Texas A&M gets the first laugh

Mike Zarrilli

With a dynamic freshman QB leading them to a 29-24 victory over the No. 1 team in the nation and a possible berth in a BCS game, the Aggies move to the SEC is looking like the best decision they ever made.

If you are fond of maroon and white, and think it is perfectly normal to stand throughout a football game and kiss your date when your team scores, then the irony of it all must be delicious.

After decades of living in the shadow of the school they call Texas University (known to the rest of the world as the University of Texas), the Texas A&M Aggies decided to seek a new identity and jump to the Southeastern Conference. The move was seen as a reaction to the establishment of the Longhorn Network, which Aggies perceived as an unfair advantage in revenue generation and, more importantly, recruiting. The idea was for A&M to capitalize on the exposure the SEC, seen by most as the best conference in the nation, to offset the advantages UT has long held in recruiting the talent-rich Texas high school pool.

The move was seen by many at first to be a foolish one. Most commenters thought that the Aggies would struggle to survive against the SEC competition, and one sportscaster in my local area (East Texas) flatly predicted that A&M would not win a single SEC game its first year, saddled as it was by having a new coaching staff and needing to find a new quarterback to replace first round NFL pick Ryan Tannehill.

That sportscaster, to his credit, apologized for his prediction after the fifteenth-ranked Aggies stunned defending national champion and number one ranked Alabama with a 29-24 defeat at Bryant-Denny Stadium. With an 8-2 record and two home games against unranked teams to finish out the season, the Aggies are now poised to grab a BCS bowl invitation after scrambling up the national championship picture.

Those plans to parlay SEC membership into better recruiting just got a major boost, with the win over Alabama playing to a national television audience. By comparison, Texas would rather remember the fire that destroyed Big Tex instead of the embarrassment of the latest edition of the Red River Rivalry game against the Oklahoma Sooners.

While A&M is almost certainly not going to be in the picture for the BCS Championship, it should be looking forward to collecting some other hardware for the trophy cases. First year head coach Kevin Sumlin has to be at the top of a lot of Coach of the Year lists. He came in, sold his program to the players he inherited, and has emphatically demonstrated that the Aggies can not only compete in the SEC, they can thrive.

What no one realized was that he had inherited a secret weapon in redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, otherwise known as Johnny Football. Manziel seems a shoo-in for Freshman of the Year honors, and could reap numerous other accolades. He not only set the all-time SEC record for total offensive yards against Arkansas, he broke his own mark two weeks later against Louisiana Tech. And he is taking a sledgehammer to the idea that a freshman should not be considered for the Heisman Trophy.

Despite the outstanding performance by Johnny Football, Texas A&M is hardly a one man show. Manziel operates behind one of the better offensive lines in the NCAA, with tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews plus center Patrick Lewis all likely bound for the NFL. He also has two extremely capable receivers in Ryan Swope and fellow redshirt freshman Mike Evans, plus several other reliable targets. On defense, players like Damontre Moore, Sean Porter, and Spencer Nealy have proven that the Aggies are quite up to high standards of the SEC.

As it turned out, Coach Sumlin wound up with a pretty well-stocked but underrated roster, whose only weaknesses seem to be depth on defense and a kicking game that is rather hit or miss in the field goal department. But the team has made a major statement in the first year of SEC competition, and with a 2013 recruiting class that is already considered in or near the top ten nationally, the Aggies should be able to build on success. The team is going to be depleted a good bit by graduation this year, but after the way 2012 has gone, no one is going to be writing the Aggies off anytime soon.

It is looking like the decision by A&M to jump to the SEC is turning out to be the biggest Aggie joke of all time. But the Aggies are doing all the laughing.

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