2012 Texas A&M Preview - SEC Wild Card
Texas A&M WR Ryan Swope
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Did Texas A&M just become Texas Tech?
Head coach: Kevin Sumlin
5th year overall: 36-17
Ten Best Texas A&M Players
1. LB Sean Porter, Sr.
2. DE Damontre Moore, Jr.
3. OT Luke Joeckel, Jr.
4. WR Ryan Swope, Sr.
5. OT Jake Matthews, Jr.
6. LB Steven Jenkins, Jr.
7. LB Jonathan Stewart, Sr.
8. OG Jarvis Harrison, Soph.
9. RB Christine Michael, Sr.
10. QB Jameil Showers, Soph.
Aug. 30 at Louisiana Tech
Sep. 8 Florida
Sep. 15 at SMU
Sep. 22 South Carolina State
Sep. 29 Arkansas
Oct. 6 at Ole Miss
Oct. 13 OPEN DATE
Oct. 20 LSU
Oct. 27 at Auburn
Nov. 3 at Mississippi State
Nov. 10 at Alabama
Nov. 17 Sam Houston State
Nov. 24 Missouri
It’s been the easy shot to take. The Aggies struggled to do anything in the Big 12 South and sputtered way too much in key moments in last year’s ten-team format, so how are they going to suddenly get better after becoming a member of one of the nastiest divisions in the history of college football?
After years and years of beating its head against the Texas and Oklahoma wall, why was A&M going to want to deal with Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Arkansas, not to mention the SEC East?
Instead of looking at the move like it’s an impossible step forward to take, now A&M is out of the big burnt orange’s shadow and can be its own program. The SEC is bigger and better than the Big 12, and now the Aggies can form their own identity rather than simply be the team Texas plays – or played – around Thanksgiving every year.
But by doing this, will the program be just an also-ran that occasionally comes up with something special once in a while? The passing attack could consistently become a thorn in the side of the big boys with the quirk factor always good for an upset or two every season, but without the overall pieces in place to take a step further. At least that’s the fear.
The Aggies are going to utilize the Kevin Sumlin spread-things-out offensive attack in a league known for its shut-down defense, and it’s going to have to work. Like Texas Tech, A&M will have the team no one really wants to deal with in an SEC filled with offensively challenged teams, and it’ll even have former Red Raider star quarterback Kliff Kingsbury serving as the offensive coordinator.
But instead of thinking there might be a hard ceiling that can’t be broken through – like Texas Tech can’t seem to do in the Big 12 – maybe, just maybe, this is the right offense and the right program and the right coaching staff and the right time to throw a major curveball into the SEC West.
Arkansas is in a major transitional phase, and no matter what you thought of Bobby Petrino and the situation, he was a whopper of a coach and the program is worse without him. Auburn is still trying to rebuild and Cam Newton isn’t returning anytime soon. Meanwhile, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are continually trying to work upstream without the talent to consistently beat the top teams.
Alabama and LSU aren’t going anywhere, but those two defensive-oriented teams might have to be ready to gear things up for a shootout when they have to deal with A&M. Remember, LSU gave up a ton of yards through the air to West Virginia, and part of the problem with the rematch in the BCS championship that it pitted two defensive teams from a league that, for the most part, couldn’t throw the ball a lick.
That won’t be a problem for the Aggies.
Lost in the 7-6 record of last season was that A&M was really, really close to coming up with a special season. But close only counts in horseshoes and girls in a bar at 2 a.m., and the 2011 Aggies couldn’t close the deal.
They had Oklahoma State in trouble. They were up on Arkansas going into the fourth. The gagged in an overtime loss to Missouri and they couldn’t come up with a stop in the four-overtime loss to Kansas State. Throw in the still-puzzling Case McCoy run to glory and a Texas win, and A&M lost five games by a touchdown or less. The Oklahoma game was the only blowout, but there but for the grace of roughly six plays went an 11-1 season.
The close calls might have turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the Mike Sherman-led Aggies weren’t going to have a prayer in the SEC – they weren’t going to win big by playing it straight. However, the Kevin Sumlin curveballs might have just the right mix of talent and scheme over the next few seasons to be in the mix for the title if things break the right way.
This year’s team already has some good pieces to build around with a terrific offensive line and a superior pass rushing front seven. There’s SEC speed and athleticism across the board, and there’s plenty of help on the way from a strong recruiting class that seemed to like the direction things were headed after Sumlin was given the gig.
No, it might not be that bad to become the Texas Tech of the SEC West for a little while, but the new Texas A&M under Sumlin could quickly surprise and show that it was a good move to jump leagues. If Arkansas can become a player in the SEC West, then so can A&M.
