There is plenty of excitement on the Texas A&M campus about the upcoming football season. Of course, that’s pretty normal around College Station in every August. But there is something different in the air this time around.
Lightning drove the Aggies inside the McFerrin Indoor Practice facility for the first part of Tuesday’s practice before the weather cleared and the team moved outside for the rest of the fourth session of the fall.
“It’s not where we would like it to be,” said coach Kevin Sumlin when asked about the consistency of the team. “After four days we have to be more consistent but it’s hard to do. The new guys have had four practices and the old guys have had 15.”
As at most early fall practices around the nation, quarterback is a main topic of conversation as the Aggies look to replace Ryan Tannehill. The two main competitors are sophomore Jameill Showers and freshman Johnny Manziel.
“Jameill’s got an extremely strong arm; a quick release and the ability to throw balls into tight coverages. He’s got a cannon,” Sumlin said Tuesday afternoon. “But he’s still got the ability to move around in there. He’s strong. Johnny’s a got who can throw it. He’s become a better passer in the last six or seven months since the spring. He’s able to move around and extend plays. The key between those two guys will be decision making.”
But the buzz around Aggieland is not just that another football season has rolled around, but that for the first time the Aggies will not be tied to the Southwest Conference, the Big 8 or the Big 12. This time around, Texas A&M will be a proud member of the Southeastern Conference, the acknowledged best football conference in the country and the home of the past six national champions.
And to top it off, the Aggies are in the SEC West, the toughest single division in college football.
“For us, it’s a special year. As excited as everybody else is in the country to get football season started, I think I can speak for Texas A&M and our coaching staff, in our place we’re as excited as anybody to be a part of the SEC,” Sumlin said. “We understand the challenges that are ahead of us. We understand that it’s going to be a difficult but exciting year.”
But the challenges of playing in the SEC West are not lost on the new Texas A&M coach.
“What’s my assessment? It’s a pretty damn hard league. How is that? That’s my assessment,” he said. “You look at that, you see the talent level. I think the combination, somebody we were just talking about, the main difference that I see is the combination of size and speed. I’ve been a part of some pretty fast football teams over the last few years. Our speed level at Texas A&M is pretty good. I think the combination of size and speed, particularly in the West, and in the SEC, is the difference-maker, and the depth in the front.”
But it is not just the coach who is excited, the Aggies players are looking forward to playing in the SEC as well.
Senior linebacker Sean Porter is looking forward to the SEC, but he believes the Aggies can meet the challenge, especially when they get SEC teams in Kyle Field.
“I think we stack up well, speedwise,” Porter said. “We have a lot of athletic guys on our team and a lot of really fast guys on our team. I think we’ll make some plays in the SEC. I’m looking forward to it. I’m glad that they get to come and see the Twelfth Man and see the tradition. We’re really excited about our tradition at A&M and we’re excited about the way Kyle Field is, how loud it gets and how good our student section is. I think it’s a good thing that other teams in the SEC get to come and experience it in year one.”
“It’s a privilege to join this great conference. It’s the best in the country and to be a part of it is really great,” said senior wide receiver Ryan Swope. “Coming from Texas, we take pride in it. We take pride at Texas A&M University and we’re looking forward to it. We’re very anxious to get this thing started and we just can’t wait for kickoff.
“With all of the recruiting now and how big it’s gotten, to be playing in the best conference in the country is going to for sure excel all of the recruits and improve the recruiting as a whole. I look forward to seeing how that develops in the future. The biggest adjustment is, I think, the speed of the game. The defenses are very fast. The front four are very big and they’ve got speed. I think that’s a huge adjustment, just breaking down film and preparing our football team to win games. We’ve just really got to take a look at all of their defenses.
“Right now College Station is very excited to be a part of this whole deal,” he added. “We’re excited to kick off in the new conference; excited to play for Coach Sumlin. We got a new weight room facility going in. There are a lot of things changing; there’s jersey changes, uniform changes. There’s a lot of hype in College Station right now; it’s very electric. There are just so many things that we’re just happy to be a part of and we’re looking forward to starting the season. It’s just a privilege to play in this great conference.”
Junior offensive tackle Luke Joeckel believes Texas A&M brings plenty to the table for the SEC.
“We bring the same kind of atmosphere, I believe. Kyle Field is a lot like the SEC schools and brings the same kind of excitement to football and it’s a great atmosphere,” he said. “Twelfth Man is certainly the best fans in the country, so I think we’ll fit in really well there and I think we have a pretty good football team also.”
September 8 is the date for Texas A&M’s first SEC conference game. The Aggies play host to the Florida, and the 12th Man nation will be ready to let the SEC know just what the league got when it invited Texas A&M to the party.
Texas A&M is no stranger to the SEC or the SEC West. Over the years, the Aggies have played 133 games against the current SEC teams, with 68 of those coming against former Southwest Conference mate Arkansas. A&M has gone 53-74-6 against teams in the SEC West and 5-6 against teams in the SEC East for an overall record of 58-80-6.
Texas A&M has winning records against Auburn (2-0), Ole Miss (4-0) and Georgia (3-2), and .500 records against Florida (1-1) and Kentucky (1-1).