On July 1st, Texas A&M was officially recognised as a SEC school. To go with the big-time money that the Aggies will receive from being a SEC school – along with the celebration-by-association of six straight National Championships- Texas A&M fans now believe that they can attract top talent from Texas to College Station. But can they be a force in the SEC West, the SEC, and on the National Grid?

What happened in 2011?

Despite having 18 returning starters and an expectation that they would challenge Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas for a Big XII Championship, Texas A&M entered the land of Chokeaholics Anonymous. The Aggies led 11 games by double digits – YES, ELEVEN – but they were 5-6 in those games, including major throat-grabs against Oklahoma State (20-3 lead), Arkansas (35-17 lead), and Missouri (28-17 halftime lead). They also lost to hated rival Texas.

The season was enough to get Coach Mike Sherman fired by the Aggies administration. In ESPN’s words, they were “so, so much better than 6-6”. He was replaced by former Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin, which came off a 12-1 season with the Houston Cougars – including a bowl slaughtering of ‘The’ Penn State University.

Oh, and in the draft, inconsistent-but-talented (ish) quarterback Ryan Tannehill (3,744 yards passing, 29 TDs, 15 INTs) was drafted in the first round by the Miami Dolphins, and the school also saw running back Cyrus Gray (Kansas City), Terrence Fredrick (Pittsburgh), and Randy Bullock (Houston), Jeff Fuller (Miami) going to NFL teams.

So who’s going to be the new quarterback?

We have absolutely no clue as to who’s going to be the new quarterback in 2012 – which is going to hurt the Aggies more than the offensive line, which is going to be excellent this year. Our bet that Johnny Manziel was not going to be named starting QB this year after his off-season behavior earned him an arrest  and a trip to Sumlin’s doghouse was shut up after he was, ahem, named the Aggies starting quarterback – the first freshman to get honor since Stephen McGee in 2005, according to a report.

The good news for Manziel (and any other QB if he gets arrested again) is that incredibly talented wide receiver Ryan Swope , who caught over 80 passes last season for over 1,200 yards and 11 TDs.

But there’s a running game, right?

A&M loses a hell of a talent running back in Cyrus Gray, but Christine Michael put up nearly 900 yards and 8 TDs – and if he’s as “ready to go” as Sumlin said on the SEC Media Days, then A&M’s going to be bring some speed to the table. And with that offensive line, College Station will have more than a few reasons to cheer.

And how about the defense?

The pressure will be on new defensive co-ordinator Mark Snyder to make sure that the defense isn’t as horrific as it was in 2011, when it gave up 4,916 yards and ranked 66th in total defense.

While we think that the Aggies are going to have an excellent linebacking corps in Sean Porter, Jonathan Stewart and Steven Jenkins, we truly, truly worry about a secondary that conceded 3,592 yards of passing and against the passers of the SEC West, we feel frightened for them this year – especially as they will all be either inexperienced or freshmen. Gulp.

The 2012 schedule

Sept 1: at Louisiana Tech
Sept. 8: FLORIDA
Sept 15: at SMU
Sept. 29: ARKANSAS
Oct. 6: at Ole Miss
Oct. 20: LSU
Oct. 27: at Auburn
Nov. 3: at Mississippi State
Nov. 10: at Alabama

The biggest games on the schedule are going to be Texas A&M’s opener with Florida, which may go a long way for us to see how good Kevin Sumlin’s team is. the Aggies have back-to-back SEC home games with Arkansas and LSU should introduce the noise of Kyle Field to their SEC West rivals (sandwiched between the games is a game at Ole Miss), but we think that the Aggies may struggle on the road to Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama. The home game against Missouri might be a true test as to whether the Aggies have another 6-6 record, or a respectable 7-5 record.

PREDICTION: Although we expect Texas A&M to sweep its non-conference schedule, we think the Aggies are going to struggle in their first season in the SEC West. We think that they’ll finish second-from-bottom in the SEC West (above Ole Miss, who they’ll beat), with a 2-6 record. They’ll finish 6-6, with wins over Ole Miss and Missouri (although the last one is a shout in the dark).

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