The Texas A&M football team will be expected to be ranked in the top five when the 2013 season begins. The Aggies are projected to contend for the Southeastern Conference and national title.
With reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel returning at quarterback, the Texas A&M offense should once again be among the best in the nation. The Ags also have tremendous depth at running back and a good offensive line.
They need to get some help from the incoming freshmen to shore up the wide receiver position. They will also need help on the defensive line where there are still some major depth issues coming out of the spring.
The Ags lost two starters at each level of the defense from the 2012 squad. If they are going to compete for a conference and national title in 2013, then they will need some major help from the freshman class.
They are going to need defensive linemen like Isaiah Golden and Justin Manning to arrive on campus ready to contribute immediately. If the Ags do not have any freshmen step up, then they will just be a solid SEC team who will be competitive in the SEC West and qualify for a minor bowl.
In 2012 the Aggies started three true freshmen in cornerback De'Vante Harris, defensive end Julien Obioha and wide receiver Thomas Johnson. Those three played major roles in helping the Ags to an 11-2 season and the No. 5 ranking in the country.
It is reasonable to expect the coaches to get the same kind of contribution from such a highly touted recruiting class. This is a game-by-game projection of how the Aggies will do in 2013.
The Rice Owls return 19 starters from a 7-6 squad that finished their 2012 campaign with a 49-24 loss to UCLA in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Owls should have a very good offense but a suspect defense and will attempt to qualify for their third bowl bid since 2006.
Rice featured a balanced offense in 2012 while averaging 201 yards rushing per game, to go along with 225 yards through the air. They return their leading passer, rusher and receiver from that squad.
The Owls allowed and average of 425 yards and 30 points per game on defense. Rice allowed opponents to complete 57 percent of their passes for 235 yards per game in 2012.
The Aggies should struggle early in their season opener to keep the Rice offense in check, and the Owls should be able to put some points on the board. Rice will struggle with the speed of the Aggies on offense, and the Ags should be able to score at will.
Expect a high-scoring game in the first half that gets out of hand in the Aggies favor as the game goes on.
Prediction: Texas A&M 51, Rice 20
The Sam Houston State Bearkats travel to Kyle Field for the second season in a row. The Bearkats finished the 2012 season 11-4, with a loss in the FCS championship finals for the second year in a row.
The Bearkats are an extremely well-coached team led by head coach Willie Fritz. They have better speed than your average FCS program and will present the Ags with a challenge.
Tim Flanders is a very good running back for the Bearkats. He rushed for 1,642 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2012, including 64 yards and a touchdown against A&M.
Teams improve the most between their first and second games of the season. The Aggies will be raring to go after fixing some of the mistakes they made in the first game against Rice.
Prediction: Texas A&M 60, SHSU 17
The Alabama Crimson Tide will travel to Kyle Field in what could be a matchup of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation. Alabama is expected to start the season ranked No. 1 ,and the Ags will likely be ranked around No. 5. After a 2-0 start, it is conceivable that the Aggies will move up the rankings.
Nick Saban has the Tide rolling like a football machine right now. Alabama has won consecutive national titles and two out of the last three national titles. It is the definition of a football dynasty.
The Tide went 12-1 in 2012, with the one blemish on their record a 29-24 loss at home to the Aggies. Saban has historically struggled against hurry-up spread offenses with mobile quarterbacks like Texas A&M.
This game is one of the most anticipated games in Texas A&M history. The excitement and hype leading up to this game will be unprecedented.
The Tide return quarterback A.J. McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receivers Amari Cooper and Kenny Bell on offense. Their defense will be led by senior linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Alabama had nine players from their 2012 national championship squad drafted into the NFL. The Tide does not rebuild; they simply reload. They will have another tremendous squad in 2013.
There are those who believe that with a week off to prepare, Nick Saban will have Alabama prepared to shut down Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel. Those people are not accounting for the fact that Manziel has improved as a passer since he faced the Tide in 2012.
