THIS IS NOTHING IF NOT A YEAR OF TRANSITION FOR TEXAS A&M. Not only have the Aggies moved over from the Big 12, but they also have a new coach, Kevin Sumlin, who brings to College Station a go-go attack, a revamped defensive scheme and a musical approach (tunes over the loudspeakers during practice!).
All of Sumlin's teams at Houston for the past four years were ranked among the nation's top five in passing yards. "We're big on being a fast-paced team and a well-conditioned team," says coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, a devotee of the no-huddle offense who was with Sumlin in Houston. "We don't like waiting around." Adds junior left tackle Luke Joeckel, who admits the Aggies took a while to get used to the tempo in spring practice, "We're going to try to get those big guys from the SEC to run all over the field with us."
With Ryan Tannehill gone to the NFL's Dolphins, the Aggies' quarterback situation may remain unsettled. Sophomore Jameil Showers, a dynamic passer and runner who backed up Tannehill last year, threw two touchdowns in the spring game and has the early edge over redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, sophomore Matt Joeckel (younger brother of Luke) and true freshman Matt Davis, a four-star, dual-threat player who enrolled early and is considered the QB of the future. Ideally, Kingsbury would use what he calls a "deep" stable of running backs—senior Christine Michael, junior Ben Malena and freshman Trey Williams—to take some pressure off the quarterback.
Defensively, Sumlin hired coordinator Mark Snyder (formerly at South Florida) to switch the Aggies from a 3--4 to a 4--3. "It gives us more flexibility in a run-heavy conference," says Sumlin. "It's a lot easier for us to transition to the SEC and recruit to that because I think we're going to have to be bigger and more physical up front."
Sumlin is also determined to fix two areas of concern: In 2011 the Aggies were 100th in the nation in penalties incurred (seven per game) and 106th in turnover margin. And, of course, the team lost its quarterback and its leading rusher (Cyrus Gray). Still, all the newness has created a feeling of optimism in Aggieland. As Joeckel puts it, "We're not going to a new conference to lose games."
COACH Kevin Sumlin (1st year)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Kliff Kingsbury
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Mark Snyder