Texas A&M enters its new conference after firing Coach Mike Sherman, who was unable to meet expectations in 2011. Nine days after Sherman's dismissal, Houston Coach Kevin Sumlin was hired to lead the Aggies in the toughest conference in the nation.
Sumlin and new offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who were known for high-power offenses at Houston behind the arm of quarterback Case Keenum, have yet to decide who will be their quarterback in 2012. Last year's Texas A&M starting QB, Ryan Tannehill, was a first-round pick in the NFL Draft.
The two leaders to take Tannehill's spot, sophomore Jameill Showers and redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, are short on experience, but long on potential so the possibility is there for the Aggies to field a potent offense.
Christine Michael is expected to be a key performer in 2012. The chosen quarterback will have star receiver, Ryan Swope, returning for one more collegiate season. The 6-2, 205 senior set school records for receptions (89) and yards (1,207) in 2011.
Texas A&M will also be without 2011 starting running back Cyrus Gray, who elected to enter the draft after his junior season in College Station. The Aggies will turn to Christine Michael this year, who finished second on the team in rushing with 899 yards a year ago. With four starting offensive linemen returning and the potential for a potent passing attack, Michael should have plenty of running room this season.
The Texas A&M defense allowed 27 or more points in eight of its 13 games last season, losing six of them. With Tannehill and Gray not returning to the offense, the defense will need to improve in 2012 if the Aggies plan to compete in the SEC.
The defense can build around senior linebacker Jonathan Stewart, who led the Aggies in tackles last season with 98. With the other two starting linebackers and both starting defensive ends returning, Texas A&M has a good base to build on, but will need help from inexperienced players at the tackle and cornerback spots.
The Aggies have an overall record of 58-76 against teams from the SEC as it joins to the conference this year along with Missouri. With a favorable schedule that includes facing Florida, Arkansas and LSU at home, their toughest road games are trips to Auburn and Alabama.
Sean Porter is one returning starter in the Aggies' trio of senior linebackers. Despite Texas A&M's potential on offense, the Aggies are likely to come up short on defense compared to their new league opponents. This team may be more equipped to face a Big 12 schedule than one from the SEC, the league that has won the last six BCS National Championships.
Key Players to Replace: Wide receiver-turned-quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for 3,744 yards and 29 touchdowns on 327-531 passing before being drafted No. 8 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Running back Cyrus Gray led the team in rushing with 1,045 yards on 198 carries while adding 12 touchdowns. Safety Trent Hunter recorded 80 tackles, 3 1/2 for a loss, two sacks and two interceptions a year ago. Defensive tackle Tony Jerod-Eddie finished his career with the Aggies recording seven tackles for a loss and five sacks in 2011 along with 56 tackles.
All-Star Candidates: Running back Christine Michael (149 attempts, 899 yards, 8 TDs); wide receiver Ryan Swope (89 receptions, 1,207 yards, 11 TDs); linebacker Jonathan Stewart (98 tackles, 5 1/2 TFL, 3 sacks); linebacker Sean Porter (79 tackles, 17 TFL, 9 1/2 sacks); defensive end Damontre Moore (72 tackles, 17 1/2 TFL, 8 1/2 sacks)
Series Results: Texas A&M leads 2-0
Aug. 30--Texas A&M at Louisiana Tech
Sept. 8--Florida at Texas A&M
Sept. 15--Texas A&M at SMU
Sept. 22--South Carolina State at Texas A&M
Sept. 29--Arkansas at Texas A&M
Oct. 6--Texas A&M at Ole Miss
Oct. 20--LSU at Texas A&M
Oct. 27--Texas A&M at Auburn
Nov. 3--Texas A&M at Mississippi State
No. 10--Texas A&M at Alabama
Nov. 17--Sam Houston State at Texas A&M
Nov. 24--Missouri at Texas A&M
Key Games for Texas A&M
Arkansas at Texas A&M--The recently renewed rivalry nicknamed The Southwest Classic, matches former members of the Southwest Conference. Since Arkansas joined the SEC after the 1991 season, the Razorbacks have only played the Aggies three times. Those games, all Arkansas victories, happened in the past three seasons.
Kevin Sumlin became Texas A&M's head coach in December 2011.
LSU at Texas A&M--The Aggies have faced the Tigers 50 times dating back to 1899, making the series with LSU the most often played among Texas A&M's out of conference games. The history of the series shows the home team does well. The Aggies, who are 7-1-1 vs. LSU?in games at Kyle Field, will try to continue that trend.
Missouri at Texas A&M--The Aggies and Tigers have been paired as permanent non-division opponents. The teams have played each other a dozen times prior to joining the SEC and the Aggies have a 7-5 edge in the series. Missouri defeated the Aggies 38-31 last year.
Worth Noting: Auburn's last contest against Texas A&M was a 36-16 loss to the Aggies in the 1986 Cotton Bowl. From 1984-87 three Heisman Trophy winners--Doug Flutie of Boston College, Auburn's Bo Jackson and Notre Dame wide receiver Tim Brown--finished their careers playing at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
The Challenge For Auburn: Considering Kingsbury's offense averaged 599.1 yards and 49.3 points a game last season at Houston, Aggie fans should have an optimistic view of their team's offense entering the 2012 season even though their new coordinator will be facing much tougher competition than he went against in Conference USA. Auburn's game at Jordan-Hare Stadium is the eighth on the schedule for the Aggies so Texas A&M should be comfortable running its new offensive system by the time it faces the Tigers.