2014 CFN Preview - Texas A&M Aggies
Texas A&M RB Trey Williams
Texas A&M RB Trey Williams
Posted Jun 10, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - Who can overcome the loss of so much talent? Texas A&M. (Getty Images)

Texas A&M Aggies

Preview 2014

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Head coach: Kevin Sumlin
3rd year: 20-6
7th year overall: 55-23
Ten Best Aggie Players
1. OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Sr.
2. OG Jarvis Harrison, Sr.
3. WR Ricky Seals-Jones, RFr.
4. P Drew Kaser, Jr.
5. S Howard Matthews, Sr.
6. QB Kenny Hill, Soph.
7. QB Kyle Allen, Fr.
8. WR Malcome Kennedy, Sr.
9. RB Trey Williams, Jr.
10. RB Tra Carson, Jr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 28 at South Carolina
Sep. 6 Lamar
Sep. 13 Rice
Sep. 20 at SMU
Sep. 27 at Arkansas
Oct. 4 at Miss State
Oct. 11 Ole Miss
Oct. 18 at Alabama
Nov. 1 ULM
Nov. 8 at Auburn
Nov. 15 Missouri
Nov. 27 LSU

So the fun is over, right?

The Johnny Manziel topszn variety show took its act to Cleveland, and now Texas A&M has to keep the program rolling. However, there’s a part to this that no one wants to really acknowledge.

The Aggies might be better without Mr. Football.

It was easy to rely on Manziel’s magic and all that he was able to do to take the program on his back and make it a player in the SEC right away. But what happened when No. 2 slowed down late in the season – the offense started to fizzle.

One of the big knocks on Manziel as a pro prospect is his likely inability to become a pure NFL pocket passer. His game was based on improvisation, movement and escapability. Once he got dinged up late in the season, the offense struggled against LSU and didn’t get moving against Missouri. Now the Aggies have to balance things out a little more and can’t just rely on its Heisman superstar. Now the team might be more complete, and now it might actually win something.

Manziel didn’t win a national title. He didn’t lead the Aggies to the SEC title, an SEC West championship, or a berth into the BCS. Last year, he helped take the team to a nine-win season and a bowl victory, just like Ryan Tannehill did in 2011.

Texas A&M football is more than just Manziel – head coach Kevin Sumlin is making it that way with great recruiting class after great recruiting class.

The Aggies finished seventh in the Scout.com 2014 recruiting rankings getting the nation’s No. 1 quarterback (Allen), the No. 1 receiver (Devante Notl) and the No. 1 defensive end (Myles Garrett). A&M had the No. 6 class in 2013, and while it’s early, it has 2015’s fourth-ranked class.

This isn’t just a flash. This isn’t going to be a gimmick. Manziel’s departure doesn’t end anything.

Manziel had to be brilliant and had to keep bombing away because the defense couldn’t stop anyone last season. The O put up 42 on Alabama and 41 on Auburn and still lost those two games. This time around, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder has more experience and more talent to work with – A&M won’t have the nation’s 109th-ranked defense again.

Meanwhile, the cupboard isn’t bare on offense without Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans. There’s talent to fit the system, and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital proved last season that there’s life after Kliff Kingsbury. The offense only averaged 20 fewer yards per game last year than it did in 2012, and while it’ll probably take a wee bit of a step back without Manziel, the backs will get more involved behind a terrific offensive line.

Life goes on in college football. Legends are always replaced, and if the program is solid, the train keeps on rolling.

Texas A&M is now one of those programs.

What to watch for on offense: The running backs. Ben Malena might have been the No. 1 running back, and Manziel might have been the leading rusher and most dangerous option in the open field, but the Aggies are absolutely loaded with runners. It’ll be an easy narrative to focus on the new starting quarterback and life without the Manziel-to-Evans hookup, but most teams would kill for the stable of backs the Aggies will trot out, and the NFL will be more than happy to soon employ several of the A&M blockers.

Junior Brandon Williams is a big-time talent who averaged 6.1 yards per carry last season when he got the chance. Junior Tra Carson is a big back who thumped for seven touchdowns and 5.3 yards per carry, and junior Trey Williams can move, averaging seven yards a pop with six touchdowns. These backs, behind Cedric Ogbuehi and a line that’s more than fine after losing its second straight starting left tackle to the early first round of the NFL Draft, will produce a big-time ground attack.

