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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 55: Texas A&M

Mike Sherman didn’t lose his job by blowing a halftime lead against Oklahoma State. He didn’t lose his job by blowing another sizable halftime advantage a week later, when the Aggies lost to Arkansas in Dallas. It wasn’t Missouri that sealed his fate, even if that loss may have been worse, in a way; the Aggies followed up 17 unanswered points from the Tigers with a field goal to force overtime, only to lose in the first extra frame. Sherman lost his job because of two losses: Oklahoma and Texas. He’s not the first coach at A&M to be dismissed because of losses to the Sooners and Longhorns, mind you, but he will be the last. From here, A&M needs to remake its standards. Since the formation of the Big 12 — since the university first fielded a team, actually — the Aggies weighed success against Texas. Once Oklahoma caught fire under Bob Stoops, the university began judging its program against these two perennial powers. What does A&M use for a barometer now that it’s part of the SEC?

Conference
SEC, West

Location
College Station, Tex.

Nickname
Aggies

Returning starters
14 (8 offense, 6 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 10

2011 record
(7-6, 4-5)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 43

2012 schedule

  • Aug. 30
    at Louisiana Tech
  • Sept. 8
    Florida
  • Sept. 15
    at S.M.U.
  • Sept. 22
    S. Carolina St.
  • Sept. 29
    Arkansas
  • Oct. 6
    at Mississippi
  • Oct. 20
    L.S.U.
  • Oct. 27
    at Auburn
  • Nov. 3
    at Mississippi St.
  • Nov. 10
    at Alabama
  • Nov. 17
    Sam Houston St.
  • Nov. 24
    Missouri

Last year’s prediction

Try as I might, I can’t find a rational excuse not to have A&M among the top 10 teams in the country, behind only Oklahoma in the Big 12 and very much in the mix for a B.C.S. bowl berth. And yes, part of that — a very solid portion, in fact — stems from the way the Aggies ended last season. What’s not to like? Well, I could point out non-home dates with Arkansas and Oklahoma and games at College Station against Oklahoma State, Missouri and Texas as enough rationale for placing A&M here, not three or four spots higher. This team won’t go undefeated; I think closer to 10-2, though every game is winnable. Remember when the Aggies were an afterthought? It seems as if times have changed.

2011 recap

In a nutshell This team was too good, too talented, too explosive, too familiar with this system and had too many chances to make its mark to deserve anything less than the barest of passing grades. What this team didn’t have was competent late-game coaching, which may or may not have been a byproduct of Sherman’s decision to handle the offense alone; doing so must have played a role in his chronic game mismanagement in the second half. A better delegation of responsibility would have allowed Sherman to devote himself to the big picture, which in turn would have made it clear that throwing the ball with abandon when holding a significant halftime lead — and when running the ball so well in the first half — probably isn’t the wisest coaching decision. What makes his demise all the more painful is that it’s clear that Sherman loved the university; sadly, this good guy finished last — it felt like last, at least.

High point A 55-28 win over Baylor in October. The win featured one of the most impressive offensive showings in program history: the Aggies had 266 yards on the ground, 415 through the air.

Low point Texas. Nothing else comes close. Not the blown halftime lead against Arkansas. Or the one against Oklahoma State. Or the one against Missouri. Or the hideous third quarter against Oklahoma, or the quadruple-overtime loss to Kansas State. Just Texas. Longhorns 27, Aggies 25.

Tidbit Last fall saw A&M experience a sellout in each of its seven home games, which was a program first. In terms of total attendance, the Aggies averaged 87,183 fans per game, which, as you can imagine, was a school record. That average bested the previous high-water mark, set in 2001, by a fairly substantial margin: 4,471 fans per game, or a five percent increase. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the sellout streak – which is at eight games, including a 2010 date with Nebraska – is not going to end in 2012.

Tidbit (roster edition) A&M’s roster includes only seven players originally recruited out of traditional SEC country – Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky. Five of the seven players are from Louisiana, including two in this February’s recruiting class. The Aggies have one player each from Florida and Mississippi. Outside of a former JUCO transfer from Wisconsin, an incoming recruit from California and a third incoming freshman from Missouri, every other player on the roster is from Texas.

