The Texas A&M Aggies were one of the greatest success stories of the 2012 college football season. With the spotlight firmly fixed on Johnny Manziel, the Aggies produced a brilliant season that saw them defeat future national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa in November.
The Aggies fielded a quality defense last season, but their greatest asset was an offense led by one of the best quarterbacks in college football. Texas A&M averaged 44.5 points per game last year—good for fourth in the entire country.
Offense won’t be a problem in 2013, but the same can’t be said for a defense that will be starting seven fresh faces in its defensive front on Saturday.
The Maroon and White Spring Game will be a good opportunity for Kevin Sumlin to see his new defensive players in a game-like environment, and it will also allow the entire nation to tune in for some spring football action.
ESPN will televise the scrimmage at 2 p.m. ET, and we’ll break down what to watch for when you’re checking it out.
Date: Saturday, April 13
Start Time: 2 p.m. ET
Full Season Schedule (Times TBD): ESPN.com
2012 at a Glance
Record: 11-2 (6-2 SEC)
Bowl Game: AT&T Cotton Bowl (Texas A&M 41, Oklahoma 13)
Scoring Offense Ranks: No. 4 (44.5 PPG)
Scoring Defense Rank: No. 26 (21.8 PPG)
USA Today Finish: No. 5
AP Finish: Tied No. 5
Key Win: November 10 at Alabama (29-24)
Position Battle to Watch: Entire Front Seven
It may seem like hyperbole, but there really are too many position battles to sum up. Seven new faces will start in the defensive front on Saturday.
Defensive end certainly stands out as an intriguing position to watch given the vacated talent of a year ago. Damontre Moore and Spencer Nealy will need to be replaced, and there are several candidates who will be vying for the positions.
Brandon Alexander, Tyrone Taylor, Tyrell Taylor and Julien Obioha are the most likely candidates to battle for the two defensive end spots. Obioha has been struggling with injuries this spring, but Alexander may surprise some people on Saturday. The 6’6”, 255-pound sophomore missed some time last year due to an elbow injury, but he has tremendous potential at the position.
Texas A&M’s linebacking corps will also experience a massive overhaul this year. With all three positions up for grabs, the spring game will give several candidates and opportunity to shine in a competitive environment.
Major changes in any positional unit can result in a shaky transition, but there’s certainly plenty of unproven talent waiting for a chance to start. While defense will remain a question mark heading into the season, a lot of those questions may be answered Saturday.
Area in Need of Most Improvement: Defending the Run
It’s hard to find an area of extreme weakness on this Texas A&M roster. Ignoring the defensive overhaul, the Aggies could still stand to improve upon their 2012 performance against the run.
Texas A&M allowed 3.72 yards per carry last season, and while that’s certainly a respectable average in a vacuum, stopping the run in the SEC is imperative. For the Aggies to take a step forward in 2013, they have to be grittier against the run and lower that average.
The Aggies’ secondary will also be a bit of a question mark heading into the 2013 season. Cornerback Floyd Raven will be making the move to free safety this year, and filling his spot on the outside will come down to a number of potential candidates. With 4-star corner Noel Ellis and 3-star corner Tavares Garner highlighting the cornerbacks in this recruiting class, one of the two may earn considerable playing time at the position, but neither will be playing in the spring game.
Replacing departing starters is always a difficult task, and Texas A&M’s 2013 success could come down to making a smooth transition with some fresh faces in the fold.
Offense won’t be a concern, though replacing an offensive tackle as talented as Luke Joeckel may lead to some bumps in the road early in the season. The arrival of freshman receivers JaQuay Williams, Sebastian LaRue and Laquvionte Gonzalez should give Maziel plenty of quality targets to ease the pressure, though, especially with Mike Evans back in the fold in 2013.
The Aggies’ 2013 schedule will be as treacherous as ever this season, though out-of-conference games against Rice and Sam Houston State should prove to be tune-up game in preparation for the SEC schedule. Things will get dicey by Week 3, however.
A September 14 matchup with Alabama awaits the Aggies in the third week of the season, and it may well set the tone for the rest of the season. Arkansas (Week 5) and Ole Miss (Week 6) will also be difficult challenges for Texas A&M, which has to beat its best opponents to have a shot at the SEC title this year.
Another 11-win season isn’t out of the question, but expectations are high this year. Overcoming those lofty expectations will be the team’s greatest test.