They wouldn’t compete in the SEC, they said. They wouldn’t have a chance against Alabama, they said.
While it’s funny to look back on it now, these were the battle cries of many when Texas A&M made the jump from the Big 12 South to the SEC West. People said if Texas A&M couldn’t win the Big 12, how were they supposed to compete in the SEC?
No one expected this kind of success in their first year in the best conference in the land, but the 11-2 (No. 5 AP, No. 5 Coaches) Aggies took the college football world by storm behind the feet and infectious smile of Johnny Football.
Johnny Manziel, or Johnny Football, or JFF, or Johnny Heisman, or whatever you want to call him, is the best offensive college football player in the nation. He proved that by taking home the 2012 Heisman trophy and by putting up gaudy numbers all season long. All of this without a true dominant weapon in the passing game, but rather multiple very good options.
All of that is about to change.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin has been lighting up the recruiting trail, snatching No. 1 athlete Ricky Seals-Jones from Texas and getting No. 1 tight end Derrick Griffin to commit early in 2012.
The 6’5”, 230 lb RSJ is a monster and will be an immediate impact player for the Aggies. He’ll likely start at wide receiver with Ryan Swope, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Kenric McNeal all graduating. Freshman Mike Evans (82 rec, 1,105 yards, five TDs) made a name for himself this season as the Aggies’ leading receiver and pairing him with RSJ next season will give the Aggies a dominant 1-2 threat on the outside.
Add to that freshman Thomas Johnson, who was a top 50 rated player from the 2012 class, and Malcome Kennedy, who had moments this season, and you’re talking about one of the best receiving corps in all of college football.
Oh, and let’s not forget about top 2013 tight end Griffin and senior Nehemiah Hicks working the middle of the field.
It’s not all good for the Aggies offensively, though. They’ll lose Luke Joeckel to the NFL, plus center Patrick Lewis, running back Christine Michael and the aforementioned wide receivers to graduation. That said, the Aggies should be able to at least mitigate the losses of these players.
2012 top OL recruit Germain Ifedi backed up Joeckel as a true freshman, and with Jake Matthews likely coming back for his senior season, he can move over the left tackle with Ifedi sliding to the right side. Ifedi, fellow 2012 recruit Kimo Tipoti and 2011 recruit (and Matthews’ backup) Joseph Cheek will likely battle it out for the right tackle spot.
As if NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews didn’t do enough for A&M by convincing his son Jake to follow in his footsteps, his younger son Mike Matthews also committed (and enrolled in the spring) in 2012. Mike should be able to replace Lewis at center and give the Aggies a formidable offensive line once again in 2013.
Ben Malena and Trey Williams will be a force combination in the backfield. Losing Michael hurts, but these two are explosive and both were just as much a part of the running offense as Michael this season.
On defense, A&M will have a tough time replacing some senior leadership. They will lose DT Spencer Nealy, ILB Jonathan Stewart, OLB Sean Porter, CB Dustin Harris (Defensive MVP of Cotton Bowl) and safety Steven Terrell to graduation. They’ll also lose their best player Damontre Moore to the NFL.
Tramain Jacobs, Floyd Raven and De’Vante Harris will battle it out for Harris’ spot in the secondary, but another name could be added to that list in the next month. Five-star recruit Mackensie Alexdander is considering the Aggies and has them on top of his list for now. He is a top 10 recruit and the No.2 corner in the nation according to ESPN.
If Sumlin can get him to commit, the Aggies will vault to the top five with their recruiting class.
There are almost too many names to list for the losses at linebacker, but just know that Sumlin has been looking to severely upgrade the position with this year’s class. He already has four four-star linebackers committed and could be adding more before it’s said and done.
Nealy’s loss is more about leadership than anything, but the Aggies will not miss his presence on the defensive line. Starters Kirby Ennis and Julien Obioha are coming back and Sumlin is bringing in two top recruits at the position in Justin Manning and Isaiah Golden.
Clearly Sumlin is benefiting from the move to the SEC, but his coaching staff has also developed several young players into studs and that is the most important aspect of recruiting. Sumlin is finding his players, which is what matters more than anything.
With the amount of talent flooding into College Station, the Aggies are set up to make a run at the national title for the next couple of years, at least.