Tidbit (War Hymn edition) A&M has a decision to make: Sing the Aggie War Hymn as written, with a second verse that includes several references to “Texas University,” rewrite the second verse, or drop the second verse in its entirety. Historically, fans and students have used only the second verse while bypassing the first verse, which includes five references to A&M itself but no references to the Longhorns. Even now, with less than two months until the start of the season, student leaders are still discussing what route to take with the school’s fight song. My take? What’s done is done: A&M should go with the first verse – it’s time to move on.

Former players in the N.F.L.

30 DE Ben Bass (Dallas), TE Martellus Bennett (New York Giants), DE Michael Bennett (Tampa Bay), DT Rocky Bernard (New York Giants), DE Eddie Brown (San Diego), DE Red Bryant (Seattle), K Randy Bullock (Houston), DT Ron Edwards (Carolina), CB Terrence Frederick (Pittsburgh), WR Jeff Fuller (Miami), RB Mike Goodson (Oakland), CB Danny Gorrer (Baltimore), RB Cyrus Gray (Kansas City), DE Tony Jerod-Eddie (San Francisco), QB Jerrod Johnson (Pittsburgh), CB Coryell Judie (Denver), RB Jorvorskie Lane (Miami), P Shane Lechler (Oakland), C Kevin Matthews (Tennessee), TE Jamie McCoy (Pittsburgh), QB Stephen McGee (Dallas), LB Von Miller (Denver), LS Don Muhlbach (Detroit), LB Cyril Obiozor (Denver), DE Luke Patterson (Kansas City), S Jordan Pugh (Carolina), S Lionel Smith (Dallas), QB Ryan Tannehill (Miami), C Cody Wallace (Houston), DE Ty Warren (Denver).

Arbitrary top five list

Big 12 quarterbacks taken in N.F.L. Draft (1996-2011)
1. Josh Freeman, Kansas State.
2. Vince Young, Texas.
3. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma.
4. Sage Rosenfels, Iowa State.
5. Seneca Wallace, Iowa State.

Coaching

Kevin Sumlin (Purdue ’86), entering his first season. It’s safe to say that his last season at Houston went pretty well. The Cougars went 13-1 last fall – without Sumlin for the bowl game – after sliding down to 5-7 in 2010, thanks largely in part to injuries. Overall, Sumlin went 36-17 over four seasons with the Cougars, winning at least 10 games twice, in 2009 and 2011. Sumlin did a superb job over his first two seasons, replacing the very popular – and successful – Art Briles, who rebuilt a downtrodden U.H. program into one of Conference USA’s best. Sumlin responded, however, and after his first two years, U.H. looked very much looking like the future of the conference. As predicted, year four ended with Sumlin’s name back in the mix for B.C.S. conference openings – many were interested, but A&M offered the best mix of immediate success and a bright future. Houston marked Sumlin’s first head coaching job after 20 years as an assistant at six different F.B.S. programs. His latest stop as an assistant was at Oklahoma, where he served first as the special teams and tight ends coach from 2003-4 before being promoted to co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach from 2006-7. The Sooners won at least 11 games four times over his five-year stint under Bob Stoops. Sumlin also played a key role in Oklahoma’s always strong recruiting, especially in – you guessed it – the heart of Texas. Though an all-Big Ten linebacker at Purdue, Sumlin has made his living on the offensive side of the ball; at each of his other coaching stops (Wyoming from 1991-92, Minnesota from 1993-97, Purdue from 1998-2001, Texas A&M from 2001-2) he dealt with the receivers or quarterbacks. The closest he had come to a head coaching position was with the Aggies, where he served as the assistant head coach. This extensive experienced served Sumlin well at Houston, and that he’s familiar with A&M and a dynamic recruiter only furthered his appeal. He brings some style and flash to a program poised to take a step into the nastiest playground in college football.

