The Texas A&M Aggies have major expectations going into the 2013 college football season, as this squad is coming off an impressive—and largely unforeseen—11-2 showing in its first year of SEC play.
Much of the credit for that belongs to Johnny Manziel, who emerged as a superstar quarterback during his first season—becoming the only player to win the Heisman Trophy as a freshman.
Now that the Aggies are no longer going to be surprising anyone, they have to prove that they are for real and can continue to hang with the conference powerhouses year after year.
Let’s take a look at three must-win games for the program that will go a long way toward that goal.
Ole Miss – Saturday, Oct. 12, TBA
However, head coach Hugh Freeze is going to need some time to groom these raw talents into players who can help his team compete at a high level in the conference.
Regardless, the Rebels are not to be underestimated—especially at home. This contest will take place in Oxford in front of a raucous crowd that will likely show a renewed and feverish interest in football after Freeze’s recruiting exploits.
Ole Miss will be fighting tooth and nail to show the world that it is the program on the rise in the nation’s premier conference, so A&M needs to put the Rebels away early in this one.
LSU – Saturday, Nov. 23, TBA
The Tigers were able to overcome the Aggies last year, using their rushing game and defense to escape with a narrow victory in College Station.
With the action shifting to Baton Rouge in 2013, it will be even tougher for Texas A&M to get revenge, but the team may have received a bit of a boost courtesy of the NFL draft.
A large number of LSU’s standout defensive players elected to take their talents to next level, including Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Kevin Minter and Eric Reid.
This should make life easier for Johnny Football, as the quarterback will have some time to throw and space to run.
The real key to the game, however, will lie with A&M’s defense. That unit will need to stuff the run and keep Tigers QB Zach Mettenberger contained, which it did well last year. He was held to just 97 yards on 11-of-29 passing.
Alabama – Saturday, Sept. 14, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
This is arguably the most anticipated matchup of the year, as the defending national champions will head to College Station for a rematch of last season’s most thrilling contest.
Manziel cemented his Heisman campaign with an epic 24-of-31, 253-yard, two-touchdown passing and 92-yard rushing performance, confusing the ‘Bama defenders and willing his underdog side to victory.
It nearly cost the Crimson Tide a chance at the national title game, but some luck down the stretch and in the SEC Championship Game allowed Nick Saban’s boys to win it all.
Whichever side wins this highly anticipated showdown between two emerging rivals will likely have a major leg up on making the conference champ game in 2013.
Both teams know the stakes, so expect nothing less than an instant classic come September.