Texas A&M entered year one in the SEC with low expectations and an unknown freshman quarterback named Johnny Manziel. But with a win at Alabama, a Heisman Trophy winning signal caller, and a top five ranking in the fold, the Aggies prepare for year two in the SEC with sky high goals and a target on their backs. With losses along the defensive front seven and at key positions on the offensive side of the ball, the question is whether head coach Kevin Sumlin has the horsepower to meet these lofty preseason expectations.
When discussing the Aggie offense, you start and end that discussion with the controversial but talented Johnny Manziel. In 2012, he accounted for 5100 yards offense and 47 TD's. Can he duplicate that production after an offseason of talk shows, celebrity events, and Twitter controversies? Can he duplicate his success when every SEC defensive coordinator is on the proverbial chalkboard looking for schemes to slow him down? Most importantly, can he duplicate his success with a different supporting cast surrounding him?
What we do know is Manziel and the Texas A&M staff made a concerted effort to develop his pocket passing skills in spring practices. Also, Manziel is scheduled to spend an extended period reuniting with his QB coach, George Whitfield, who is credited for his significant improvements last year.
Will it be enough to offset the loss of the best left tackle in college football, Luke Joeckel? Can he overcome the loss of top receiving target Ryan Swope?
Well, it doesn't hurt when your new left tackle is future first round draft pick Jake Matthews and your biggest playmaker at receiver, Michael Evans, returns in 2013. In addition, the Aggies welcome the top freshman receiver class in the nation led by five-star playmaker Ricky-Seals Jones as well as transfer RB and former five-star prospect Brandon Williams from Oklahoma. So Manziel will have plenty of weapons at his disposal and the offensive line that returns three starters should be adequate to sustain last year's productivity. Bottom line, can Manziel handle the pressure of being a returning Heisman Trophy winner and the distractions that come with that lofty title?
The bigger question mark is on defense, where a solid, senior-laiden unit managed to make just enough plays to win 11 games. In fact, if not for the last minute interceptions to preserve victories against Ole Miss and Alabama, the special 2012 season may not have been so special.
The Aggies lost junior playmaking defensive end Damontre Moore to the draft, but the unit also lost key seniors Spencer Nealy at tackle, Jonathan Stewart and fourth-round draft pick Sean Porter at linebacker, along with Steven Terrell at safety. The Aggies return freshman starter Julien Obioha (photo at right) at the strongside defensive end spot and Steven Jenkins at the outside linebacker position, but that's about it. Sumlin signed a talented freshman class of defensive linemen and linebackers, but there will be a learning curve and some mistakes along the way. Look for freshmen Justin Manning and Isaiah Golden to team with veteran Kirby Ennis to rotate in the interior of the line while veteran back-ups Nate Askew, Tyrell Taylor, and Tyrone Taylor battle to replace Moore at DE. At linebacker, mid-term enrollees Brett Wade, Reggie Chevis, and JUCO Tommy Sanders looked promising in the spring but will be inexperienced heading into fall camp.
The secondary should be the strength of the unit, with the return of veteran corners Deshazor Everett and Devante Harris. Howard Matthews returns at safety after a productive 2012 campaign, while Floyd Raven garnered high praise in the spring at the other safety spot.
With eight home games in 2013, the Aggies' schedule is favorable. The big home game against Alabama comes early in September, and then they have two challenging road games at Ole Miss and at LSU. Get past those three, and Texas A&M could be competing for the top spot in college football. For that to happen, Manziel must live up to his billing as the best college football player, and a young Aggie defensive front seven must grow up in a hurry.
2013 SEC Football Preview: Texas A&M
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