Tidbit (coaching edition) The only assistant that I thought Sumlin might retain was inside linebackers coach Dat Nguyen, both because of Nguyen’s history with the program and his work with the position over the last two years. Sumlin didn’t, opting instead for an entirely brand-new staff. Three members came with Sumlin from Houston – and not surprisingly, each serves on the offensive side of the ball. A&M’s offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, is a rising star in the profession; he’s joined by running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Clarence McKinney and offensive line coach B.J. Anderson. The only offensive hire from outside of Sumlin’s Houston experience is wide receivers coach David Beaty, who was the coordinator at Kansas last fall and at Rice in 2010.

Sumlin’s defensive coordinator is former Marshall head coach Mark Snyder, who was the coordinator at Ohio State from 2001-3 and at South Florida last fall. Defensive line coach Terry Price, a graduate of A&M, worked at Mississippi and Auburn from 1995-2011. Price came aboard in February, following a few months at Texas Tech, after Sumlin’s original hire, Terrell Williams, left for the same position with the Oakland Raiders. You can’t help but like what linebackers coach Matt Wallerstedt and secondary coach Marcel Yates bring to the table; both are winners, for starters, and both did strong work at Air Force and Boise State, respectively. Finally, special teams coordinator and tight ends coach – and recruiter extraordinaire – Brian Polian was lured over from Stanford. Polian literally wrote the book on special teams play: “A Complete Guide to Special Teams,” which he penned along with several other notable names, is the official book on special teams from the American Football Coaches Association.

Players to watch

Kingsbury, as you know, is a direct branch on the Mike Leach coaching tree: first as his quarterback at Texas Tech, then under Dana Holgorsen at Houston, Kingsbury espouses the same Air Raid philosophy Leach first brought to national attention with the Red Raiders – though the tree’s roots date back a decade before then, back to Hal Mumme’s first college jobs at Iowa Wesleyan and Valdosta State. Those familiar with this offensive system know its tenets: pass-heavy, of course, as well as no-huddle, up-tempo, annoyingly aggressive, quarterback-driven and, yes, simplistic. It’s not the number of plays that kill defenses, but the number of ways that a one single play can be run out of several different looks. As shown at Texas Tech, West Virginia, Houston and elsewhere, the offense simply gets results.

Yet it’s only been tried in the SEC once, when Mumme was the head coach at Kentucky – and Leach his chief assistant – and that was in the league’s more spotty days, when it was not the most dominant conference in college football. It’s a bold experiment, to put it lightly; in a league defined by play along the line of scrimmage, A&M wants to move from sideline to sideline – the Aggies want to throw speed at strength. Behind the scenes, the Aggies’ move to this offense is the most intriguing storyline in the country. If this works, and if works big, it could alter the way teams approach the offensive side of the ball in the SEC. You know that Mumme, Leach and Holgorsen will be keeping one eye on the Aggies.

If not at Alabama, the best offensive line in the SEC resides in College Station – and, by extension, the best line in the SEC doubles as the best line in the entire country. One reason why it’s possible to see this offense clicking from the start is the presence of tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews: this pair anchors A&M’s pass protection, helping the Aggies’ tie for second nationally in sacks allowed a season ago. Both are stars, both are heavy favorites for all-SEC honors, and the combination of Joeckel on the left side and Matthews on the right should lessen any fears that opposing defensive lines are going to make themselves at home in the Aggies’ backfield.

The line lost a starter in would-be senior Brian Thomas, who chose to spend his final season of eligibility at Texas Tech. He’ll be replaced at left guard by either sophomore Jarvis Harrison, a six-game starter a year ago, or junior Shep Klinke, who started the first three games of last season on the strong side – the loser, likely Klinke, is a valuable swing lineman at both guard spots. Klinke was replaced at right guard by sophomore Cedric Ogbuehi, who sandwiched five starts around a midseason ankle injury. Back for his second season in the middle is senior Patrick Lewis, who suffered no letup following his move to center last spring: as at guard in 2009 and 2010, Lewis earned honorable mention all-Big 12 honors.

That sophomore Jameill Showers played in only five games as a freshman, attempting only five attempts, speaks not only to how many close games the Aggies participated in but also how Sherman’s job security seemingly hinged on every single offensive play: Sherman might have known that Showers was the heir apparent to Ryan Tannehill, but he couldn’t afford to give the freshman snaps when his job hung in the balance. No harm, no foul – sort of. Like the rest of this offense, Showers was starting from square one during the spring; in addition, that no returning quarterback had staked a claim to the starting role with a strong 2011 season allowed Sumlin and Kingsbury to place every contender on an even plane heading into spring ball.

