By: Steven Lassan | 5/14/12, 4:36 PM EDT
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You can read the entire Texas A&M preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 SEC magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#32 Texas A&M
SEC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Kevin Sumlin, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kliff Kingsbury | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Snyder
The Aggies move into the Kevin Sumlin/SEC era with plenty of offensive potential, as A&M returns a number of key performers from a unit that broke single-season school records for passing, total offense and scoring offense last year. The big question mark entering is at quarterback, where sophomore Jameill Showers emerged with a slight edge over redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel following spring practices. Showers, who throws a tight spiral, typically made better decisions in the spring, giving him an edge entering the fall.
Christine Michael returns at running back after his junior year was cut short by a torn ACL. If Michael can stay healthy, he could be in store for a big senior season. That’s also the case for leading receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, who combined to make 139 catches for 1,846 yards and 13 touchdowns last year.
Led by a pair of gifted tackles (Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews) with big-time NFL potential, A&M will field one of the most talented offensive lines in school history. Senior center Patrick Lewis is the anchor in the middle, and young guards Jarvis Harrison and Cedric Ogbuehi are improving rapidly.
Defensive end Damontre Moore is one of the proven playmakers returning on the defense, and the Aggies will need a big year from him, especially on a line that has plenty of question marks. Fellow end Spencer Nealy is a hard-nosed, tough competitor, and backup Brandon Alexander has big-time potential. The biggest concerns involve the tackles, where Jonathan Mathis attempts to return from an injury that sidelined him in 2011.
On paper, linebacker could be an area of strength, as A&M returns some proven playmakers in Sean Porter at outside linebacker and Jonathan Stewart in the middle. Porter led the Aggies with 9.5 sacks last season, helping A&M lead the nation in the category. Meanwhile, Stewart was the team leader with 98 tackles. Outside backer Steven Jenkins is also a tremendous athlete and was one of the stars of the spring.
Young cornerbacks Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven and transfer Tremaine Jacobs may provide A&M with more overall athleticism in the secondary than last year, when the Aggies finished near the bottom of the Big 12 in passing defense, allowing 276.3 passing yards per game. The biggest key for the secondary may be the health of free safety Steven Campbell, a big hitter who has struggled with injuries throughout his career.
Replacing Lou Groza Award winner Randy Bullock will be extremely difficult, but A&M is hopeful that redshirt freshman Taylor Bertolet, a highly rated prep kicker from Pennsylvania, will step forward. The battle at punter should be interesting, as Ryan Epperson returns for his senior season after averaging 41.2 yards per kick, but sophomore Drew Kaser may possess the more powerful leg. The return game is highlighted by explosive senior Dustin Harris, who led the nation by averaging 18.6 yards per punt return last year.
The Aggies simply do not appear to have enough depth to be a serious contender for the SEC West title in 2012, but there is enough talent in place for A&M to be highly competitive on a week-to-week basis. A&M’s up-tempo offensive pace — along with its tremendous offensive line — will give opponents plenty of headaches. But the defense may cause some self-inflicted wounds. Expect the Aggies to win anywhere from six to eight games.