CaneSport - Texas A&M game assigned 9 Eastern TV slot, Bethune opener at 3:30 p.m.
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Texas A&M game assigned 9 Eastern TV slot, Bethune opener at 3:30 p.m.

The Miami-Texas A&M game is circled on Cane fans' calendars as the first true test for new Cane coach Mario Cristobal and his team.

And with good reason.

The Aggies are considered a top 10 preseason team.

While the game is over three months away, one thing has now come into focus: The game time.

It was announced today that the Sept. 17 game in College Station, Tex., will kick off at 9 p.m. Eastern, 8 p.m. Central time. It will be televised on ESPN.

The season opener with Bethune Cookman was assigned a 3:30 kickoff on ACC network.Game 2 against Southern Miss will kick off at Noon on ACC Network.

Texas A&M is one of the three toughest games we see on Miami's schedule, joining perennial ACC champ Clemson and last year's ACC winner, Pittsburgh.

For perspective, College Football News labeled this year's Texas A&M team "Jimbo Fisher's Best team yet" and predicts a 5-0 start ... yes, that incudes the Canes in Game 3.

This is a program being mentioned in the same breath as Georgia, Ohio State and Alabama.

So we figured it's never too early to see just what UM is up against, right?

In addition to returning talent, this is a team that had a 2022 recruiting class many call one of the best in memory. Per some rankings there are nine 5-stars. So keep that in mind as we break down the returning talent below.

On offense, this is a team that averaged 29.3 points and 391.6 yards per game (183.0 rushing). The main personnel losses were RB Isaiah Spiller (1,011 rush yards, 189 receiving yards, 7 TDs), TE Jalen Wydermyer (40 catches, 515 yards, 4 TDs) and OG/OT Kenyon Green. Plus last year's starting quarterback, Zach Calzada, transferred to Auburn.

So at QB it's a battle to start between LSU transfer Max Johnson (of note: Johnson is Mark Richt's nephew), Haynes King and Conner Weigman. Johnson hit on 60.3 percent of his passes for 2,815 yards with 27 TDs and six INTs last season, while King began last year as the starter and threw two TDs and was intercepted three times before suffering a fractured leg that ended his season. Also don't rule out the freshman Weigman in the competition, as he has pinpoint accuracy and showed some good things in the spring. For now, most think Johnson has the edge to start. But fall drills will determine it.

At running back Devon Achane is expected to be the lead guy, and he's got breakaway speed and is one of the nation’s better returning backs. He was the No. 2 option last season and had 910 rush yards and 261 receiving yards along with 10 total TDs.

The team took a portal hit at receiver, with Demond Demas (235 yards, TD) and Caleb Chapman (210 yards) transferring. So a freshman like Evan Stewart, Noah Thomas or Chris Marshall could emerge. Returners include slot receiver/RB Ainias Smith (team high 47 catches, 509 yards, 6 TDs) and Chase Lane (132 yards).

The tight end position lost Wydermyer, and Max Wright (3 catches, 23 yards) is a returner who is a decent all-around player.

Up front?

This is an offensive line that should be better than the group that already was pretty good last season. There's a lot of size here, and returning starters are center Bryce Foster (12 starts), OT Rueben Fatheree (9 tarts) and RG Layden Robinson (10 starts). The team is looking for LG Jordan Spasojevic-Moko (3 games off bench) and OT Trey Zuhn (4 games off bench) to step up. Robinson is considered a solid NFL prospect in the next class.

On the other side of the ball?

The defense has a lot to replace, and last year the group averaged allowing just 15.9 points and 327.5 yards per game (134.8 rushing).

The big personnel losses include almost the entire front 7. Gone are Clemons (11 TFL, 7 sacks), Leal (12.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks), DL Jayden Peavy (6 TFL, 2 sacks), DL Tyree Johnson (9 TFL, 8.5 sacks) and LB Aaron Hansford (team high 89 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks). Plus the team will miss DB Leon O'Neal (58 tackles, 2 INT).

That's a lot of missing personnel.

Another big loss? Defensive coordinator Mike Elko headed to Duke, and now calling the plays is D.J. Durkin.

Regardless, folks in College Station think the defense won't skip a beat.

Up front former 5-star DE Tunmise Adeleye is expected to have a big season after redshirting as a freshman, and on the other side Fadil Diggs (2.5 TFL, sack) is talented and played in every game off the bench last year as a redshirt freshman. It's also expected newcomer Shemar Stewart, a former Cane target, as well as signee Anthony Lucas will find some kind of role. Inside, McKinnely Jackson (14 tackles, sack) and Shemar Turner (14 tackles, 1.5 sacks) are expected to have big roles. But signee Walter Nolen as well as returner Adarious Jones (12 tackles, 1 start) could push to start.

At linebacker Andre White (57 tackles, sack) is back after starting nine games last season, and WILL Edgerrin Cooper (58 tackles, 5.5 TFL) is looking to build on a decent 2021 campaign. But behind those two is not a lot of proven talent/depth.

The secondary, though, should be one of the nation's best and deepest units. It's led by safety Demani Richardson (65 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks, INT) and nickel Antonio Johnson (79 tackles, 8.5 TFL, sack, INT), who is expected to be high NFL pick. Plus safety Jardin Gilbert (14 tackles) is someone coaches feel can break out. And corners Myles Jones (8 starts in 2020 and 13 in 2019 before missing almost all of last year due to injury) and Jaylon Jones (returning starter had 35 tackles, 2 INTs) will also have roles along with Tyreek Chappell (41 tackles, 3 TFL, team high 9 PBU).

On special teams Texas A&M has one of the nation's best punters in Nik Constantinou - he averaged 46.6 yards per attempt with 22 of 51 inside the 20. And PK Caden Davis ranked 10th in touchback percentage last year on kickoffs and will get his first chance to handle field goals with Seth Small gone.

The bottom line?

This is the first "real" game for both teams, with the Aggies' opener Sept. 3 against Sam Houston and another home game Sept. 10 against App State before UM comes to town. Miami, meanwhile, faces Bethune-Cookman in the opener and then Southern Miss.

This is the Canes' first game on the road.

With a pretty much all-new coaching staff.

A lot of transfers that are working to fit in with returners.

It will be the first test of the season for Cristobal and the team, and UM will be a heavy underdog. With that said, this is a Texas A&M team that had some hiccups last season despite also having the talent level to beat a 'Bama.

If you're asking "So you're saying there's a chance?" we'd say yes.

But it will be a major challenge against the team we think is the most talented the Canes will face.