While A&M has yet to name Showers the starter, it’s merely a matter of time. Even if Showers didn’t stand head and shoulders above the rest of the Aggies’ options in April – though it was clear that he had the best grasp of the offense – that redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel was recently arrested following an after-hours scuffle does provide some distance between Showers and his primary competition. So what should we expect from the sophomore in 2012? I’ll tell you one thing: it’s awfully, awfully hard not to put up crooked numbers playing in this system. Take the case of then-true freshman David Piland, who replaced an injured Case Keenum in 2010 and threw for 301 yards and 2 scores in his first career appearance – against Mississippi State, by the way. Showers is an unknown moving into a new system, but he’s going to put points on the board.

The belief that this system doesn’t stress the running game simply doesn’t hold water. It’s untraditional, yes, but as he showed at Houston, Kingsbury will run the football – especially in the red zone. And in this system, Kingsbury will essentially use the short, underneath throw as an extension of the running game itself. So in addition to ripping off consistent gains on the ground, it’s vital that A&M’s backfield also provide a security blanket for Showers on passing downs. The star of the group is senior Christine Michael (899 yards and 9 scores), who is one of the nation’s best backs when healthy. But as we know, staying on the field has been an issue: Michael missed three games a year ago and four games in 2009 due to injuries. While there’s no doubting Michael’s ability to fill a Charles Sims-like role for the Aggies, he does need to prove himself as a receiver; he’s never played much of a role in A&M’s passing game.

All in all – and this is a good thing, based on Michael’s injury history – A&M touts some of the best backfield depth in the country. While far from flashy, junior Ben Malena (259 yards, 4 touchdowns) proved his worth over the final two games of last season, earning 160 yards on 48 tough carries against Texas and Northwestern, scoring twice in A&M’s bowl win over the Wildcats. During spring ball, Malena said that former Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams, a five-star recruit, “has a motor like” he’d never seen. That pair will battle for snaps behind Michael all season. Behind this group – for now, at least – is true freshman Trey Williams, himself a five-star recruit. If you’re keeping count, three of the Aggies’ top four backs were ranked among the top three at the position coming out of high school.

Ryan Swope’s junior season was the finest by a receiver in school history: 89 grabs for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns. Swope filled a major void for the Aggies last fall, developing into the team’s top receiving option while Jeff Fuller battled through injuries. Clearly, Swope must continue to put forth an all-conference effort while the Aggies slide into a more receiver-heavy offense. Two starting spots are spoken for: Swope and fellow senior Uzoma Nwachukwu (50 catches for 639 yards). The battle for the remaining two top spots will start anew in August, when the Aggies add true freshmen Sabian Holmes and Thomas Johnson – two youngsters recruited specifically for this system – into the mix with redshirt freshman Mike Evans, sophomore Malcome Kennedy, senior Kenric McNeal and junior Nate Askew. Based on spring reports, Evans is a potential breakout star if he can catch the ball with greater consistency.

Consider two numbers. Houston threw the ball 682 times last fall, the most of any team in the country. But A&M made 536 attempts, ninth-most in the nation. The Aggies ran the ball 507 times last fall. Houston ran the ball 420 times. Things will look different – more receivers, a little more finesse, more throwing. But in terms of overall numbers, especially in year one under Sumlin and Kingsbury, I would be surprised if A&M’s run-pass split was drastically different than it was a year ago.

There’s one more thing to keep in mind about this offense as a whole, though it’s an intangible that likely warrants more than my own cursory examination. The vast, overwhelming majority of the Aggies’ prime contributors on offense hail from Texas; on the likely two-deep come September, only Lewis and tight end Michael Lamothe hail from outside the state’s borders. The last decade has seen a strong percentage of the state’s high school coaches adopt a pass-first spread system quite similar to one advocated by Sumlin and his offensive staff. Therefore, it’s highly likely that many of A&M’s likely starters and reserves aren’t brand-new to the system’s philosophies; in fact, it’s likely that many played in a similar system in high school. It’s just something to consider: A&M might hit a wall against SEC defenses, but perhaps the learning curve in the new offense won’t be as steep as some have suggested.

