Texas A&M Football: Kevin Sumlin's Biggest Challenges for the Aggies in 2014
The Texas A&M football team has a lot to prove in 2014. Head coach Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies have a number of obstacles to overcome in order to prove they can be an elite SEC program.
The Aggies have won 20 games during their first two seasons in the league. That is a solid start for any program that is transitioning from one league to another.
Since college football realignment began in 2010 with Nebraska's decision to join the Big Ten, the Aggies have the best winning percentage in their first two years in their new conference of any program that moved to a major conference.
The Aggies went 20-6 for a winning percentage of .769. Nebraska is next at .703, followed by Missouri (.654), Utah (.520), West Virginia (.440), TCU (.440) and Colorado (.166). Critics will point out that Sumlin's early success in the SEC was mainly due to quarterback Johnny Manziel's presence on the roster when Sumlin arrived.
The task for Sumlin and the Aggies going forward is to prove that their early success in the Southeastern Conference was not a fluke and that they have staying power in the league of champions.
This is a look at the biggest challenges facing Sumlin and the Aggies in 2014.
Life After Manziel
Fair or not, there are many people out there who attribute the Aggies' early success in the SEC due to Johnny Manziel being on the football team. Some people think that the Aggies will regress back to the seven-win team they were in 2011 before Manziel took over.
Sumlin and his team are tasked with proving the doubters wrong. It takes more than one player to win in the SEC, and the Aggies were never a one-man team.
In Sumlin's six seasons as a head coach, his quarterbacks have averaged 380 yards passing per game. Either he is extremely lucky in arriving at programs where good quarterbacks are on the roster, or he simply knows how to cater his offense to the talent available.
Sumlin is a tremendous coach and he will have the Aggies offense among the top 10 in the country for the third straight season. He and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital will lean on the running game more as they transition in a new quarterback.
Sumlin has been stocking the roster with talent since he arrived in Aggieland in December of 2011. The SEC will find out in 2014 that the Aggies were much more than just Johnny Manziel and a bunch of no-name players.
Fix the Defense
The biggest obstacle facing the 2014 Aggie football team is the defense. If the Aggies cannot improve on their defensive performance in 2013 then they will be in some real trouble as a program.
The Aggies ranked No. 109 in total defense in 2013 allowing 475.8 yards per game. They were unable to apply consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback and often allowed the opposition to go on long, time-consuming drives.
The Aggies should have a better pass rush in 2014 with the arrival of defensive end Myles Garrett and a couple of other top defensive recruits. The improved pass rush will have a trickle-down effect on the defense.
With less time to get passes off, opposing quarterbacks should be less effective against the Aggie secondary. A rushed or disrupted passing game often results in mistakes and turnovers. Turnovers result in the defense getting off the field and more possessions for the A&M offense.
The defense will be a year older and should be a deeper unit in 2014 than it was in 2013. If they can improve their performance, it will go a long way towards making the Aggies a contender in 2014.
Search for Playmakers
In Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, the Aggies lost two of the greatest offensive playmakers in the program's history. Manziel and Evans were the two best players at their positions in the history of the Aggie football program.
You cannot just snap your fingers and replace that kind of production. Sumlin and his staff have done a nice job of building the skill position talent up through recruiting. They should have enough talent in place as a group to make up for what the Aggies lost when Manziel and Evans went to the NFL.
Evans was an explosive wide receiver who at times looked like a man among boys against SEC defensive backs. The Aggies do not have anyone as good as him on campus, but they have a couple of young wide receivers who can try to do their best Evans impression.
Ricky Seals-Jones is a 6'6", 230-pound receiver who was forced to miss most of the 2013 season with a knee injury. He will offer the Aggies the large target in the red zone that they lost when Evans left for the NFL.
Incoming wide receiver recruit Frank Iheanacho is basically a Mike Evans starter kit. At 6'6" and 220 pounds, he is a little taller than Evans. Both were high school basketball stars who gave football a try as seniors in high school to increase their chance at an athletic scholarship to a major program.
Evans had the luxury of redshirting during the 2011 season. Iheanacho may play as a true freshman in 2014. With Iheanacho on one side, and Seals-Jones on the other, whoever is taking snaps for the Aggies is going to have 6'6" bookend receivers to throw to.
In Trey Williams, Tra Carson, Brandon Williams and James White, the Aggies have a quartet of running backs who the coaches should be able to rely on while they break in their new quarterback.
The Aggie running backs will rush for over 2,000 yards as a position in 2014 and replace some of the productivity that left when Manziel went into the NFL.
Mentality of the Team
In 2013 when Johnny Manziel was healthy, they Aggie offense was almost unstoppable. They could be counted on to drive down and score almost every time they touched the ball.
The defense and team got accustomed to simply outscoring opponents. Defensive busts and mistakes were okay because Manziel and the offense would just clean it up in the end. Allowing an offensive drive and a field goal was acceptable because Johnny Football would just lead the offense right back down the field to score a touchdown.
The 2014 Texas A&M football team is going to have to develop a different mentality. It is no longer acceptable to simply exchange scores with a team and hope you have the ball last.
The 2014 team is going to have to play much better defense. The running game is going to have to be more consistent because it may have to carry the offense a little bit while a new starter at quarterback gets comfortable.
Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital and the offensive coaches are going to have to realize that they cannot simply rely on Manziel to go out there and pull a rabbit out of a hat anymore. They need to develop gameplans that will protect their young quarterback and keep a young defense off the field for extended periods of time.
Sumlin may have to transform the Aggies into more of a West Coast offense in 2014. The Aggies can rely on their tight ends and running backs in the passing game to help sustain drives and slow the game down a little bit.
The Aggies are always going to play fast, but they will likely have longer drives in 2014 and will attempt to win the time of possession battle.