Manziel will pick apart the Tide secondary for over 300 yards passing, while rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown. Expect A.J. McCarron to throw an interception early in the fourth quarter to end the Tide's hope.
Prediction: Texas A&M 31, Alabama 20
The SMU Mustangs travel to Kyle Field in what could be a trap game for the Aggies. Texas A&M will be riding high after their victory over Alabama, and an SMU team that the Ags obliterated in 2012 will come into town.
The Mustangs have a quarterback in Garrett Gilbert who is as physically gifted as any in the country. Gilberts' issues have been with turning the ball over too much throughout his career.
Gilbert has an NFL-quality arm that threw 15 interceptions to go along with 15 touchdowns in 2012. The Mustangs hired Hal Mumme to help out Gilbert and add a few wrinkles to June Jones' run-and-shoot offense.
This was a significant addition to the staff. Mumme basically invented the spread-passing offense at Valdosta State. His fingerprints can be seen in offenses throughout college and the NFL, including the Aggies' version of the hurry-up spread.
Gilbert ran the spread at Lake Travis (TX) High School where he led the Cavaliers to consecutive state titles. If Gilbert can find comfort in Mumme's offense, then the Mustangs will have a real weapon on their hands.
SMU has been to four consecutive bowl games and is a solid program. They will have to replace leading rusher Zach Line and leading receiver Darrius Johnson off of their 2012 squad.
If Gilbert commits to what Mumme is teaching, the Mustangs could give the Aggies a lot of problems. In the end, the Ags should simply have too much talent.
Prediction: Texas A&M 47, SMU 29
The Arkansas Razorbacks lost head coach Bobby Petrino before the 2012 season, and then limped their way to a 4-8 season with a team that had conference championship caliber talent on it. Arkansas hired Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin in order to right the ship.
The Ags will have their first road game of the season when they take on the Razorbacks in Fayetteville. That is a tough venue to play in when the Hogs are playing well.
The Razorbacks have to replace their top three offensive players in quarterback Tyler Wilson, running back Knile Davis and receiver Cobi Hamilton. They also have to make the transition from running Petrino's pro-style passing offense to Bielema's run-dominated offense.
The Hogs do not have the talent in place to make this offense work right now. At Wisconsin, Bielema won with a dominating run game and great defense. At Arkansas, he does not have the offensive line in place to control the game with the run.
The Arkansas defense allowed 409 yards per game in 2012. They should improve in 2013 with a different defensive staff, but the question is how much?
The Aggies should win this game because they are farther along as a program right now than Arkansas.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Arkansas 17
The Ags travel to Oxford for the second consecutive season to take on Ole Miss. In 2012, Texas A&M escaped with a 30-27 victory on some late-game heroics from Johnny Manziel.
Manziel spent most of the afternoon turning the ball over but drove the Ags to consecutive touchdowns in the last eight minutes of the game to steal the win.
In 2013, the Aggies will not turn the ball over six times like they did in 2012. Ole Miss should be a much more confident team in its second year under head coach Hugh Freeze.
The Aggies will win a close game in Oxford to move to 6-0 on the season.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Ole Miss 28
The Auburn Tigers will travel to Kyle Field in 2013. The Ags went on the road and blew the Tigers out of their own stadium in 2012 by the score of 63 to 21.
Gus Malzahn is now in charge of the Auburn football program. Malzahn is a brilliant play-caller who has won everywhere he has been. He should transform Auburn from the laughingstock they were in 2012 into a bowl team in 2013.
The SEC West got a lot tougher with the hire of Malzahn. The Tigers will be competitive in every game they play in 2013 because his offense will keep them in the game.
The issue for Malzahn and Auburn will be finding enough players on defense to stop anyone. The defense should be better than it was in 2012 because they will actually be putting forth effort in every game.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Auburn 27
The Vanderbilt football program has been transformed by head coach James Franklin. They were once considered a national joke but have been to consecutive bowl games.
