by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

Texas A&M is bolting the Big 12. And, as is usually the fashion in the Lone Star State, the Aggies are doing it in a big way. New conference. New coach. New uniforms. Expanded stadium.

The departure of the Aggies for the SEC is likely due as much to its weariness of playing second fiddle to the University of Texas in its own state as it is for the improved revenue stream on tap by joining the nation’s toughest league, which has claimed the last six BCS titles. When Texas launched its Longhorn Network and was later wooed by the then Pac-10, the Aggies had had enough. After all, A&M (founded 1871) was older than UT (1876). And the proud Aggies weren’t going to stand by and watch the Longhorn Network provide a natural recruiting advantage for Texas, which was already dominating the Big 12. Time for A&M escape the gravity of UT and to take care of “its own self,” as they say in the South, even if that meant a split from arch-rival Texas and the rest of the Big 12. With regional rivals at LSU and Arkansas available for the Aggies, the SEC began to look good in College Station. And the big Texas market was an inviting “get” for the SEC.

Although Texas eventually decided to remain with the Big 12, the Aggies were tired of being treated as second-class citizens in their own state, despite A&M’s many worthy accomplishments. Taking everything into account, the lure of autonomy was too much; more important than the Aggies’ bitter, storied rivalry with the Horns. No matter what it did, UT would always be the university of Texas. And when A&M agreed with the SEC, another round of realignment dominoes began to fall throughout college football.

Now, the Aggies are transitioning in style. Even though Mike Sherman had done a fairly good job (led team to three bowl games; 39 ppg last season), there had been too many close losses (four by four points or fewer last season) in his 25-25, four-year tenure. On the way to a new league, why not a new coach? That’s Kevin Sumlin (right), the one-time A&M and Oklahoma assistant who took over Houston’s spread offense from Art Briles and seemed to further increase its tempo. Also new will be the slick, high-tech Adidas uniforms that recall the glory of past outstanding Aggie teams. Plus, with A&M’s huge campus and student body (now about 50,000 students), an expansion of Kyle Field is in the works, perhaps to a capacity of more than 115,000, which would top Michigan’s “Big House” as the most in the nation.

On the field, A&M is counting on a full return to health of some key performers for 2012. Sr. RB Christine Michael (left; 899 YR in 2011) is coming off a torn ACL. Sr. DT Jonathan Harris (6-2, 300) was injured in the third game last year as a 3-4 DE. Sr. safety Steven Campbell, who was once regarded as an NFL prospect, played only six games last season because of knee and foot injuries and had not yet reclaimed his starting post through spring.

Sumlin’s other major concern is at QB, where projected starter Jameill Showers is an inexperienced soph with only four token appearances (five career pass attempts). The 6-2 soph has an impressive arm and good mobility, but history has shown that most young QBs (especially in the SEC) go through a steep learning curve that includes plenty of inconsistency and more than a few turnovers. Moreover, the availability of potential No. 2 QB, RS frosh Johnny Manziel, is in question after his arrest following a June fight.

Elsewhere on offense, Sumlin inherits a decent core from Sherman (the former Packer HC is now the offensive coordinator of the Dolphins). Tackles Luke Joeckel & Jake Matthews represent one of the top tandems in the county, and sr. C Patrick Lewis is also one of the best at his position. Soph Gs Jarvis Harrison & Cedric Ogbuehi both have starting experience.

Sr. Ryan Swope (right; 89 recs. LY) is a proven go-to WR, while sr. Uzoma Nwachukwu has 82 catches the last two years. 6-5 RS frosh WR Mike Evans offers mismatch possibilities. HC Sumlin says the 5-11, 218 Michael appears ready to go for August practice. 5-8, 195 RB Ben Malena (259 YR) proved to be a dogged backup last season, while 5-8 true frosh Trey Williams (8110 YR in HS) would seem to be a good fit for the Aggies’ spread offense, which will be orchestrated by offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, the former Texas Tech passer who called the shots last season at Houston.

The Aggie defense returns five starters, but none in the secondary unless the aforementioned S Campbell is well enough to play full time. New defensive coordinator Mark Snyder (South Florida the last two years) is moving to a 4-3 base instead of Sherman’s 3-4, which led the nation in sacks last season with 51. Despite that pressure, however, Aggie defenders grabbed only seven interceptions, which ranked 102nd of 120 teams! What’s up with that? Pass rushers DE Damontre Moore (left, vs. Idaho last September; 8½ sacks) and LB Sean Porter (9½) return, as does sr. MLB Jonathan Stewart (98 tackles) and athletic jr. OLB Steven Jenkins (61 Ts).

Snyder has high hopes for soph CBs Deshazor Everett & Floyd Raven, who will be challenged by highly-regarded juco Tramain Jacobs, who is also a threat on returns. Sr. S Steven Terrell had two ints. last season.

The Aggie kicking game benefited greatly last season from Lou Groza Award winner Randy Bullock (29 of 33 FGs in 2011), who has moved to on the Houston Texans’ camp. RS frosh PK Taylor Bertolet is highly regarded, but if he exceeds Bullock’s numbers this season, you’ll have a scoop.

Summary...Be careful what you wish for. Yes, the Aggies are now away from the gravitational pull of UT. But A&M last captured a conference title in 1998, when the Aggies won the Big 12 under R.C. Slocum. Now, A&M moves into the ultra-rugged SEC West, a division that, by itself, has produced four of the last five national champs. Just reaching the SEC title game in the near future will be a major, major chore for the Aggies. And A&M will try to do it this season with virtually no experience at quarterback. Plus, there’s the Law of Unintended Consequences. The Aggie presence in the SEC helps its conference competitors recruit in the “subcontinent” of Texas. As A&M’s QBs gain experience, the Aggie spread will produce more TDs this season, but maybe not more wins. Texas A&M doesn’t figure to match last year’s seven wins. And the Aggies’ late-season stretch of consecutive road games at Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama figures to be murder. Frequent turnovers or three-and-outs could overwork an Aggie defense lacking depth in many spots. For 2012, it’s transition, not contention, for A&M.


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