Quick question: Had anyone told you one year ago that Texas A&M would win 11 games during the 2012 season, produce a Heisman Trophy winner and enter 2013 a near-unanimous Top 5 team, how would you have responded? My guess is that there would’ve been some kind of bad “Mayan apocalypse” joke mixed in there somewhere.
Only entering 2013 that is the reality in College Station: Texas A&M is an emerging college football super-power. They’ve got the perfect coach in place, an exciting offense, a genuine superstar in Johnny Manziel and SEC street cred to go along with it. If the conference is going to win its eighth straight title next season, A&M is as likely a candidate to make it happen as anyone.
Then again, that hardly means the Aggies are a crystal ball shoe-in either. This team still has plenty of questions surrounding its defense and what the departure of Kliff Kingsbury means to this offense. They’ve also got to keep Manziel in check and out of trouble.
Both excitement and angst each permeate from Texas A&M as we enter this off-season.
Here’s what to look for heading into 2013.
The Good: So yeah, we’re guessing that you’ve probably heard of Johnny Manziel, aka Johnny Football, aka Johnny Heis-manziel by now. The redshirt freshman started the 2012 campaign by stealing the starting job from presumed favorite Jameill Showers and ended it by stealing the hearts of college football fans with a season that truly had to be seen to be believed. Manziel not only finished the season with over 3,700 yards passing, 1,400 yards rushing and 47 total touchdowns, but most impressively saved his best performance for the Aggies’ final game of the season. It came in a record-setting Cotton Bowl, where he accumulated 516 yards of total offense.
And the scary thing is, Manziel may be even better entering 2013. Besides the logical progression you’d expect him to make in his third year in the program (and second in Sumlin’s offense), A&M also returns a bevy of skilled playmakers, including top receiver Mike Evans, running backs Ben Molena and Trey Williams. In addition, a highly-rated recruited class features the top wide receiver in the country Ricky Seals-Jones, as well as fellow stud receivers JaQuay Williams and Derrick Griffin.
It’s safe to say that the sky is the limit for the Texas A&M offense entering 2013.
The Bad: Then again, to quote an old Chris Rock joke, if the sky is the limit for the offense, than the limit very well might be the sky for A&M’s defense. A&M will lose graduated linebackers Sean Porter, Jonathan Stewart and Steven Jenkins, as well as elite pass rusher Damontre Moore, who declared early for the NFL Draft. Moore’s loss is especially tough, after the junior tied for eighth in the country with 12.5 sacks this past season.
Beyond that, another question remains, and that is the significance that offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury had on this team’s success in 2012. Many (myself included) have speculated that A&M’s staggering offensive output in 2012 was more a byproduct of Manziel and Sumlin than anything Kingsbury did, but still, it will be interesting to see how his departure impacts this club’s offensive production.
And oh by the way, A&M also lost offensive tackle Luke Joeckel to the NFL, a player who is projected by some to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
For as much talent as A&M returns in 2013, there is plenty that needs to be answered as well.
The Uncertain: Beyond the obvious questions about the evolution of the defense, offensive play-calling and move of Jake Matthews from right to left tackle, there isn’t a bigger uncertainty than the mental state of Manziel himself. The quarterback literally went from an unknown commodity to instant celebrity overnight, and it’s safe to say that maybe, umm, he could’ve handled it better. Look, we all know that (to date) Manziel hasn’t broken any rules that anyone is aware of. At the same time, as a newly minted public figure he also needs to be more discreet about where and how he’s spending his downtime as well. Luckily for A&M fans, if Manziel’s Cotton Bowl performance was any indication, he’ll be just fine entering 2013.
At the same time, with eight months between now and the next time he takes the field, Manziel has a lot of free time to navigate through. A&M fans will hold their breath every moment between now and then.
Verdict: Had you asked anyone what to expect in year one of the Kevin Sumlin era at Texas A&M, it’s safe to say that even the most ardent Aggie supporter could’ve never imagined 11 wins and an upset of the No. 1 team in the country. Nor could they have expected an unknown quarterback from Kerrville, TX to go on and win a Heisman Trophy.
But as exciting as A&M’s 2012 run was, there will be no sneaking up on anyone in 2013. The Aggies are officially a college football commodity and it’s safe to say that they enter this coming season as the hunted, rather than the hunter. Only time will tell how they’re able to handle it.
Still, No. 3 isn’t a bad place for this program to start, especially remember how far they’ve come in such a short time.
One way or the other, 2013 is going to be a fun year in College Station.
Be Sure to check out the rest of CBR's "Way Too Early" Top 10:
10. Florida Gators
9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
8. Clemson Tigers
7. Georgia Bulldogs
6. Louisville Cardinals
5. Ohio State Buckeyes
4. Stanford Cardinal
For all his insight, opinion and analysis on college football and beyond, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.