The case for
If Heisman winner Johnny Manziel isn't declared ineligible amid reports that the NCAA is investigating if he accepted money for autographs, he'll likely follow the trajectory of other quarterbacks in the Kevin Sumlin/Dana Holgorsen coaching tree (Houston's Case Keenum, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, West Virginia's Geno Smith) and improve on his 68.0% completion rate. That will make the SEC's top offense last season (558.5 yards per game) even scarier. Up front, All-America senior tackle Jake Matthews slides over to replace Luke Joeckel on the left side. The receivers, led by sophomore Mike Evans, are young but talented. And the backfield could go four deep with returnees Ben Malena and Trey Williams and touted transfers Brandon Williams (Oklahoma) and Tra Carson (Oregon). The Aggies might not catch defenses by surprise this year, but that doesn't mean they'll be easy to stop.
The case against
A&M sustained tough losses to a defense that allowed only 21.8 points per game last year, especially end Damontre Moore, tackle Spencer Nealy and linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. In the secondary, cornerback Deshazor Everett and safety Floyd Raven are indefinitely suspended as they face assault charges.
After last year, what do you do for an encore?
We just got here. We're still trying to catch up. People are talking about, Well, you guys have a target on you. I don't know why. We didn't win the West, we didn't win the league.
Football-wise, what's the next step for Manziel?
Last year he went from being an athlete who's playing quarterback to a quarterback who's an athlete. You look at the first five games versus the last five games, he threw the ball a lot better, read defenses a lot better. Those are the things he's going to have to continue to work at. Defenses are going to show him some different stuff.
How are the pieces around him shaping up?
We lost Luke Joeckel, but we moved Jake [Matthews] to left tackle, Cedric Ogbuehi to right tackle, his natural position. Very rarely do you have your whole line back every year. You're going to lose one or two guys every year. So from my standpoint, you never have the same team. You've got to get those new pieces to fit. We're going to have to fill in some pieces on the perimeter, but I think we've recruited pretty well.
Player to Watch
Wideout Ricky Seals-Jones is a top 10 national recruit and the headliner of A&M's loaded 2013 class. The 6'5" 225-pounder out of Sealy (Texas) High should see plenty of action since the Aggies play at least four receivers at a time and rotate six or seven.
SPRUCE DERDEN/US PRESSWIRE (MALENA)
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (SUMLIN)
Projected 2013 Stats
QB Johnny Manziel
Pass: 3,310 yards, 26 TDs
Run: 1,175 yards, 20 TDs
RB Ben Malena
Run: 750 yards, 11 TDs
Rec.: 165 yards, 1 TD
WR Mike Evans
Rec.: 1,125 yards, 10 TDs
Run: 25 yards, 0 TDs
Cupcake is the operative word. While the Aggies host a much-anticipated rematch with Alabama the third week of the season, they open with Rice and Sam Houston State, and later face SMU (Sept. 21) and UTEP (Nov. 2). They do face six 2012 bowl teams but avoid SEC East heavyweights Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.
SI Power Ratings
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