interceptions. Starkel, who played in seven games, threw for 1,793 yards with 14 touchdowns and six picks, completing 60 percent of his passes.
Fisher said last week that Mond enjoyed a recent practice where his completion percentage was higher than 80. Higher tempo offenses usually need a quarterback to complete at least 60 percent.
Both quarterbacks should play against Northwestern State. Point spreads usually aren’t assigned to games with FCS opponents. But the site Oddshark.com thinks the score will be 35.4 to 1.7.
It’s more likely that the contest will serve as a live-action audition for A&M’s glamour game at home against No. 2 Clemson, Sept. 8. The quarterback situation probably needs to be settled by Sept. 22 when A&M begins SEC play with a road game against Alabama, the defending national champions.
Fisher says he has high confidence in Starkel, who was the No. 1 guy on the depth chart in the spring.
“I thought (Mond) had a little better camp overall and he is our starter,” Fisher said. “We feel very comfortable with Nick also, though.”