The Texas A&M football team is projected to be one of the top five teams in the nation in 2013. The Aggies have a lot of momentum coming off the 2012 season, but they still need a lot of pieces to fall into place in order to avoid a letdown in 2013.
The Ags had an 11-2 season in 2012 that resulted in a Top Five national rank to end the year. Everything fell into place on and off the field to make their inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference a success.
The Aggies went from 7-6 in 2011 to 11-2 in 2012. A coaching change and a new quarterback had a lot to do with the improvement on the field, but there was also luck involved. It is hard to depend on having that kind of luck two seasons in a row.
This is a look at why the Aggies may underachieve in 2013 and not live up to the preseason expectations.
The Aggies were extremely lucky when it came to injuries in 2012. The only major injury they suffered to a starter was when safety Steven Campbell was lost for the year due to concussion issues.
Sophomore defensive back Deshazor Everett missed the Louisiana Tech game with a leg injury, and freshman defensive end Julien Obioha missed the Cotton Bowl with a back injury. That was it for the season.
Some of the Ags' health had to do with the excellent shape they were in due to strength coach Larry Jackson's program and some was simply luck. You cannot train an ankle to stay healthy.
Sometimes a player is in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets rolled up on in a pile. That is just part of football. Expecting the Aggies to avoid those kinds of injuries two years in a row is a bit unrealistic.
If sophomore Johnny Manziel is lost for even one game, the results could be catastrophic for the Aggies. The 2013 team has more depth than the 2012 squad did, but the right injury at the right time could derail the season.
Aggie wide receiver Mike Evans made a spectacular catch over an Ole Miss defensive back for 32 yards to extend the drive on a 3rd-and-19 play. The Ags were backed up on their 3-yard line with eight minutes left in the game while down by 10 points in Oxford, Miss.
Johnny Manziel threw the ball up and Evans simply made a play. It was the beginning of a great comeback that would give the Aggies their first SEC road win and some momentum as they proceeded with their season.
If the ball was an inch lower or Evans didn't time his leap quite right, then he wouldn't have made that play and the Aggies would have punted the ball and likely lost the game. Instead, the Ags managed to win a game where they turned the ball over six times.
Sometimes the ball just bounces your way. When A&M played Alabama, a perfectly timed hit from Howard Matthews jarred the ball up into their air and right into linebacker Sean Porter's hands.
That turnover set up a short touchdown drive to put the Ags up 14-0 in Tuscaloosa against No, 1 Alabama. The Aggies likely do not win that game without that turnover.
You cannot expect the ball to bounce your way all the time. The Ags are going to have to play better football in 2013 than they did in 2012 because they are not always going to be lucky.
In 2012 the Aggies had some senior leaders they could rely on to step up and make big plays. Middle linebacker Jonathan Stewart came up with a big fourth-down stop against Ole Miss.
Sean Porter had that interception against Alabama. Ryan Swope came up with big receptions on a weekly basis.
Now those seniors are gone, and the juniors from the 2012 team need to step up and into leadership roles on the 2013 squad. There is no guarantee that the chemistry and leadership on the 2013 team will be as good as it was in 2012.
Johnny Manziel has a tremendous competitive spirit and a huge desire to win. He may end up making the 2013 squad his team and lead them where they want to go.
Right now, there are no guarantees, and the 2013 team needs to find some leaders.
It is easy to be hungry and play with a chip on your shoulder when you are coming off a 7-6 season. When the media infers that you will struggle, it is easy to take an us-against-the-world mentality.
It is much harder to play with desperation when everyone is patting you one the back and telling you how good you are. The Ags will likely start the season ranked in the Top 10 in the nation.
They will have a target on their back. In 2013 they will be the hunted in the SEC. Some teams have trouble dealing with success. It will be interesting to see how the Aggies handle it.
Texas A&M kicker Taylor Bertolet missed seven extra points in 2012. He also missed nine field goals. If he cannot be more consistent in 2013 then it will cost the Aggies some games.
The Aggies were able to overcome most of Bertolet's miscues in 2012 because the offense was so prolific that a missed extra point here or there did not affect them. You cannot depend on that two seasons in a row.
Bertolet needs to make every extra point he attempts along with the chip-shot field goals. Missed kicks did not cost the Ags their games against Louisiana Tech and Ole Miss, but they were a big factor in the LSU loss.
The 2013 Aggies simply need to be better at place-kicker than they were in 2012.
The Aggies lost 117 receptions, 1,663 yards and 17 touchdowns to graduation. They also lost 30 receptions for 339 yards and a touchdown with Thomas Johnson leaving the program.
To put that into perspective, the Ags return two wide receivers who started a game in 2012, and they combined for 108 receptions for 1,370 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Aggie coaches are relying on a highly ranked recruiting class of wide receivers to boost the lineup. If those receivers struggle to adjust to the college game, the Ags' passing game could be grounded.
Texas A&M faces Alabama and its excellent secondary on Sept. 14. The freshmen are going to have to grow up in a hurry because they are going to be asked to play big-time football immediately.
The Texas A&M offense is based on Aggie receivers beating defenders in one-on-one matchups out in space. If the receivers do not make plays then the offense will not score.