BY RYAN BLACK | email@example.com
With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On Day 4, we kick things off with the Texas A&M Aggies. Playing as well as any team in the country at the end of last season, the Tigers will head on the road to take on the Aggies in Game No. 7.
Who: Texas A&M
Where: Kyle Field (82,600) | College Station, Texas
All-time series: Texas A&M leads 3-0.
When last they met: In short, it wasn’t pretty for Auburn. Texas A&M came into Jordan-Hare Stadium and obliterated the hosts 63-21, the most points the Tigers had allowed since Georgia Tech rolled to a 68-7 victory on Nov. 29, 1917. The Aggies moved the ball at will against the Tigers’ defense, as the visitors put it in the end zone on eight of its first nine possessions. Texas A&M piled up 621 yards of total offense, setting a record for the highest total by an Auburn opponent. At the center of the rout, not surprisingly, was Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman phenom racked up 350 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns. He completed 16 of his 23 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns (two going to senior receiver Ryan Swope) and adding 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns with his dazzling feet. While Manziel and the Aggies’ offense was making it look easy, the Tigers were struggling to keep someone — anyone — at quarterback. Starter Clint Moseley left the game after just three plays, injuring his ankle following a sack. Kiehl Frazier was next up, but made little headway, going 6 of 11 for 89 yards. Finally, true freshman (and Columbus native) Jonathan Wallace came in and gave the offense a bit of a spark, leading the Tigers on three scoring drives. Of course, by then it was far too little, far too late. If you want to point to a game that put the final nail in the coffin on the Gene Chizik era, this was probably it.
The coach: Kevin Sumlin (11-2 last season in first year at Texas A&M; 46-19 record overall after going 35-17 in four seasons at Houston from 2008-11)
2012 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC; tied for second in SEC West with LSU (beat Oklahoma 41-13 in Cotton Bowl)
Total offense: 558.54 ypg (3rd in Division I, 1st in SEC)
Scoring offense: 44.46 ppg (4th, 1st)
Total defense: 390.23 ypg (57th, 9th)
Scoring defense: 21.77 ppg (26th, 7th)
2012 Year-in-Review: All-in-all, it was a pretty decent debut season for Texas A&M in the SEC. OK, I’m being (a bit) facetious, but 2012 was an incredible year by any standard for the Aggies. A double-digit victory total, a blowout win over former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl and being the only team to hand Alabama a loss last year is difficult to top. Hard as it is to believe now, fellow league newcomer Missouri actually received more love at last year’s SEC Media Days. (Missouri was picked to finish fourth in the Eastern Division, somehow even receiving two votes to win the division crown. Meanwhile, Texas A&M was slotted fifth in the West, and didn’t have any media member toss a division title vote its way.) The Aggies decided to let their play do the talking for them. Texas A&M lost only two games, with one coming in the season opener against Florida, 20-17, which marked both the first contest of Sumlin’s tenure and Manziel’s first time as the starting quarterback. The Aggies then went on a five-game winning streak, escaping with a pair of close wins in back-to-back weeks on the road, versus Ole Miss (30-27) and Louisiana Tech (59-57), respectively. (Note: The game against the Bulldogs was originally scheduled to be the Aggies’ season opener Aug. 30, but had to be pushed back to October due to Hurricane Isaac.) Texas A&M suffered its second defeat the following week, falling to LSU 24-19 at home. The Aggies rallied back to close the season on a six-game tear, knocking off top-ranked Alabama 29-24 in Bryant-Denny Stadium — snapping the Crimson Tide’s 13-game win streak in the process — and pummeling Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl.
Biggest area of concern: After Outland Trophy winner Luke Joeckel left early to enter the NFL Draft (where he went No. 2 overall to Jacksonville) and center Patrick Lewis graduated, the Aggies have had to revamp their offensive line, shifting people all around. But at least the Aggies aren’t lacking for talent. Having Jake Matthews come back for one last go-round was big, with the Aggies electing to move him from right tackle to left to take Joeckel’s old spot. Junior Cedric Ogbuehi slid out from guard to fill Jake Matthew’s vacated right tackle position. Jarvis Harrison returns after starting all 13 games as an offensive guard last season, while Jake’s younger brother, Mike Matthews, will move into the starting lineup at center after seeing action in seven games last year. While the Aggies shouldn’t worry about the offensive line’s ability, it does need to be concerned about players getting comfortable starting in different positions than they have in previous seasons. It’s one thing to do it in practice, but a different thing altogether in live games. If it gels quickly, expect another magnificent season offensively for Texas A&M.
Key returning player/unit: Only a contrarian wouldn’t pick the reigning Heisman winner, right? Well, I’m not going to be “that guy (or gal).” Whether Manziel enters the fall as the best player in college football is an argument for another day, since South Carolina defensive end and freak-of-nature Jadeveon Clowney would have a lot to say about that title. But there is no doubt the whirling dervish of a quarterback is the most exciting player in the sport as he spins around every whichaway, keeping both opponents and his own teammates and coaches unaware what he might do next. (And yes, this could also be applied to his off-the-field life given his penchant for always making headlines, whether he’s appearing in a country music video, attending a 2 Chainz concert or taking in an NBA Finals game.)
Extra point: Texas A&M finished tied for fifth (along with fellow SEC member Georgia) in the final Associated Press Poll last season, its best end-of-season showing since 1956. That year, the Aggies also finished No. 5 in the final AP Poll. The only other top-five finish for the Aggies came in 1939, when they finished the season ranked No. 1 to capture their sole AP national title.