The Texas A&M Football team surprised a lot of people in 2012 with its immediate success in the Southeastern Conference. Whether or not the Aggies will be able to build upon that success will rely in large part on what kind of defense they put on the field in 2013.
The Aggies have been recognized nationally for their prolific offense and the amazing play of quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Yet many failed to recognize that the Aggie defense played a huge role in Texas A&M's early success in the SEC.
The Ags only allowed 21 points per game in 2013. They allowed 390 yards per game, which is not impressive, until you consider that much of those totals was given up in garbage time against the second-team defense.
The Aggies had a seven-game stretch in which they did not allow a single point in the first quarter. They were 6-1 in those seven games.
It was a regular occurrence in 2012 for the Aggies to jump out to a quick lead, and the opposing team to panic and change their game plan on offense. The Aggies would jump ahead by multiple scores so quickly that the opposition would be forced to pass the ball to try and keep up. Opponents would often become one-dimensional and easier for Mark Snyder and his defense to stop.
The Ags have lost six starters off that 2012 defense. They will need some of the backups to step up and some of the incoming freshmen to arrive ready to contribute if they want to see a repeat of that success.
Here is a look at why the Aggies will have an SEC-caliber defense in 2013.
Aggie DE Julien Obioha vs. MSU
The Aggies started a true freshman on the defensive line in 2012 in Julien Obioha. He started at strong-side defensive end for all 12 regular season games. Alonzo Williams replaced the injured Obioha in the Cotton Bowl.
Despite the fact there will be multiple true freshmen playing on the line in 2013, the experience that Obioha and Williams gained in 2012 will help the Aggies immensely.
Obioha and Williams now know what it feels like to play in front of 100,000 screaming fans on the road.
They know what it means to prepare and then play for 60 minutes in an SEC battle. They will be able to mentor their younger teammates as they make the difficult transition from high school to the SEC.
Moreover, after an offseason spent in Larry Jackson's strength and conditioning program, both Obioha and Williams should be bigger, stronger players in 2013.
When you think of SEC football, you think of dominating defensive lines. The elite SEC teams have big, quick defensive linemen up and down their roster. Teams like Alabama and LSU are three-deep on their defensive line with prospects who will eventually play on Sundays.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin is trying to get the Aggies to that level. He took a big step forward in 2013 by signing three elite defensive tackle prospects on National Signing Day.
Isaiah Golden, Justin Manning and Hardreck Walker should all play on the interior line for A&M as true freshmen. They will form the foundation for what Sumlin wants to build on his defensive line.
Polo Manukainiu redshirted in 2012 and should help the Aggies at defensive end and defensive tackle. Alonzo Williams will also be an option at either defensive end or defensive tackle.
In 2012 the Aggies struggled on the defensive line when their starters went to the bench. In 2013 they should have much better depth and the ability to put a fresh big body in when needed.
The Aggies will have one of the bigger and more physical secondaries in the SEC in 2013.
Deshazor Everett returns at cornerback after starting 12 of 13 games in 2012. He is 6'0" tall and is very physical against the run. Everett is also a tremendous cover corner who saw time at safety in 2012 when the opponent dictated that move.
Howard Matthews came into his own towards the end of the 2012 season. He stepped in when Steven Campbell was lost to injury and improved his play as the season went along. Matthews was once considered a liability in coverage, but he worked hard at his deficiency and was solid by the end of the year.
At 6'2", 206 pounds Matthews is a physical presence in the secondary, His first quarter hit against Alabama caused an interception and set the tone for the entire game.
Kameron Miles is a 6'2", 185-pound safety prospect out of West Mesquite (TX) High School. He will arrive in Aggieland in June and will compete for the safety spot vacated by Steven Terrell's graduation.
Floyd Raven Sr. also has the size at 6'2", 190 pounds to get a look at safety. When he decides to learn and play within Mark Snyder's defensive scheme, he will be a great asset to the defense.
Sumlin and his staff are doing a tremendous job improving the size and athleticism in the secondary with their recruiting.
Aggie LB Donnie Baggs intercepts a pass vs. Sam Houston
The Aggies are losing six starters from their 2012 defense, but Sumlin and his staff signed 18 defensive players in the 2013 recruiting class.
A good number of those signees will see action in 2013.
The Ags will have better depth at every position on defense next year. They will not need a repeat of the injury luck from 2012 in order to be successful. They will have the depth to withstand injuries to starters.
This improved depth means that Texas A&M will not have games like Louisiana Tech in 2012 where many of the defensive starters participated in over 100 snaps. The coaches will be able to send fresh players in throughout the game without a drop off in talent and experience.
This should lead to more consistent and better play across the board.
Aggies DE Alonzo Williams assists on a tackle in the Cotton Bowl
The Texas A&M Football team survived and excelled during its first season in the SEC. Now everyone, from the coaches to the players, knows what to expect out of their conference brethren.
The players know what is physically required of them to prepare for a season. They also have a year of experience in Mark Snyder's system, which is always a plus.
The coaches like Sumlin and Snyder have a much better understanding of how their SEC foes plan to attack their defense.
The Aggies entered 2012 with a lot of unknowns about their new conference. Now they know what to expect from opposing offenses.
The extra year of experience for the players and coaches should be a big advantage as the team enters its second season in the SEC.