After months of highlighting teams shifting into an untraditional defense alignment, whether the 3-4, 4-2-5 or 3-3-5, we see a team move in the opposite direction. The Aggies will transition into a 4-3 defense under Snyder, running the same defense seen at most other programs in the SEC; of the league’s only 14 teams, only Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee run out of a 3-4 base set – of course, the first pair rank among the strongest defensive teams in the country. You can make the case that while the scheme change doesn’t entirely match up with the Aggies’ personnel, it is a strong move in the long run. Actually, it’s easier to make that case with the defense than it is with the offense, even if the move to the Air Raid will be nothing if not exciting.

Interior line play is the defense’s biggest concern, as I’ll touch on below. Coming in second is a rebuilt secondary that ranks among the least experienced in the SEC. While the future looks bright at cornerback, the Aggies will lean heavily on several inexperienced underclassmen in 2012. The lone senior in the mix for snaps is Dustin Harris (33 tackles, 1 interception), who started the first four games of last season before getting pushed into a secondary role. After being removed from the lineup after his unsteady play against Oklahoma State and Arkansas, Harris must prove himself to the new staff before being viewed as a viable starting option for the Aggies.

Instead, Snyder and Yates will turn the reins over to a slew of true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores. As of now, it’ll be sophomores Floyd Raven – a guy Snyder and this staff see as a stopper – and Deshazor Everett in the starting lineup. But this might change if both falter in August, either leading A&M to call on Harris’ experience or turn the reins over to JUCO transfer Tremaine Jacobs. Another name to watch is incoming freshman De’Vante Harris, but the Aggies are entertaining the idea of starting the top recruit at receiver, not at cornerback. I can’t imagine that lasts: De’Vante Harris has been viewed since his commitment as a major piece of the Aggies’ secondary in 2012 and beyond.

The Aggies return two safeties with starting experience in senior Steven Terrell (24 tackles, 2 interceptions) and junior Toney Hurd (20 tackles), a pair that combined to make six starts at strong safety last fall. Both will move to free safety in 2012, with Hurd, a former nickel back, a nice fit for this new role. Where A&M turns at strong safety depends in some part on whether Steven Campbell can stay healthy; when in the lineup, the senior gives the Aggies a solid presence along the back end of the defense. If not Campbell, Snyder and Yates will turn to sophomore Howard Matthews (28 tackles, 2.0 sacks). Better yet, A&M could combine Matthews and Campbell with Hurd and Terrell to give this defense four solid alternatives at safety.

The roles are changing at linebacker, but the Aggies must land the same level of production. Senior Sean Porter (79 tackles, 17.0 for loss, 9.5 sacks) must continue to wreak havoc on passing downs; in addition to those duties, however, Porter will be asked to provide ample support against the run while moving in space with running backs and tight ends. While his athleticism is not in any doubt whatsoever, it’s pretty clear that Porter is a better fit at 3-4 outside linebacker. Regardless, he’s a clear all-SEC pick in his final season.

The two remaining returning starters – the Aggies actually return all four starting linebackers, but one moves down to end – won’t encounter too much difficulty with the new scheme: junior Steven Jenkins (61 tackles), a former JUCO transfer, and senior Jonathan Stewart (98 tackles, 3.0 sacks) played inside linebacker in the 3-4 set. Jenkins, who was suspended for one game for a violation of team rules, will be replaced by sophomore Donnie Baggs in the season opener.

The defense has some significant question marks to address along the front seven, and the secondary as a whole desperately needs an underclassmen to step forward at cornerback. For now, the secondary is in a better place than the defensive line, for example. The simple truth is that even if the offense clicks, the Aggies aren’t winning many games during SEC play if the front four can’t keep things under control along the line of scrimmage. If teams can run at will… well, it won’t be pretty.

The Aggies must replace an all-American kicker in Randy Bullock, who made 29 of his 33 attempts as a senior. He’ll be replaced by redshirt freshman Taylor Bertolet. Once again, A&M will audition both senior Ryan Epperson and sophomore Drew Kaiser for the top job at punter. If Dustin Harris doesn’t make his mark at cornerback, he’ll be extremely valuable in the return game; he earned honorable mention all-Big 12 honors in this spot last fall.

Position battle(s) to watch

Defensive line Moving into the 4-3 will strain A&M’s depth along the interior of the defensive line. Thanks to a schedule that features teams like Alabama, L.S.U., Mississippi State and others, that the Aggies’ greatest defensive weakness lies at tackle doesn’t bode well for this team once the calendar flips to the heart of SEC play. Due to this fact, it’s not a stretch to say that the most important member of this defense – the player who might be the most vital piece of the puzzle – is senior tackle Jonathan Mathis, a 13-game starter in 2010 who missed all but the first three games of last season due to injury. Big enough to have been moved from end inside to nose tackle last spring, Mathis has the size and strength to provide A&M’s run defense a significant boost.

In fact, the situation inside could be less dire than it seems if Mathis and Kirby Ennis (11 tackles, 1.5 sacks) can remain healthy. Both are 300-pound tackles made to play inside in the 4-3 system; Ennis, a junior, showed flashes of starting ability as A&M’s second nose tackle a year ago – in a way, in fact, that Mathis did suffer his early-season injury gave Ennis the sort of experience that will come in handy come September. The biggest issue inside, if you take an optimistic stance on the two starters, is the lack of depth. For now, sophomore Ivan Robinson and redshirt freshman Shayvion Hatten back up the starting pair; while Hatten arrived with some promise, he did not hit the ground running in this new system during the spring.

One thing A&M should do well, however, is bring pressure off the edge. Porter is a menace, of course, but the Aggies also return ends Spencer Nealy (45 tackles, 8.0 for loss) and Gavin Stansbury (15 tackles, 3.5 for loss) while former outside linebackers – hybrid end-linebackers, to be more precise – Damontre Moore (72 tackles, 17.5 for loss, 8.5 sacks) and Caleb Russell (27 tackles) transition down to end in the new alignment. Both Moore and Russell have added weight to help with the move, but no so much as to rob them of the sort of speed that made each, Moore in particular, such disruptive edge rushers in the previous system.

This is a strong end group: Nealy, a senior, is a bigger end who can anchor A&M’s run defense on the outside, and Moore steps right into the SEC’s class of premier weak side ends. You just hope that a woeful run defense doesn’t negate this strength; if A&M needs to devote extra assets to slowing down the Tide, Tigers and others on first and second down, this defense will be placing itself in a terribly dangerous situation.

Game(s) to watch

Over the span of four weeks in October and November, A&M will play the last two national champions and a third team that played for the national title a year ago. Hey, welcome to the SEC. In addition, A&M’s non-conference slate includes a pair of games against one of the best non-B.C.S. conference teams in the country in Louisiana Tech, which is a very dangerous team for the Aggies to face in Sumlin’s debut. The breathers? South Carolina State and Sam Houston State. Everything else, with perhaps the exception of S.M.U., will be a dogfight. A&M simply needs to take care of business when given the opportunity; this includes the four non-conference games, as well as against Florida and Missouri at home and against Mississippi State on the road. The Aggies wanted a seat at the table. Well, they got it.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Start with the big picture. Texas A&M is moving into a new league, one that will task this team is ways the Big 12 simply did not: the SEC isn’t merely deeper – think last year’s Big 12 on steroids – but also more physical, and the transition away from finesse-based passing teams to grind-it-out run-based opponents will force the Aggies to alter their defensive mentality. Next, the Aggies are breaking in a new coaching staff. With this new staff comes new schemes, including a drastic overhaul on offense, and it’s only natural to expect both sides of the ball to struggle in the transition process. On a smaller level, consider the personnel changes: at quarterback, wide receiver, defensive tackle and in the secondary. It is a year defined by that one word, transition; from top to bottom and at all points in between, the Aggies are entering uncharted waters.

