2011 Record: (7-6, 4-5 in Big 12)
Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin (35-17 at Houston)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Meineke Car Care Bowl: beat Northwestern 33-22
Swing Games: 9/8 vs Florida, 10/27 at Auburn, 11/3 at Miss State, 11/24 vs Missouri
The Big Three: 9/29 vs Arkansas, 10/20 vs LSU, 11/10 at Alabama
Stat to Cheer: converted on 95.16% of trips to the red zone (1st in Big 12)
Stat to Fear: only had 15 takeaways in 2011 (last in Big 12)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 7; Defense: 6; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Jonathan Stewart (98 tackles), LB Sean Porter (79 tackles, 9.5 sacks), DE/LB Damontre Moore (72 tackles, 8.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: WR Ryan Swope (89 rec, 11 TD), WR Uzoma Nwachukwu (50 rec) , RB Christine Michael (899 yds, 6.03 ypc, 8 TD), OT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis
Inside Scoop with @JMattHicks:
CFBZ: Now that Kevin Sumlin has been on the job for a few months, what are your impressions of him?
@JMattHicks: Kevin Sumlin has undoubtedly won the off-season. Of course, that means nothing come August 30th and beyond, but all I have to judge this man on are his feats from December until today, and he's been nothing short of phenomenal. Depending on which recruiting source you prefer, we've got a Top 5 class at the moment (yes, we have 23 signees compared to others with 15-20, but we can still sign in the 28-30 range as a few will count towards last year's class, so we're not done yet). He's championed our embracing of the SEC and of a more "modern" football program that's still true to it's roots and traditions. He's shown he can be an enforcer. He's shown he can win the support of Aggieland. And he's put a chip on the shoulder of this Aggie football program that I haven't seen since the mid-90's. So my first impression? Kevin Sumlin is looking like Bill Byrne's walk-off homerun.
CFBZ: Who are some offensive players to you think will be a good fit for Sumlin's system?
@JMattHicks: First and foremost, you've gotta mention Ryan Swope. He's going to shatter every receiving record at A&M, records that, when first put in place by Jeff Fuller, didn't simply likely to be touched for awhile. Swope went for nearly 90 catches, over 1,200 yards, and 11 touchdowns last season...a season that saw our offense only show up in the 2nd half, half of the time. You've gotta think with Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury needing to put up big numbers to support a defense with question marks AND an essentially rookie QB this year, that Swope is going to see a TON of touches.
But another guy to keep an eye on is Ben Malena. He's not the "sexy" offensive pick for many people, since we have guys like Christine Michael, Uzoma Nwachukwu, Trey Williams, Jamiel Showers, or Johnny Manziel. But Malena made a believer out of me last year. Against Kansas, Texas, Northwestern, he racked up 192 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns on 56 carries. Not bad for a third-string running back who had only 11 caries and zero starts prior to the Kansas game. He's a beast, he had a great spring, and I just don't see how Sumlin will keep him off the field. So watch for Malena, as he'll round out an insanely talented running back corps with Michael and Williams.
CFBZ: What are the biggest reasons to be optimistic about Texas A&M football this season?
@JMattHicks: Honestly, it's a good time to be an Aggie. I'll never drown in the maroon Kool-Aide again like I did last year, but there are a lot of reasons to be excited about this coming season. Our schedule is brutal, but we get our SEC opener against Florida at home, as well as LSU, Arkansas, and Missouri. We have one of the best offensive lines in the nation, and, by seasons end, it may gel into the best in the nation led by Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. Ryan Swope is back, Christine Michael seems to be back to stronger than ever, and Coach Sumlin has the potential to be something very, very special. But for me, my biggest reason for optimism is what happens if we have a successful season (8+ wins, which could include a bowl win). If we prove from day-one that we can compete in the SEC, our recruiting will continue to sky-rocket. Our national profile will begin regaining the respect for the Wrecking Crew Days. The facilities will continue to improve. With a new home in the SEC, the sky is limit. We just. have. to. win.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
@JMattHicks: So as I alluded to above, a successful season in my opinion is 8 wins, with or without the bowl game. Here's why I think that:
Game 1 - vs. Louisiana Tech: I wish people would stop hyping this game up, just like they did last year against SMU. There's no reason a much better Aggie team playing a pseudo home game in my old stomping grounds of Shreveport, Louisiana shouldn't win this game handily. Is Louisiana Tech improved? Yes. Are they good? Yes. But this should be a win, no questions asked.
