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SEC Football Preview 2014: Texas A&M Looks to Put All the Pieces Together

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With a superstar quarterback and two other key offensive players among 10 departing starters, who will step up for the Aggies this season?

Michael Chang

There was an oddity of the 2014 NFL Draft that Kevin Sumlin hit on this past week when he spoke at SEC Media Days. "We had three guys drafted in the first round," Sumlin pointed out. "Now, that's the good news. Bad news, that's the only three guys we had drafted."

In reality, both of those things are mixed news for Texas A&M. You could just as easily say that the good news is that a team with only 12 returning starters only lost three players to the draft, meaning most of the guys they lost weren't stars; but that three of the guys that they lost were first-round talents, meaning that the team is going to badly miss them in 2014. Add to that the uncertainty at quarterback -- there seemed to be no rock-solid consensus among A&M folks in Hoover about who would be the starting signal-caller in College Station -- and the roster provides a big question mark for the Aggies going into the season.

BIGGEST RETURN | DB Howard Matthews
When you have a dozen returning starters, and most of them on the side of the ball that was the less-accomplished half of the team the prior year, there's not a whole lot of choices. So we'll go with Matthews, who has the most tackles of any returning defender (90) and tied for the lead last year in interceptions, with three. (The other player who had as many picks, Nate Askew, is gone.) If A&M is even going to get to a bowl, let alone getting to a postseason game not named after the stars of a reality television show, the Aggies are going to need something out of their defense, and Matthews is one of the guys that will have to step up.

BIGGEST LOSS | QB Johnny Manziel
Love him or hate him -- and there were plenty of people who did both -- but it's hard to see Texas A&M going 9-4 last year without Johnny Manziel. The controversial quarterback generated 4,873 yards of total offense, including going 300-of-429 for 4,114 yards and 37 touchdowns against 10 interceptions while also being the team's leader rusher with 759 yards on 144 carries. Manziel was a one-man wrecking crew, keying the A&M offense as it scored 42 points in a losing effort to Alabama and broke 40 points in all but two of its games. Mike Evans and Ben Malena helped tremendously, especially Evans, but Manziel's production on the field will be badly missed, even if his antics off of it won't be.

BREAKTHROUGH POSSIBILITY | WR Malcome Kennedy
New quarterback or not, Texas A&M isn't about to start running a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense. Sumlin and Co. are still going to want to throw the ball -- and Kennedy, the only one of A&M's top four receivers last year to return in 2014, is probably going to be a top target. Kennedy is the only wideout on the depth chart without an "or" beside his name right now. And he didn't do poorly as the No. 2 guy behind Mike Evans last year; Kennedy had 60 catches for 658 yards and seven touchdowns. If he can take and hold the No. 1 spot against talented guys like Ricky Seals-Jones, Kennedy could be a star.