The 12th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies insist they're not looking past 33 1/2-point underdog Texas State in Thursday's opener. Next up is top-ranked Clemson.
"It doesn't matter what team you're playing, you should be preparing like you're playing an NFL team," quarterback Kellen Mond said. "I would never take this game lightly."
The Aggies like to say they see all their opponents the same and coach Jimbo Fisher emphasizes that the key to success is focusing on their team instead of worrying about who they're playing each week.
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"They establish how they want to play," Fisher said. "It's not about our opponent. It's not about anything. That's no disrespect. We have a tremendous schedule, like you always do in this league, but our guys have to understand ourselves before we can understand our opponents."
Their first chance to do that is Thursday when they meet the Bobcats, a Sun Belt Conference team that won just three games a year ago. Then they'll have a couple of extra days to prepare for their trip to meet the defending national champions on Sept. 7.
That game is the first of four against opponents currently ranked in the top 10. After Clemson, they'll get a visit from No. 2 Alabama on Oct. 12 and meet No. 3 Georgia and sixth-ranked LSU on back-to-back Saturdays in November.
It's a daunting schedule for a team which went 9-4 last year and looks to take a step forward in its second year under Fisher after he signed a 10-year, $75 million contract before last season.
One of Fisher's main focuses in his first year was instilling his beliefs in the team and building the kind of culture that helped him win a national title at Florida State. With a season under his belt, he's seen a change in the program. But he still needs to see how his team responds in a game before he'll know if the Aggies are where he wants them to be.
"Hopefully, it's sinking in," he said. "I believe it is by how we practice and the toughness and the way we play and compete."
Some things to know about Texas A&M's opener against Texas State:
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The Aggies will see a familiar face on Thursday in first-year Texas State coach Jake Spavital after he spent three years as an assistant at Texas A&M. Spavital was the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator in 2013 and was the team's offensive coordinator from 2014-15. Spavital worked as an assistant at California for one season before spending the last two years as West Virginia's offensive coordinator.
At 34, Spavital is the second-youngest head coach in the FBS behind Kent State's Sean Lewis, who is 33.
Spavital, who recruited some of Texas A&M's stars including Mond, is looking forward to his return.
"It's actually going to be kind of a surreal moment for me, because A&M was the place where I got my first opportunity to call plays," Spavital said. "(I) learned a lot, grew up a lot. It's going to be a surreal moment for me to go back to the place where it really all started for me."
The Aggies are hoping to see a steadier Mond this season after he struggled with consistency in his sophomore season. He didn't have an interception in Texas A&M's first three games last year, which included a close loss to Clemson. But he was picked off five times combined in the Aggies next three games.
"I feel like just with more knowledge of the game, I'll be more accurate and I'll be more decisive and more confident in my throws," he said. "I was a little up and down last year. But I feel like with more film study and more knowledge of the offense, I will be more accurate."
Fisher has not only seen Mond's skills grow since he arrived in College Station, he's also seen him blossom as a leader.
"His teammates respect him for his work ethic, his demeanor, his competitive nature, and more importantly his genuineness for our team to do well," Fisher said.
Fisher not only watched film of Spavital's recent offenses, but also pulled up tape of his work when he was at Texas A&M.
"He understands how to utilize his players, their strengths, what they can and cannot do and he's very diverse," Fisher said. "He makes you play all parts of the field with splits, alignments, throwing it and getting it everywhere he goes.
"He's a very, very excellent offensive mind in how he does it, and I'm sure his teams are going to be prepared well and play well."