What to watch for on defense: Can the secondary go back to its 2012 level? Under D coordinator Mark Snyder, the pass rush hasn’t been as dangerous as it was back in the Big 12 days, but two years ago the secondary wasn’t torched as often. Last year, things changed around with the pass defense getting lit up on a regular basis giving up 200 yards or more against everyone but Sam Houston State, UTEP and LSU, who ran the ball at will. Everyone else got to have loads of fun through the air, partly because the pass rush stunk.

Four starters are back in the secondary, but they have to start limiting the home runs and they have to make more big plays on their own. The Aggies only allowed 26 more passing yards last year than they did in 2012, but they gave up 14 more touchdown passes and almost a yard more per attempt. Why? The defense generated ten fewer sacks than it did in 2012 and 30 fewer than it did in 2011.

The team will be far better if… the defense can get off the field. The offense might have been high-powered and it might have been able to come up with big plays without a problem, but the defense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain giving up first downs like it was trying to. The run defense was way too soft, allowing too many easy and manageable second and third down opportunities allowing the chains to move too often. The Aggies gave up a whopping 304 first downs on the year after allowing just 273 in 2012. UTEP, Vanderbilt and Sam Houston State were the only three teams that didn’t come up with 20 first downs.

The Schedule: The Aggies didn't get the memo that SEC teams are supposed to play someone decent outside of the SEC, facing Lamar, Rice, at SMU and ULM. However, they can be forgiven for a breather or four after starting out the season at South Carolina and with road games at Mississippi State and Alabama are part of an eight-week sprint to start things up.

There's time off to rest up in November, getting a week off before facing ULM and then diving into the 2013 SEC championship going to Auburn one week and facing Missouri the next. Fortunately, there's another week off before dealing with LSU. Beating the Tigers could be a must-win considering the conference road trips to deal with the Gamecocks, Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers.

Best offensive player: Senior OT Cedric Ogbuehi. Probably a first round pick had he come out early, he spent last year as a right tackle and was fantastic. Now he’ll follow in the footsteps of Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews and could become a top ten overall pick if he turns in a terrific year at left tackle. A mauler with great feet, he can do it all, and now he’ll be the anchor and star for a good line that should be among the best in the SEC.

Best defensive player: Senior S Howard Matthews. The stars and top players are all on the offensive side, but the defense is deep and should produce a few stars as the year goes on. Matthews is the leading returning tackler and tied for the team lead with three picks to go along with six broken up passes, but the defense needs him to do less against the run and give up fewer big plays. If the front seven can do its job, Matthews should be able to roam free to be more of a big hitter and playmaker.

Key players to a successful season: Freshman QB Kyle Allen and/or sophomore QB Kenny Hill. Okay, so the offense really will miss Johnny Manziel at times, and yeah, it might take a little while before everything hums along. The new starting quarterback doesn’t have to be Manziel or Ryan Tannehill right away, but he’ll have to keep the mistakes to a minimum, relax a bit behind a line that’ll give him plenty of time, and utilize all the weapons around him and let them make all the plays. The bar was set impossibly high by Manziel, and the expectations will be through the roof considering the talent waiting to take over, but the results should be fine – it might just take a little time.

The season will be a success if ... the Aggies win nine games again. The offense might be a little worse, but the defense should be far better, and the overall result needs to hit the nine-win mark with or without a bowl victory. The big key will be to not lose any ground to the Mississippi States and Ole Misses of the West, and there can’t be a mistake against Arkansas in Arlington. If A&M can be one of the three best teams in the division, and if it can come up with one win among the road games at South Carolina, Auburn and Alabama, and if it can do no worse than split between Missouri and LSU – yeah, that’s a lot of ifs – it’ll be a great year.

Key game: Nov. 27 vs. LSU. No SEC team could handle road games against South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn and come out unscathed – they might be the three best teams in the conference. Anything the Aggies can do in those three games will be gravy. The showdown against LSU will likely be the key to the team’s West pecking order, and to come up with the win, the run defense has to show up. Auburn ran through the Aggies for 379 yards last season, and LSU cranked out the second-biggest day on the ground with 324 yards in the 34-10 blowout win. In 2012, A&M didn’t allow 200 rushing yards to anyone but LSU, who came up with 219 yards in a 24-19 win.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Third Quarter Scoring: Texas A&M 160 – Opponents 88
- Time of Possession: Opponents 33:15 – Texas A&M 26:45
- Third Down Conversions: Texas A&M 81-of-161 (50%) – Opponents 75-of-183 (41%)

- 2014 Texas A&M Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players