What to watch for on offense: Lots and lots of passing. The Aggies have always thrown the ball, but under Sumlin and Kingsbury the offense will really start chucking. The problem is that the veteran and talented offensive line will have adjust a bit after jelling into a phenomenal brick wall, but the potential is there to do it quickly. A quarterback has to emerge from the talented pack with four different options – led by sophomore Jameill Showers – all able to step in and put up huge numbers. With a running game that’s a big question mark because of Christine Michael’s injured knee and Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams’ issue with the NCAA, it’s going to be an air show for a conference not used to them.
What to watch for on defense: The 4-3. Here was the problem; the pass rush was the best in the nation last year coming up with 51 sacks and camping out in opposing backfields, but the secondary did absolutely nothing with all the help getting bombed on time and again while not coming up with nearly enough key plays. This year he defensive backfield is starting almost anew and it needs even more help – if it’s possible – from the front seven. The tackles might not be the mountains needed to hold up against the run against the LSUs and Alabamas of the SEC world, but the noise will come from the outside linebackers and end Damontre Moore up front.
The team will be far better if … the defense can force more turnovers. For all the pressure and all the big things from the pass rush, the D struggled to take the ball away with just seven picks and eight fumble recoveries. Two of the interceptions came in the opener against SMU and there weren’t more than one pick in any of the final 12 games. While the defense came up with two fumbles in back-to-back weeks against Kansas State and Kansas, it managed to get just one in the first seven games. In the six losses A&M managed to come up with a grand total of two interceptions, helping the Aggies finish 106th in the nation in turnover margin.
The schedule: Much of Texas A&M’s first season in the SEC depends on whether or not things will change under Kevin Sumlin. Will this be the same Aggie team that couldn’t close and kept losing close game after close game, or will it be stronger in tight games against teams its own size? There can’t be much more to ask for than missing Georgia and South Carolina from the East and starting out the SEC slate with Florida ant Arkansas at home. Mix those two games in with winnable road dates against Louisiana Tech, SMU, South Carolina State, and Ole Miss, and A&M could be 5-0 to start the year before getting a week off.
And then comes the run. LSU makes the trip to Kyle Field in what’ll be one of the most fun and emotional showdowns of the SEC season. That’s followed up by a brutal three game road trip to Auburn, Mississippi State, and Alabama. Survive that month at 2-2, at worst, and the Aggies should be in line for a nice record with Sam Houston State and Missouri at home to close things out.
Best offensive player: Senior WR Ryan Swope. Actually, offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is the best offensive player on the lot, but Swope might be the most important. The quarterback situation will be fine, and the running game will sort itself out, but receivers are needed for Sumlin to do what he wants with the passing attack and it’ll all work around Swope. With 161 catches over the last two years and a dominant 1,207-yard, 11 score 2011, the shifty Swope had the NFL in his sights, but will try to up his stock in his final season by showing he can shine against SEC defense.
Best defensive player: Senior LB Sean Porter. The pass rushing production might have fallen off the map over the second half of the season, but he made up for it with plenty of big plays behind the line and consistent work against the run. Beefed up at 6-2 and 230 pounds, he’s built for the SEC rigors and should be helped by a terrific twosome in Steven Jenkins on the outside and Jonathan Stewart in the middle. He won’t have to do it all, but he will.
Key player to a successful season: Junior DT Kirby Ennis and Senior DT Jonathan Mathis. Running back and secondary are the biggest problems and the quarterback situation needs work, but in the SEC the team won’t go anywhere unless the tackles can hold up against the run. That wasn’t too much of a problem last year against everyone but Missouri and Kansas State, and those two got huge days out of running quarterbacks. Dealing with the dual-threat types won’t be much of a problem in the West, but handling the power running games of LSU and Alabama will be an issue.
The season will be a success if … the Aggies win nine games. There’s too much turnover and too many X factors to dream of much more, especially with LSU and Alabama almost as nasty as they were last year. However, if the Aggies can get their offense together quickly, and if the secondary isn’t a disaster, they can beat Louisiana Tech, SMU, Florida, Arkansas and Missouri, to go along with layups against South Carolina State and Sam Houston State. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are hardly killers, and it’ll take a few upsets and no big misses, but nine wins are possible and a double-digit campaign isn’t far-fetched.
Key game: Sept. 8 vs. Florida. Of course the battles with Arkansas, LSU, Auburn and Alabama are vital, but beating the Gators in the first matchup between the two programs since a 37-14 Aggie win in the 1977 Sun Bowl is a must to set the tone for the season. If everything goes according to plan, winning the SEC opener should mean a 4-0 start going into the home date with the Hogs. Win that, too, and 6-0 is a near lock before getting a week off to prepare for LSU.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Sacks: Texas A&M 51 – Opponents 9
- 1st half scoring: Texas A&M 322-133. 2nd half & OT scoring: Opponents 233-186
- 4th down conversions: Opponents 9-of-21 (40%) – Texas A&M 2-of-10 (20%)
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