So it pays to keep everything in perspective. New conference, new staff, new schemes, tweaked personnel – it’s obvious that plenty could go wrong in 2012. The Aggies could fail to grasp Kingsbury’s offense system altogether, or could grasp the system yet find it difficult to move the football against SEC defense. A&M’s own defense, especially its reworked interior of the line, could struggle getting stops against the run; if this does occur, it’s going to be tough to net any meaningful wins during conference play. In short, it’s easier to see A&M bottom out – four wins, give or take – then it is to see A&M make an immediate run into the upper tier of the SEC.

But you need to look a little deeper. One, you can’t ignore this team’s talent. Two, there’s enough on offense to experience some degree of success under Kingsbury from day one: the line is superb, the receiver corps headlined by two seasoned, veteran starters and the backfield one of the deepest in football. Three, if Ennis and Mathis step up, solidifying the run defense, the move into the 4-3 defense will pay dividends during SEC play. Finally, don’t underestimate the power of surprise: A&M will run an offense unlike any other in the conference, so it won’t be easy for opponents to prepare on short notice – and this is doubly true for early opponents like Florida, Arkansas and Mississippi. Do I see nine wins on this schedule? No chance. But I see a match of last year’s regular season win total with the potential for one more, which would be terrific: with all that has changed since January, for A&M to earn a bowl bid in its first season in the SEC would bode well for the program’s future.

Dream season While L.S.U. and Alabama clearly rule the roost in the SEC West, the Aggies finish in a tie for third place in the division and 9-3 overall in Sumlin’s first season. And you know what that means: A&M, the third pick out of the SEC, meets Texas, the second pick out of the Big 12, in the Cotton Bowl. Hey, we can dream.

Nightmare season Nothing works. The year opens with a loss to Louisiana Tech, which is more seasoned in the ways of the Air Raid. That’s followed by a loss to Florida in the program’s SEC debut, which is then followed by conference losses to Arkansas, L.S.U., Auburn, Mississippi State, Alabama and Missouri. The Aggies’ net three wins outside of the SEC but only one win during league play: Mississippi.

In case you were wondering

Where do Texas A&M fans congregate? As one would expect with a bigger program, the independent sites are coming fast and furious: the best of the bunch is clearly TexAgs.com, which is one of the most popular college sports sites in the country. Still, don’t forget about Ag Times and Aggies Fans. For recruiting news, visit Aggie Yell and Aggie Websider. For a blog’s take, check out Just Wait Til Next Season and The Midnight Yell.

Texas A&M’s all-name nominee CB Floyd Raven.

Word Count

Through 70 teams 272,584.

Up Next

Who is No. 54? Tomorrow’s program is one of nine in the F.B.S. to have won at least 11 games in each of the last two years. Of those nine, it is one of two universities to be housed in a city with six letters in its name. Of those two, it is the only one with a head coach whose late name contains more than five letters.

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Comments

  1. Alex Payne says:

    Gary Patterson, TCU, Fort Worth?

  2. Eksynyt says:

    Northern Illinois in DeKalb. Dave Doeren is head coach.

  3. Monty says:

    Before I finished reading the clue for the next entry, I was a little bit worried that my beloved Ducks were coming up *way* faster than I anticipated….

  4. NIU says:

    The NIU Huskies are next.

  5. Parker says:

    Good call Ek.

    For good measure, I predict Air Force and Florida International to be previewed this week.

  6. bshirt says:

    Wow…..what a terrific read. I just found this website and am absolutely floored with quality writing and cfb insight. This place is bookmarked and a very high priority from now on.

    Many sincere thanks to all involved.

  7. Portmanteur says:

    Bshirt, there is only one man involved, and that man is Paul Myerberg

  8. Eksynyt says:

    Washington is already too high. They are going to start the season 2-4 or 1-5.

  9. rammerjammer says:

    how’s this for an interesting stat…

    Texas A&M will play the last 6 national champs in the same season (Bama, Auburn, Bama, Florida, LSU, Florida).

    Roll Tide.

  10. KDRLAX says:

    A bit surprised to see A&M this low in the rankings. Makes me worry that I will soon see my Missouri Tigers pop up on the list …. I was hoping they’d be in the mid to low 30s…

    Shall be an interesting season for both this fall!

