The Texas A&M football team had a banner season during their inaugural year in the Southeastern Conference. The Aggies are going to have to avoid multiple pitfalls if they want to experience similar success during their second season in the SEC.
Texas A&M was expected to struggle on the field in 2012. The SEC plays a physical brand of football, and the Ags were deemed incapable of matching up in the trenches.
A&M had the best offensive line in the country in 2012 and a front seven that held opponents to 3.7 yards per rush. The Ags suffered significant losses to those units due to graduation and early defections into the NFL draft.
How they deal with those losses and various other obstacles will define the immediate future of the program. This is a look at multiple pitfalls that the Aggies may face in 2013.
The Ags are losing 12 of their 22 starters off the 2012 squad. Two of the Aggies' three All-Americans left the program when Luke Joeckel and Damontre Moore declared early for the NFL draft.
The offensive line received a big boost when All-American offensive tackle Jake Matthews decided to return for his senior season. He move from right tackle over to Joeckel's spot at left tackle and should be an anchor for the offensive line.
The loss of Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter at linebacker cannot be overestimated. The Ags' linebacker corps played outstanding football in 2012. It was a large part of A&M's solid run defense.
The A&M coaches will need to find some players from a group that includes Michael Richardson, Donnie Baggs, Reggie Chevis and Tommy Sanders to pick up where Stewart and Porter left off.
Senior defensive tackle Spencer Nealy was the emotional leader of the Aggie defense. His leadership and his strong play on the line will be missed. Look for some combination of Polo Manukainiu, Justin Manning, Jordan Points, Isaiah Golden and Alonzo Williams to offer depth at defensive tackle.
While everyone gets hung up on the personnel losses from one season to another, what often goes ignored are the changes in team chemistry and leadership from one year to the next.
All successful teams can point to one or two players who are the leaders of the team. In 2011 Von Miller led the Aggies on and off the field. In 2012, no one stepped up into the void that Miller left and the Ags struggled to put away teams that they were obviously better than.
The 2012 team was led by Spencer Nealy, Sean Porter and Ryan Swope. They were veteran players who earned their teammates' respect with their hard work and ability to make big plays to win ballgames.
Nealy was the team jester who kept everyone loose and in a good mood. He may be the hardest player to replace on 2013.
Expect Johnny Manziel to take over as the leader of this team. He has the ability and the competitive nature to lead the Ags to a championship season.
No one expected much of the Aggies in 2012. Coming off a 7-6 season, they were expected to struggle to be bowl eligible in 2012. They used all the criticism and low expectations as fuel during the offseason.
The 2012 Aggies set out on a mission to prove all the doubters wrong and show that they belonged in the SEC. Now that they accomplished that, the question is how will they deal with playing with a target on their back?
Will they enter the offseason workouts with the same hunger? Will the younger players lay it on the line on every Saturday the way the seniors did in 2012? How will the Aggies deal with being the team that is circled on the schedule of most of their SEC opponents in 2013?
In 2011 the Aggies lost not one, but two starting running backs. In 2012 they only had one major injury in the entire season. Their run of luck with injuries was a major factor in the Ags winning 11 games.
The 2012 team was very thin on the defensive line and at linebacker. Texas A&M strength and conditioning coach Larry Jackson trained the players to a level where the starters could play 100 snaps in a game.
The Ags had some luck with injuries and did not need to test their depth. They cannot count on that same luck in 2013. It can almost be guaranteed that they will suffer more injuries than they did in 2012.
The bright side of the equation for the Aggies is that head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff have done a very good job through the past two recruiting classes of restocking the roster with talent. The team will be younger in 2013 than it was in 2012, but it should have considerably more depth.
The Aggies did catch some SEC teams by surprise in 2012. Most of the defenses in the conference struggled to match up with the pace of the Ags' offense.
The majority of the SEC teams were modeled after Alabama. They want to pound the football, play defense and limit mistakes that could lose the ballgame. These teams struggled to keep up when A&M got up by multiple scores early in ballgames, and many of those games were over by halftime.
There exists a fallacy that teams will be able to better match up with the Ags in 2013 after a season of preparing for them. The reality of the situation is that Sumlin adjusts the offense to the talent available and the weaknesses that each individual defense presents.
With a quarterback as talented as Johnny Manziel, the Aggies will be able to beat most teams either through the air or on the ground. As long as Manziel is healthy, the Ags will be a tough offense for any defense to contain.