When Texas A&M joined the SEC last year, its fans heard the warnings from SEC fans. Welcome to big boy football, they'd say.
The Aggies came, saw and conquered (almost) the entire conference.
Texas A&M went 6-2 in the SEC, beating No. 1 Alabama 29-24 and losing to Florida and LSU by a combined eight points.
Not bad for a former Big 12 team that was expected to struggle in the SEC.
Texas A&M's best record in the Big 12 was its 7-1 finish in 1998. The Aggies went on to defeat an unbeaten Kansas State team 36-33 in two overtimes in the Big 12 Championship game.
So far, joining the SEC has been good for Texas A&M. Or is it the other way around?
The SEC prides itself on stout defense. Last season, five SEC teams had a top 20 total defense ranking: No. 1 Alabama, No. 5 Florida, No. 8 LSU, No. 11 South Carolina and No. 19 Vanderbilt; while only two had similarly ranked offenses: No. 3 Texas A&M and No. 18 Tennessee.
So it was interesting to see how Texas A&M's high-powered attack would fare against SEC defenses. The Aggies averaged 39.12 points per game against conference foes, more than five points fewer than their 44.5-point season average. In their conference losses, they were limited to 17 points by Florida and 19 by LSU.
So those SEC defensive stats are not a fluke. Alabama did suffer a hiccup against Texas A&M. The nation's top scoring defense faced a 20-0 deficit after one quarter and eventually lost 29-24. But that was the only exception among the league's top teams.
However, the addition of Texas A&M did help to bolster the SEC's reputation, not that it needed it. The conference's lower-tiered teams proved to be no match for the Aggies' high-powered attack. But the more elite SEC teams were competitive against Texas A&M. In the Cotton Bowl Classic, Big 12 co-champion Oklahoma was not, as the Aggies rolled to a 41-13 victory.
Texas A&M unknowingly validated SEC defenses. It also brought that "wow" factor to a league where a 3-2 game—an actual final score between Auburn and Mississippi State in 2008—is football greatness.
The Aggies will change some SEC fans' perceptions of what constitutes fun football. Great defenses aren't the only ones who live here. Great offenses do, too.
While Texas A&M has added value to the SEC, the conference has certainly helped Texas A&M.
For the first time since major recruiting sites have ranked classes, Texas A&M broke through the top-10 barrier. The Aggies ninth-ranked class of 2013 also was the first to be ranked higher than Texas.
Joining the SEC has also helped the school receive broader interest.
Would Manziel have won the 2012 Heisman if he had still been playing in the Big 12?
The conference of a candidate should not matter, but it does. Voters in the South may have viewed Manziel's prolific numbers as a result of weak Big 12 defenses. TCU was the lone Big 12 team to be ranked among the top 20 total defenses last year.
Manziel's performances received extensive publicity on ESPN. That helped both the school's recruiting efforts and Manziel's Heisman campaign.
So who helped whom more? Texas A&M or the SEC?
Their symbiotic relationship almost makes this a toss-up.
Right now, Texas A&M has helped the SEC, especially since Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee are trying to bounce back from losing seasons. After such a breakout 2012 season, one wonders if the team will suffer a sophomore slump. It will not matter. The Aggies will still be playing in the SEC, a league that provides opportunity for players to compete in the most stable conference at the highest level.
Seven straight BCS Championships. Dominating television coverage on Saturdays. Turnkey NFL players. Rock star status in communities. That is what the SEC has delivered to Texas A&M.
The school delivered more excitement and a Heisman winner.
The SEC will eventually help Texas A&M more than Texas A&M helps the SEC.
But Texas A&M won the day and 2012 when it left the Big 12 for the SEC.
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