Was 2013 a Down Season or a Sign of Things to Come for Texas A&M?

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterDecember 16, 2013

Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
Texas A&M QB Johnny ManzielSean Gardner/Getty Images

The "Summer of Manziel" dominated headlines last offseason after Texas A&M quarterback and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel embarked on a world tour of the ages.

Critics questioned Manziel's dedication to the team during that time and all Manziel did in response was throw for 3,732 yards, 33 touchdowns, 13 picks and rush for 686 yards and eight more touchdowns.

Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
Texas A&M QB Johnny ManzielPeter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Not a bad encore.

But while Manziel was busy becoming a Heisman finalist for the second straight season, his defense was busy letting the Aggies down.

Texas A&M finished with the SEC's worst total defense (460.3 yards per game) and second-worst scoring defense (30.9 points per game), as the Aggies lost their final two games of the regular season and sputtered to an 8-4 finish.

So was the 2013 just a down season or a regression to the mean?

It was the latter.

A&M caught lightning in a bottle last season with Manziel, and while head coach Kevin Sumlin has been successful everywhere he's gone with a variety of quarterbacks with different skill sets, it's hard to imagine a scenario, a situation where the offense is better without Manziel—assuming he chooses to go pro.

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin
Texas A&M head coach Kevin SumlinThomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Defense doesn't win championships anymore, "just enough" defense wins championships. That's a moving target based on the offensive system a team runs and how effective it is. Texas A&M didn't have enough defense even when it had one of the most dynamic players in college football history on its roster.

Is that suddenly going to change now?

Sure, Texas A&M was young on defense this season and has a recruiting class in 2014 that's loaded with defensive talent according to 247Sports.com. But can those guys step foot on instant impact players and bridge that gap on a team that's going to be down offensively by its own standards?

Not likely.

Even if they do, that still only gets A&M to a comparable talent level as its primary competitors based on recruiting rankings.

On top of that, Auburn isn't a pushover anymore, Ole Miss has taken the Aggies to the brink in back-to-back seasons and the Aggies have been taken down by LSU in 2012 and 2013.

This is life in the SEC west. 

Alabama, Auburn and LSU consistently recruit at a comparable, or even better level than Texas A&M. Ole Miss joined that discussion last year, and hasn't let its foot off the gas that much during this recruiting cycle.

Texas A&M has the advantage of selling itself to recruits as the SEC team in the state of Texas, which will certainly help as more recruits associate the program with the nation's top football conference. But that only makes the Aggies competitive in the toughest neighborhood in college football, not elite.

Aggie fans will remember Manziel's time in College Station fondly. He helped usher the program into the SEC, helped the program garner momentum for a stadium renovation and expansion and eased a coaching transition from Mike Sherman to Kevin Sumlin.

But it also should be viewed as a missed opportunity, because the Aggies missed an opportunity to make an even bigger splash in the new-look SEC.