  11. Beergut says:

    Only part I would disagree with is the very beginning, I don’t think Aggies measure ourselves against Oklahoma very much.
    It is also worth noting that we’re moving to a 4-3 Under scheme, which is a change, but not a huge overhaul from the 3-4. Snyder is multiple in his scheme, and we showed the 3-4-, 4-3 Under, 4-2-5, and 3-3-5 in spring scrimmages.

    Other than that, a very very thorough preview of the team, especially for an outsider. Good job.

    I think ranking us outside the top 50 is ridiculous, but I can understand being wary because we’re undergoing a massive transition.

    Paul: It’s not a power poll. It’s not the most talented team in the country through the least talented. In that case, A&M would be in the top 25. It’s a matter of what A&M is going to achieve in 2012: six wins, no more than three in the SEC. In that case, I am predicting 54 teams to “achieve” more than that over the course of the 2012 season. It’s not an easy concept to get. It also doesn’t mean that A&M wouldn’t or couldn’t beat more than a few of the 54 teams ahead of it on this list. Just means that going 6-6, 3-5 or 2-6 doesn’t make you anything more than average in the grand scheme of things in the F.B.S.

  12. Beergut says:

    So you think we’ll fall somewhere between the dream season and the nightmare scenario? That’s fair.

    I’m hoping we can take Florida and Missouri at home, Mississippi State and Mississippi on the road, go undefeated in non-conference, and go 8-4 in the regular season. A bowl win puts us at 9-4, very solid for our first season in the SEC.

  13. David says:

    Great read. Spot on analysis and rundown of the key issues

  14. miketag says:

    Nice preview. I agree with most of your analysis although I think Mike Sherman’s 4 and 5 wide hurry up WC offense was very similar to Sumlin’s spread offense.

    Also, I believe your confused De’Vante Harris with fellow incoming DB recruit Ed Pope. Some see Pope as a WR while others believe he will get first look at safety. After seeing him play in person I believe free safety is where he belongs.

    Paul: No, I meant Harris. Just what I was told. Like I said, I don’t buy into the idea that you grab a potential star cornerback and move him to receiver. Still, I thought it was noteworthy enough to include in the preview.

  15. miketag says:

    That is the first I have heard of it. Expect Harris to be playing corner against La Tech. I do not think Harris even played WR as a senior in HS. Enjoyed how in depth your preview was. Wish all journalists did as much research as you did. Keep up the great work!

  16. SouthernBoomer says:

    Your comment on the War Hymn is interesting. I thought the culture of A&M and their passion for singing that verse would keep them tied to Texas. As an outsider I got to believe if they do want to truely “move-on” then they need to drop it completely.

  17. Hunter says:

    I think you gor incoming freshman Harris mixed up with incoming freshman Edward Pope, who will play safety and receiver. Devante is a corner all the way.

  18. AnAgFan says:

    Will texas be dropping the A&M reference from their fight song?

  19. Sessamoid says:

    Texas Fight has exactly one line that references aggy. Your War Hymn is 70-80% about the Unicersity of Texas, less than the number of verses devoted to your own school.

  20. dawgs1 says:

    @Beergut,
    I am very happy to see that you & 99% of your fans/aluni beleive that you will go undefeated in non-conference play this year. I just hope that your team actually belives that too.

    Can’t wait to see you all in Shreveport! I am sure that all of the LA Tech Bulldog players are kneeling at the alter & paying homage to the almighty aTm. They may actually “wet” themselves during the pre-game knowing that they are playing the Ags.

  21. dawgs1 says:

    @Dawgs1,

    Should have read…alumni & later believe. I sure don’t want points deducted for spelling.

    I really do have alot of respect for the Ags, the program that they have built & the ballsy move to the $EC. This move creates the seperation that theu need from the evil empire (UT, ESPN & the LH Network).

    ley creates the seperation

  22. Jeff A. says:

    The A&m Aggies don’t mind getting kicked around. They were honored to be beaten repeatedly by Oklahoma, and the same will go for all the powers of the SEC. They’re just happy to be on the same field as the LSUs and Bamas. They just hate to get beat by Texas. I think they made a good decision to bolt. They’ll be happier.

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