First Practice: March 2
Spring Game: April 13
These are heady times at Texas A&M, where after a decade of futility, the Aggies head into spring ball as the talk of the college football world. Kevin Sumlin is back for another year after leading Texas A&M to an 11-2 mark in his first campaign as head coach in College Station, and he’s bringing along some guy named Manziel along with him.
But as A&M preps for quite possibly the biggest season in recent school history, there are plenty of questions which still remain.
How will the defense respond to losing several key players? How will the offense look without star coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who has taken over as the head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders? And can Sumlin and his staff keep Manziel on a leash, as his quarterback spends most of the spring and summer off campus.
Stability Factor (1= Chaos; 5= Rock Solid): 4.999999999999999999999
In a college football world where players come and go, coaches get hired and fired like they’re on a reality show hosted by Donald Trump, and realignment has basically become a semi-annual event like the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, Texas A&M is about as stable as stable can be. They’re in the conference everyone envies, have an emerging superstar as a head coach and a roster full of experienced veterans who’ve been through wars in two different leagues at this point.
Outside of Tuscaloosa, AL it’s hard to think of a single program more stable than this one.
Under the Microscope: New Co-Offensive Coordinators Clarence McKinney and Jake Spavital
Honestly, there’s no true way to replace Kingsbury, whose play-calling helped the Aggies become the fourth-highest scoring team in college football last season. That’s why rather than trying to find “the next Kliff Kingsbury” Sumlin has instead tapped two separate men to replace him.
Those men are Clarence McKinney and Jake Spavital, each with a different role in keeping this A&M offense humming.
McKinney will be the man pushing the buttons, and if the Cotton Bowl is any indication, the 42-year-old assistant should keep this offense operating at full capacity. Following Kingsbury’s departure, McKinney called offense for A&M in their postseason victory over Oklahoma, in a game which the Aggies put up 41 points and over 600 yards of total offense. Meanwhile Spavital has the even tougher task of corralling Manziel as the new quarterbacks coach in College Station.
Truthfully, with so many returning pieces this offense should be just fine. But even if it stutters just a little bit, it will be these two who are under fire.
Locked and Loaded: The Passing Game
The answer here is so obviously “The Quarterback!!!!” that we had to go in another direction. And while Manziel is and always will be the star of the show, he should have plenty of help around him to make this offense even better in 2013.
That’s because while uber-prospects Ricky Seals-Jones and JaQuay Williams don’t arrive until the summer, Manziel still has plenty of toys to keep him entertained this spring. Leading receiver Mike Evans (82 catches) is back for his junior year, as is junior Malcome Kennedy (26 catches) as well. Add in an expanded role for former five-star Trey Williams and this passing game could be even more dynamic in 2013, even with the graduation of Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu.
Jockeying for Position: The Front Seven
For all the points this offense will put up, there are still some concerns with this A&M team, specifically on the defensive side of the football. Edge rusher Damontre Moore is gone, as are starting linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter.
And really, it’s in the front seven where the most concern has to be for Sumlin. The three players mentioned above were three of the Aggies top five tacklers in 2012, and entering 2013, it’s mostly a group of inexperienced players who will replace them.
Guys like Justin Bass, Donnie Baggs and Tyrell Taylor barely saw the field in 2012, but they will all be relied upon heading into next season.
Name to Know: Jake Matthews
Ok, so chances are you already know Matthews’ name. Playing right tackle for the Aggies in 2012, Matthews was an All-SEC first team member and (depending on what outlet you used) garnered All-American honors as well. Had he declared for the NFL Draft he’d have been a Top 15 pick.
But instead of heading to the pros, Matthews elected to stay in College Station and will now slide over to the right side where he replaces another future NFL stud, Luke Joeckel. Unlike his counterpart, Joeckel decided to head for the NFL, where he very could be the No. 1 pick.
Still, if Kevin Sumlin had to pick one man in all of college football to replace Joeckel, Matthews isn’t a bad choice. Along with Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, Matthews is considered to be the top returning tackle prospect in all of college football.
Spring Will Be A Success If… : No One Gets Hurt, Suspended or Kicked Off The Team
Basically that’s where we’re at with the Aggies. This team has holes to fill sure, but also has the pieces to make a real run at the 2014 BCS National Championship.
Just as long as no one gets into trouble this spring, Texas A&M will enter the 2013 season a consensus Top 5 team and a real threat to take home the crystal ball.
Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun.