The Texas A&M Football team had a spectacular inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference in 2012, finishing 11-2 and ranked as the No. 5 team in the country. The Ags face a tough, but somewhat favorable schedule in 2013 as they attempt to improve on their successes in 2012.
The SEC slate is always going to be challenging. When you play in the league of champions you are going to face two or three top 10 teams on a yearly basis. Depending on which poll you look at, the Ags are going to play three top 25 teams in 2013.
Vanderbilt and Ole Miss are considered borderline top 25 teams. Most have LSU ranked outside of the top 10 right now because of their tremendous personnel losses from the 2012 team.
The silver lining for the Aggies is that they get to play eight home games. It is always an advantage to get teams at Kyle Field, although the Aggies were a perfect 6-0 away from home in 2012. If the Ags can hold serve at home in 2013, then they will compete for an SEC title.
This is a game-by-game breakdown of the Aggies schedule in 2013.
The Ags open the 2013 season at home against the Rice Owls. Rice went 7-6 in 2012 including a Armed Forces Bowl win over Air Force.
Rice is led on offense by quarterback Taylor McHargue and running back Charles Ross. Both will be seniors in 2013.
McHargue passed for 2,209 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012. He also rushed for 667 yards and 11 touchdowns. Ross led the Owls on the ground with 800 yards rushing on 5.4 yards per carry.
The Owls' defense struggled in 2012, allowing 425 yards and 30 points per game. Rice allowed 4.9 yards per rush
Rice head coach David Bailiff has built the Owls into a solid program, but will not have enough on either side of the ball to really threaten A&M in the season opener.
Prediction: Texas A&M 51 Rice 17
Sam Houston State travels to Kyle Field for the Ags second game of 2013. The Ags beat the Bearkats 47-28 in 2012.
SHSU head coach Willie Fritz is one of the top head coaches in all of college football. Do not be surprised to see a major program scoop him up in the near future. He has led SHSU to consecutive FCS championship games.
The Bearkats return their leading rusher in running back Tim Flanders in 2013. He rushed for 1,642 yards in 2012 and 17 touchdowns. They also return wide receiver Chance Nelson who had three catches for 57 yards against A&M in 2012.
The Bearkats are obviously one of the top FCS programs in the country. They have some Sunday players on their roster, but will be no match for what A&M puts on the field.The Ags will have to be careful not to overlook the Bearkats a week before their showdown with Alabama.
A football team improves the most between the first and second game of the season. Unfortunately for SHSU, they face A&M during the second game of the season.
Prediction: Texas A&M 60 SHSU 21
The Texas A&M-Alabama matchup in the third week of the season is the game that everyone is going to talk about during the offseason. Right now it appears it will match two top five teams against each other.
By the time the third week of the season rolls around it could be a matchup of No. 1 Alabama against No. 2 Texas A&M. It is one of the most highly anticipated games in Kyle Field history.
Alabama is coming off a 12-1 season in which they won the national title. The only blemish on their record was their 29-24 loss at home to Texas A&M.They will be looking to avenge that loss when they travel to Kyle Field on September 14.
The Tide lose six starters on defense and six starters on offense from their national championship squad. Alabama does not rebuild, they simply reload so they will be the favorite to win it all in 2013 despite the personnel losses.
Alabama will have some questions to answer on their offensive line where they must replace three starters including all-world offensive guard Chance Warmack.
They lose sledgehammer running back Eddie Lacy to the NFL, but will replace him with uber-recruit Derrick Henry. T.J. Yeldon returns at running back after rushing for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshmen.
If the new Alabama OL can open any holes then Alabama has plenty of running backs who will be able to take advantage. A.J. McCarron returns for his senior season at quarterback. Amari Cooper had 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman for the Tide.
On defense Alabama returns Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety, along with five other starters. The Tide defense has plenty of talent throughout their two-deep and should once again be among the top five defense in the country.
This game should be a tremendous matchup putting two of the top teams in the country against one another. It will be interesting to see how Nick Saban tries to defend the Aggies' offense after having an entire offseason to prepare.
This game will likely be won by whichever team makes the fewest turnovers. Since the game is at Kyle and the Ags still have Johnny Manziel under center, they have a slight edge in this matchup.
Expect running back Brandon WIlliams to announce his presence to the nation against the Tide.
Prediction: Texas A&M 31 Alabama 21
This is a trap game for the Aggies. SMU has enough talent on their roster to defeat anyone on their schedule. After a huge matchup with Alabama and before a road game in Fayetteville, the SMU game is one that could jump up and bite the Ags.
Garrett Gilbert returns as the starting quarterback for the Mustangs. Gilbert has always struggled with consistency in college, but he has an NFL arm. If he can continue to develop under SMU head coach June Jones' tutelage, then he could be a very good quarterback in 2013.
The Mustangs lost seniors Darius Johnson, Margus Hunt and Zach Line to graduation. Line rushed for over 1,000 yards for the past three years. Johnson has been the Mustangs best receiver for the past two seasons.He will play on Sundays.
Hunt blocked extra points against the Aggies in each of the last two years. The Mustangs also lost senior linebackers Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed from their defense.
Jones has improved the talent on the roster since arriving on the Hilltop, but he will have trouble replacing that many playmakers at one time.
The Aggies offense should rush for 300 yards against the Mustangs. If the Aggies show up then this game will not be close.
Prediction: Texas A&M 56 SMU 20
A new era has started in Fayetteville with the arrival of Bret Bielema to coach the Razorback football team. Bielema had a great run at Wisconsin before deciding to take over the program for Arkansas.
Bielema will have his work cut out for him in 2013 as the Razorbacks lost their three best offensive players off the 2012 squad in quarterback Tyler Wilson, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton and running back Knile Davis to graduation and the NFL draft.
The Hogs' best offensive lineman was guard Alvin Bailey and he decided to forgo his senior season to enter the draft. With Bailey gone, the Hogs will have to replace three starters from an offensive line that struggled in 2012.
Bielema will try to implement his run-dominated offense in Fayetteville with a suspect offensive line. Chris Ash will take over a defense that allowed 30 points per game in 2012. He will have to hope his 4-2-5 scheme can help the Hogs improve against the pass, where they allowed 285 yards per game in 2012.
Arkansas has too many holes to fill right now. They underachieved with a talented team in 2012, and much of that talent has left the program. Winning games in Fayetteville is not easy, but the Ags should have too much talent for this Arkansas squad.
Predicition: Texas A&M 40 Arkansas 19
The game in Oxford against Ole Miss is one of the Aggies' most dangerous games of the season. In 2012 the Ags escaped Oxford with a 30-27 win despite turning the ball over six times in the game.
Hugh Freeze is improving the talent level in Oxford and the program has a lot of momentum. The Rebels reeled in their best recruiting class in school history and Freeze has the fans believing.
Bo Wallace returns at quarterback to lead the Ole Miss offense. He passed for 2,997 yards in 2012 and should improve after a year of experience in Freeze's spread scheme.
Donte Moncrief returns at wide receiver and is a legitimate candidate for All-American honors. Jeff Scott returns at running back after rushing for 846 yards in 2012.
The Rebels return four of five starters on their offensive line. They should be an improved offense in 2013 now that everyone has a year of experience under Freeze.
Ole Miss started one of the younger teams in 2013 and will return nine of 11 starters on defense. The defense struggled against top teams in 2012 and allowed an average of 375 yards per game. With all that experience returning they should be improved in 2013.
Freeze runs an up-tempo spread offense just like the Aggies do. It should give the Aggie defense trouble in Oxford.
This should be a high-scoring contest with the Aggies coming out on top. In the end the Ags should be able to overwhelm the Rebels' undersized defense with their running game.
Prediction: Texas A&M 41 Ole Miss 31
Auburn went 3-9 in 2012 and 0-8 in the SEC. They fired head coach Gene Chizik and replaced him with former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
The Tigers should be an improved team in 2013 because Malzahn will make the offense exponentially better. His spread-option attack will keep Auburn in games and keep the Tigers' defense off the field. Malzahn excels at finding a defense's weakness and then exploiting it for the rest of the game.
The majority of the talent on campus at Auburn was recruited to play in Malzahn's scheme, and not in the run between the tackles offense that the Tigers failed to implement in 2012.
Expect for Malzahn to find multiple ways to get the ball into the hands of speedy running back Tre Mason.
Auburn returns three of 11 starters on a defense that allowed 63 points to the Aggies at home in 2012. Now Auburn has to travel to Kyle Field.
The Aggies will not score 63 points on Auburn this season, but they should still have too much on offense and defense for the Tigers.
Prediction: Texas A&M 44 Auburn 27
Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin has completely changed the culture in Nashville. Now the players expect to win and make no excuses when they do not. Franklin is a no-nonsense coach who has done a tremendous job in turning the Vanderbilt program around.
The Commodores lose workhorse running back Zach Stacy off the 2012 squad. They also lose starting quarterback Jordan Rodgers. The loss of Rodgers may be addition by subtraction because he was very inconsistent in 2012.
Vanderbilt returns Jordan Matthews at wide receiver and he should compete for all-conference and All-American honors if he as a quarterback who can get them the ball.
The Commodores lose five starters on defense to graduation but return six senior starters so it should be a veteran unit. Vandy tries to grind out wins by playing solid defense and running the ball.
The Aggies will play Vandy at home, which is a huge advantage for A&M. The last thing Aggie fans want is to go on the road and turn the ball over a couple of times against a Vanderbilt team that is looking for ways to grind out a win.
Expect to see Vanderbilt to try to run the ball and keep Johnny Manziel and the Aggie offense on the sideline. It will be interesting to see if Franklin tries to open up the offense a little with a new quarterback under center.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38 Vanderbilt 19
UTEP coach Mike Price retired after the Miners finished a 3-9 campaign in 2012. The Miners hired the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line coach Sean Kugler to be the head coach in El Paso.
The Miners return junior running back Nathan Jeffery who rushed for 897 yards in 2012. Look for Kugler to try to build the offense around him and receiver Jordan Leslie. The junior from Houston, TX averaged 19.1 yards per reception in 2012.
UTEP is a rebuilding program that the Aggies should not have much trouble with. In a year or two this might be a dangerous game for A&M, but right now it should be an opportunity for the backups to get some playing time.
Prediction: Texas A&M 58 UTEP 13
Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs are sitting on a precipice right now. MSU needs to have a very good season in 2012 to slow down the momentum from their in-state rivals in Oxford.
The Bulldogs must replace their top four receptions leaders on offense with the graduation of their three starting receivers and their tight end. They do return Tyler Russell at quarterback and 1,000 yard rusher LaDarius Perkins at running back.
MSU also returns four of five starters on the offensive line. The Bulldogs lose five starters off a suspect defense, including Jim Thorpe award winner Jonathan Banks.
They will have to rely on their offensive line and running game in 2013 until their defense can find some traction. The Aggies blew MSU out of the water in Starkville in 2012 in a 38-13 victory.
Expect more of the same in 2013 at Kyle Field.
Prediction: Texas A&M 45 MSU 17
No team was hit as hard by the NFL Draft as LSU. The Tigers lost 10 underclassmen to early declarations for the NFL. They must replace their entire defensive line.
LSU has talent up and down their roster, but no team can sustain personnel losses like that without being impacted on the field.
Luckily for Tiger fans, they do not have to face A&M until late in the season. By the time the November 23 game rolls around, LSU head coach Les Miles should have found adequate replacements for the talent he lost.
With Jeremy Hill returning at running back and Odell Beckham Jr. back at wide receiver, the Tigers' offense should be formidable. LSU struggled early in the season in 2012 with youth on their offensive line. They payback is that they have three returning starters on the OL in 2013.
Do not expect Johnny Manziel to make the same mistakes against LSU than he did in 2012. He is a much better passer than he was when he last faced the Tigers at Kyle Field. With all that said, Baton Rouge is one of the toughest places to play in the country.
The Tigers have to get the edge because it is a home game.
Prediction: Texas A&M 27 LSU 29
Missouri had an amazing number of injuries in 2012. They should be much improved in 2013 simply because they will be healthy.
James Franklin will be healthy at quarterback which should give the Tigers a huge boost on offense. Dorial Green-Beckham now has a year of college experience and should improve on his freshman campaign at wide receiver.
The Tigers return six starters on defense, led by All-SEC candidate E.J. Gaines at cornerback. It will be interesting to see how Missouri responds on defense after suffering through a disappointing 5-7 campaign in 2012.
The Aggies were up 42-0 on Missouri at Kyle Field in the second quarter. They went on to win 59-29 in a game that avenged three straight losses to the Tigers by A&M.
Missouri will be a much tougher challenge in Columbia in 2013. The Tigers should be a bowl team in the coming season.
Prediction: Texas A&M 41 Missouri 33