SEC Football Q&A: Is Texas A&M Overhyped Because of Johnny Manziel?

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SEC Football Q&A: Is Texas A&M Overhyped Because of Johnny Manziel?

Every Thursday on The SEC Blog, we will feature questions from the Bleacher Report inbox, Twitter and email at bsallee@bleacherreport.com. 

You have SEC questions, and I have SEC answers. Thank you for your questions this week. If I didn't get to them, they will be saved and used in the future.

And we're off:

The perception is out there that Texas A&M is all "sizzle" and no "steak," but I'm firmly in the A&M camp this season.

Do the Aggies deserve to be in the preseason national title discussion? Of course.

Take the Manziel hype out of the equation for a second. He's still an established returning starter at quarterback who will benefit from the return of his favorite receiver Mike Evans, an extremely deep running back corps led by Ben Malena and an All-American protecting his blind side in Jake Matthews.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Texas A&M LB Steven Jenkins

Whether you think Manziel is "sizzle," "steak" or something in between, that's a recipe for success at virtually every level.

The fortunes of Texas A&M's season rest on the defensive side of the ball, particularly the ability of the front seven to generate pressure on the quarterback, stop the run and force mistakes. That question remains unanswered, and probably rests on the shoulders of defensive end Julien Obioha and linebacker Steven Jenkins—both of whom are returning from injuries.

If they succeed, that will help the already talented Aggie secondary. That's all that Texas A&M needs to be successful. When you have a potent offense, all you have to be on defense is opportunistic.

 

Georgia was within five yards of doing it last season, and I've been beating the drum for the Bulldogs all offseason.

The Bulldogs didn't play for the crystal football in Miami in January because Alabama's running game and offensive line had its way in the second half of the SEC Championship Game. Unfortunately for Georgia, that wasn't the exception to the rule. The Bulldog defense was awful against the run last season, giving up 182.14 yards per game.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham

While defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is plugging a ton of holes on defense, he's doing so with players who are probably better-suited to fix the problem. Jarvis Jones looked like he was on skates against Alabama, and 6'3", 246-pound rising sophomore Jordan Jenkins looked like a viable replacement in the spring game. He's bigger and plays more downhill, which will benefit the defense.

I like Ramik Wilson at the other outside linebacker spot, and Amarlo Herrera evolved into a solid middle linebacker as the season went on last season. The secondary is going to be solid with Damian Swann, Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews.

Even if the defense doesn't live up to my expectations, the offense is certainly capable of getting into and winning shootouts. The only hole to fill on the SEC's third-best offense is the one left by wide receiver Tavarres King. But head coach Mark Richt should get a full season from Malcolm Mitchell at wide receiver. Michael Bennett—who is quarterback Aaron Murray's favorite target—is back from a torn ACL, and junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph is available to pick up the slack.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Georgia WR Malcolm Mitchell (right) and QB Aaron Murray

 

Of course, these predictions are always subject to change. But right now, I have Mississippi State at 5-7 and Ole Miss at 8-4.

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Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell

Despite setting school records in passing yards (2,897) and touchdown passes (24) a year ago, I'm not sure what to make of Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell. He padded his stats against a weak schedule early on last season and sputtered down the stretch, tossing nine of his 10 interceptions in the Bulldogs' final six games. 

Considering he lost his three favorite receivers, it's fair to be skeptical about which Russell we are going to get in 2013. 

With games against Oklahoma State and LSU before mid-October, the schedule isn't back-loaded like it was last season. I see Mississippi State beating Alcorn State, Auburn, Troy, Bowling Green and Kentucky, with that Arkansas game being the one that makes or breaks the Bulldogs' bowl hopes.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace

Ole Miss gets virtually its entire starting cast back and will benefit from the injection of talent coming this summer with Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and the rest of that stellar class of 2013.

The Rebels aren't going to contend for the SEC West title, but if quarterback Bo Wallace can cut down on his interceptions (17),  they will be even more competitive then they were last year. That may be asking a lot after the rising junior missed spring practice recovering from shoulder surgery, but that throwing shoulder bothered him at times last season too.

If the Rebels can get by Vanderbilt on the road on the first Thursday night of the season—and I think they will—it could be the kick-start to an impressive season.

Right now, I have Ole Miss losing to Texas, Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU. But that Vandy game is critical, and the one at the end of the season versus Arkansas could be tricky.

 

Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee via the B/R inbox, on Twitter @BarrettSallee or at bsallee@bleacherreport.com.

 

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