Vanderbilt plays hard in every game. The team mirrors the no excuse image of their head coach. The Commodores now enter every game expecting to win.
Vandy travels to Kyle Field in 2013. They are an improved program, but they have yet to face an offense like Texas A&M's or a player like Johnny Manziel.
The 'Dores return wide receiver Jordan Matthews who led the SEC with 93 receptions for 1,323 yards. He will again be one of the top receivers in the nation. Vanderbilt did see star running back Zach Stacy graduate and move on to the NFL.
This should be a hard-fought game that the Ags are able to put away in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Texas A&M 41, Vanderbilt 27
The UTEP Miners will travel to Kyle Field for the Aggies' ninth game of the season. The game will offer the Texas A&M defense a chance to go up against their former teammate, in quarterback Jameill Showers.
Showers will give the UTEP offense a fighting chance in this game. He is a future NFL quarterback and will not be intimidated by Kyle Field or facing his former teammates on defense.
UTEP will be able to score some points, but their defense will not be able to stop the Aggie running game. Ben Malena, Brandon Williams and Trey Williams will run all over the Miners in another Aggie victory.
Prediction: Texas A&M 58, UTEP 28
The Mississippi State Bulldogs travel to Kyle Field to play the Aggies in Week 10. The Bulldogs lost their starting cornerbacks and a defensive end from the 2012 team to the NFL.
Their defense should struggle against the pass as they attempt to replace the best cornerback tandem they have had in Starkville during the Dan Mullen era.
The Bulldogs do return Tyler Russell at quarterback and 1,000-yard rusher LaDarius Perkins at running back. Their offense should be potent even though they have to replace leading receiver Chad Bumphis.
Mullen needs to get things going in Starkville in 2013 because Hugh Freeze is about to steal all of his thunder. If he does not have an impressive season in 2013, he may find himself on the hot seat. He will not find any relief in College Station.
Prediction: Texas A&M 41, Mississippi State 23
LSU had eight juniors drafted in the 2013 NFL draft. They had nine players drafted overall, and Les Miles has to do a rebuilding job before the 2013 season. The Tigers lost 14 players who played significant roles on the 2012 team.
The LSU program is loaded with talent, but not team can sustain those kinds of losses without a significant drop-off. Expect the Tigers to be a 8-4 or 9-3 team in 2013.
LSU should have a decent passing game for the first time in three years. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger returns for his second season under center and will have speedster Odell Beckham Jr. to throw deep to.
If Jeremy Hill can sort out his legal issues, the those three will give the Tigers' offense a formidable punch. The issue for the Tigers will be trying to replace all of those play-makers on defense.
The Ags have to travel to Baton Rouge to play LSU. It should be their toughest road game of 2013. On paper this is a win for the Ags, but the games are not played on paper.
The Aggies' shot at an undefeated season will end in Baton Rouge. Texas A&M fans will look on in disgust as Les Miles eats grass and smiles for a national television audience after an LSU win.
Prediction: LSU 29, Texas A&M 27
The Missouri Tigers struggled to a 5-7 record during their first season in the SEC in 2012. The Tigers were beset with injuries to their most important offensive players and an inability to cope with the physical nature of their new league.
Star running back Henry Josey was lost for the 2012 season as he recovered from a knee injury suffered in 2011. Quarterback James Franklin was supposed to be a difference-maker in the SEC, but he struggled with injuries all season and was ineffective.
If Franklin and Josey can return to the team at 100 percent, then the Tigers could have a formidable offense in 2013. The defense allowed opponents to rush for four years per carry and complete 65 percent for their passes in 2012.
If they do not shore up the defense, they will not improve on their 2012 effort. The Tigers saw arguably their defense defensive player, Sheldon Richardson, selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Mizzou should be a bowl team in 2013. How much better they are than their 2012 squad will depend on the defense. They will not be good enough to beat A&M in Columbia at the end of the year.
Prediction: Texas A&M 41, Missouri 20