Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
The offense might have gotten all the headlines, but the defense was at least average for the Aggies in 2012. So what happens when half of it leaves before 2013?
So, um, how'd that first season in the SEC go for you guys? Went 6-2 in the conference, that's good. Knocked off the No. 1 team in the country -- great. Oh, and you added the Heisman trophy on top of that -- excellent. Just one question: What are you going to do next year?
The problem with a season like the one Texas A&M had this year -- if you can really call it a "problem" -- is that it sets the expectations pretty high for the encore. The Aggies did just about everything a football program could do in 2012 without winning a national championship, and they came within 10 points of a perfect regular season that would have given them at least the opportunity to play for that. But A&M and Johnny Manziel aren't going to sneak up on anybody in 2013 -- not on their opponents and not on their fans.
Setting that aside for just a moment, let's keep in mind that the Texas A&M's defense is probably a little bit better than you remember. Yes, the Aggies did give up a seemingly insane 57 points to Louisiana Tech, but that was the only team to break 30 against A&M all year. They held five of the 11 FBS teams they faced this year to fewer than 400 yards, which might not be awe-inspiring, but does kind of puncture the myth of a string of high-scoring track meets. The rushing, passing efficiency and scoring defenses were all ranked seventh in the SEC -- middling, not terrible.
The only thing that looks like a weakness statistically is if you glance at the passing yardage numbers, which rank 12th on a per-game basis in the SEC. But keep in mind that A&M built up some fairly large leads that forced teams to pass; adjust things on a per-play basis, and the Aggies come in sixth. Again, roughly average.
So maybe it's a bigger deal than we think that six of the defensive starters on A&M's final 2012 depth chart are graduating or headed to the draft. (Defensive lineman Demontre Moore is a junior.) Maybe, even with Johnny Football coming back, we should temper the enthusiasm just a bit.
Maybe. But it's still hard to write off Manziel and Co. too quickly. The offensive line will be down by two, with center Patrick Lewis graduating and left tackle Luke Joeckel headed to the NFL. But Jake Matthews, right tackle, is staying. And while wide receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu are also graduating, neither was actually the most productive wideout for A&M this year in terms of yardage -- that would be Mike Evans, who had 1,105 yards and five touchdowns and will be back in 2013. (Swope did have eight touchdowns and Nwachukwu had seven.) And Ben Malena, the Aggies' leading rusher not named Johnny Manziel, is also slated to be back in College Station.
And let's not forget just how much A&M managed to surprise a lot of us in 2012. If the offense at least stands pat and the defense doesn't slip too much, it's more likely than not that the Aggies will justify the offseason buzz. There are a few reasons to bet against A&M if you really want to, but betting against Johnny Manziel and Kevin Sumlin has been a losing wager so far.