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You can read the entire Texas A&M preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 SEC magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#8 Texas A&M
SEC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Kevin Sumlin, 11-2 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Clarence McKinney, Jake Spavital | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Snyder, Marcel Yates
Led by the return of quarterback Johnny Manziel, the first freshman in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy, the Aggies offense could be even better than the 2012 unit that became the first in SEC history to surpass 7,000 yards in a season.
With a firm grasp of coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense, added strength and even more poise in the pocket, the ultra-confident Manziel believes he will be a better quarterback as a sophomore. However, Manziel's status for the season opener is uncertain. The sophomore is under NCAA investigation due to allegations of accepting money in exchange for autographs. If Manziel has to miss any action, junior Matt Joeckel or redshirt freshman Matt Davis would battle to start at quarterback.
The Aggies have more weapons at their disposal this year, including a bevy of talented running backs like returners Ben Malena and Trey Williams, along with a pair of tremendously talented transfers, Brandon Williams from Oklahoma and Tra Carson from Oregon.
A&M will undoubtedly miss Ryan Swope, who departed as the school’s career leader in receptions and receiving yards. But Swope’s records won’t last long if 6'5" sophomore Mike Evans continues to build on his sensational debut. The physically imposing Evans, who finished last season with 82 catches for 1,105 yards, is a matchup nightmare for most defensive backs. Juniors Malcome Kennedy and LeKendrick Williams and senior Derel Walker all had impressive moments last season and could all play key roles in 2013. But they will be pressed for playing time by an extremely impressive array of newcomers like Ricky Seals-Jones and Ja’Quay Williams.
The offensive line could be among the best in school history even though Luke Joeckel left for the NFL Draft. Future pro prospects like tackle Jake Matthews, tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, center Mike Matthews and guards Jarvis Harrison and Germain Ifedi form a great front.
Losing Damontre Moore and Spencer Nealy will hurt the defensive front, but if nose guard Kirby Ennis (knee) and end Julien Obioha (back) can return at full strength — as anticipated — the line could again be an area where the Aggies exceed expectations.
Linebacker is another area of concern, as the Aggies must replace Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Fortunately, A&M returns one of its defensive anchors from last year in Steven Jenkins, who finished third on the team in 2012 with 79 tackles from his weak-side position. A&M needs a big season from junior college transfer outside linebacker Tommy Sanders, as well as hard-hitting Donnie Baggs in the middle of the 4-3 alignment.
A&M finished 12th out of 14 SEC schools last year in passing defense, but the Aggies should be dramatically improved this season. The trio of Howard Matthews, Toney Hurd and Floyd Raven form a solid combination at the safety positions, while De’Vante Harris and Deshazor Everett are outstanding cover cornerbacks.
Johnny Manziel, QB - Dynamic quarterback will be missed if he has to sit out any action from NCAA investigation.
Mike Evans, WR – Third in the SEC as a redshirt freshman in receptions per game with 6.3, including some remarkably clutch catches.
Jake Matthews, LT – Passed up opportunity to be selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft to return for senior season and play with his younger brother, Mike.
Steven Jenkins, LB – Big-play specialist is the most experienced returner among the defensive front seven.
Deshazor Everett, CB – Produced 56 tackles, broke up seven passes and intercepted two, including one to help secure the victory over No. 1 Alabama.
A&M needs a better year from placekicker Taylor Bertolet, who has a strong leg but was not dependable on field goal attempts beyond 29 yards. While Bertolet was 8-of-9 from 29 yards or less, he was only 2-of-9 from 30 to 49 yards. Drew Kaser appears to be a solid replacement for Ryan Epperson at punter, while the Aggies have some big-play potential with return specialists such as Trey Williams and Brandon Williams on kickoffs and Harris and Sabian Holmes on punts.
After leading A&M to an historic 11-win season last year and the school’s first top-five finish since 1956, Sumlin is aiming even higher in 2013. He fully realizes that the Aggies must replace numerous key starters from a year ago and manage unprecedented expectations as one of the SEC West’s new powers. But Sumlin and the Aggies have set their sights on a national title. That may be a tall task with an extremely inexperienced defense, along with the uncertainty facing Manziel's status. Even if Manziel is forced to miss a few games, Texas A&M will be a factor in the SEC title picture.
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