Game 3 - @ SMU. We should win this game handily as well.
Game 4 - vs. South Carolina State. Win.
Game 6 - @ Ole Miss. We should win this game.
Game 11 - vs. Sam Houston State. Win.
So that's 5 games we should win somewhat automatically, and I'll be extremely disappointed if we don't. So with those 5 wins, that leaves:
Game 2 - vs. Florida: winnable.
Game 5 - vs. Arkansas: winnable.
Game 7 - vs. LSU: doubt it.
Game 8 - @ Auburn: winnable.
Game 9 - @ Mississippi State: winnable.
Game 10 - @ Alabama: highly doubt it.
Game 12 - vs. Missouri: winnable.
So of the remaning 7 games, 5 are winnable, and 2 are doubtful, and some even say automatic losses. Whatever, fair enough at this point. Is there any reason we couldn't take just two of those games (Mizzou, MS State), and then win a bowl game? Or take three (Mizzou, MS State, Arkansas)? Or even four? (Mizzou, MS State, Arkansas, Florida)? Yes, beyond three wins is starting to drink the Kool-Aide, and I won't go down that path. But you see what I'm saying: there's no reason to think we can't win 8 games, one way or another, and therefore that's my baseline for a truly successful season, not just a little over breaking even (7 wins or less, including a bowl win).
With all that said, my gut feeling is 8-4 in the regular season, with wins over LaTech, Florida at home, at SMU, South Carolina State, Arkansas at home, at Ole Miss, Sam Houston State, and Mizzou at home. I don't think we're ready for LSU yet, I simply do not see us walking into Bryant Denney and winning, and I think at Auburn and at Mississippi State will be two tough SEC match-ups that we run out of time in. I think, with our offense and Florida's lack-there-of, plus (especially if at night) a Kyle Field atmosphere literally like never before, we will win our first-ever SEC game. I also think Arkansas will be a convincing win for the Ags. Mizzou will be a test, for sure, but at this point, admittedly stubborn pride says they do not come into Kyle Field three times in a row and walk away with a win each time.
I'm not ready to call a bowl game yet, or if we win or lose it, but I would LOVE to see us find our way to the Cotton Bowl to take on Texas. Oh, what a joy that would be. So 8-4, possibly 9-4, or even 8-5. I wouldn't like it, but I wouldn't lose a ton of sleep if we go 8-5 in a close bowl loss to anybody but Texas, but honestly, one way or another, I see us ending up 8-5 when the dust settles.
Year one in the SEC begins this season for Missouri and Texas A&M. In their first year in SEC play, South Carolina went 5-6 and 3-5 in the conference. Arkansas went 3-7-1 in their first year in the SEC. Not exactly stellar debuts but I think Missouri and Texas A&M will definitely shoot higher than that.
For A&M, they will likely go as far as their rookie QB will take them. After a couple of up and down years, Ryan Tannehill is now in the NFL and the Aggies are still searching for his replacement. Whoever does get the QB job will have some weapons to play with (the previously mentioned Christine Michael, Ryan Swope, Uzoma Nwachukwu, Ben Malena and Trey Williams) but they also will be running a brand new system and will have a lot of pressure on their shoulders. With a brand new QB the success or failure for A&M will come down to the flexibility of new offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. In the past, the spread offense has not worked well when forced into a slotted system but when the system has been tweaked (Florida under Urban Meyer, Gus Malzahn at Auburn) it has worked very well and has won championships. Play calling and willingness to be flexible will be a huge factor into the Aggies success in year one.
In it's six losses last year the Aggies gave up 433 yards per game and against ranked teams they gave up 472 yards per game. The defense has to improve and Mark Snyder, from USF, has been brought in by Kevin Sumlin to help with the improvement. Snyder will move the defense from a 3-4 alignment to a 4-3. There is a talent on the defensive side of the football but anytime there is a scheme change it takes time to gel and 2012 will be a transition year for the defense.
Changing both offensive and defensive coordinators in one year is not generally a sign for immediate success. Couple that with moving conferences and there are a lot of question marks for the Aggies. The good news for the Aggies is that they have scheduled down out of conference and they should coast to four wins in the non-conference slate. The question after that is how they transition to the SEC with their new coaches, new systems and new QB. Last year, expectations were sky high for A&M and the results fell well below the expecations. This year expectations are more tempered and I see A&M going to a lower-tier SEC bowl in year one of the Sumlin era.
2012 Prediction: 6-6
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