14 for '14: Texas A&M Steadies the Ship

Joe Robbins

The next team up in the preview series is the one from the Lone Star State.

There are several kinds of luck in football: injury luck, fumble luck, scheduling luck, and so on. There's also the luck of when a new coach inherits one of the most talented quarterbacks in recent memory who probably shouldn't have even signed with the school because the old offense was a poor fit for his abilities. You know, that kind of luck.

To be sure, Kevin Sumlin and his staff did well to recognize Johnny Manziel's talents, adapt their offense to fit them, and develop him from a raw, scrambling freshman into a first round draft pick. There also was the matter of a monster of a wide receiver in Mike Evans and a pair of future high draft picks at tackle. Manziel alone doesn't get the credit for the success that Texas A&M had over the past two years, but having an all-world quarterback didn't hurt.

The conventional wisdom two years ago was that Missouri would be the newcomer with the better chance of coming in right away and competing. The Tigers ended up slammed with injuries while A&M unleashed Manziel, so that didn't work out. But, a division title for MU later and with a lot of notable Aggies departing, we're back in that same boat this year.

For all the riches Mike Sherman left behind on offense, he didn't quite stack the defense in the same way. It really showed last year, as the Aggies had to throw a bunch of young guys into the fire. TAMU was in a clear bottom tier with two other teams when it came to defense in 2013, and those other teams went a combined 0-16 in SEC play. It was bad. Really, really bad.

That question of defense is the biggest one for this team moving forward, even more than replacing Manziel. It's true that Sumlin's year without Case Keenum at Houston was bad at the quarterback spot, but it was backups who hadn't had as many reps trying to fill in. He couldn't recruit there like he can in College Station either. Neither Kyle Allen nor Kenny Hill is David Piland, so go ahead and drop that little tidbit and focus on the real issue.

The defense should be improved simply from a lot of those young guys being a year older and wiser. Plus, the defensive backfield would start all upperclassmen if the season began today. Mark Snyder has a good pedigree as a coach, including engineering Ohio State's 2002 national championship defense, and Sumlin isn't the stereotypical Air Raid coach who forgets defense exists. His Houston defense started off awful, but it steadily improved and was pretty good by his last year there.

Overall it's going to be a transitional year, and I am not just referring to the renovations to Kyle Field. Every coach has such a season three or four years into a regime, and this is going to be it for Sumlin. With the West probably the strongest it's been since 2010, a year when five of the six teams won at least four SEC games and at least nine overall games, the task for the Aggies won't be competing for the crown. It will be making sure the bottom doesn't fall out and disrupt the stellar recruiting that has been going on.

Plenty of people saw the potential for a monster program coming from a team in Texas getting to sell the SEC brand. That potential is still there, but it won't get fulfilled this year.

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