Two short seasons ago, there was uncertainty in College Station, Texas.
The Texas A&M Aggies were entering their new life as a member of the SEC West, fresh off a 7-6 season with a new coach and a new quarterback.
A slow transition process was inevitable. Well, until a redshirt freshman quarterback named Johnny Manziel stepped on the field and set the college football world on fire.
Fast forward two years, and it's another big season in College Station littered with high stakes and plenty of uncertainty. My B/R colleague Ben Kercheval noted earlier this month that the expectations generated from head coach Kevin Sumlin's first two seasons at the helm coupled with Texas' downward spiral into national irrelevance makes this a critical year for Texas A&M.
What would help? Finding a "Johnny Manziel" for that defense would be a huge benefit.
Manziel came along at a time in the SEC when defenses dominated. He, along with an influx of new head coaches like Sumlin, Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze and Auburn's Gus Malzahn, helped change that. Defense doesn't win championships anymore; "just enough" defense wins championships.
Texas A&M hasn't had enough over the last two seasons.
Not even close.
Isaiah Golden looked like he could be a force in the middle of the defensive line in the second half of the Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. Duke, but he was dismissed from the team earlier this month. Linebacker Darian Claiborne led the Aggies in tackles last year, due in part to running backs continually getting to the second level. A full offseason of work could have turned him into "that guy" as well. But he was dismissed with Golden after an offseason of tumult.
Somebody has to step up, because while there are weapons all over the Aggies offense and creativity within the coaching staff to succeed no matter who's the quarterback, it's unlikely the Aggies offense will be as potent as it was with the most dynamic college football quarterback of this generation taking the snaps.
Sumlin needs to catch lighting in a bottle on the defensive side of the ball.
One potential candidate would be defensive end Myles Garrett. The No. 2 overall player in the class of 2014 has incredible burst off the edge, the size to be a force against the run and the potential to be one of the most disruptive players in the SEC once he gets his feet wet.
But when, exactly, will that be?
Julien Obioha and Gavin Stansbury are likely candidates to start at rush end and strong-side defensive end, respectively. If Garrett emerges as a force, it could allow defensive coordinator Mark Snyder to drop one of them down to defensive tackle in passing situations and let Garrett's strength—his pass-rushing ability—shine early and often.
Will Texas A&M's defense finish in the top half of the SEC?
If that happens, that would help out a secondary that, while experienced, has dealt with quite a few passes being completed on them over the last two seasons. Then, maybe, cornerback Deshazor Everett will live up to that first-team All-SEC tag Phil Steele gave him in his 2014 preview.
They better find a star in a hurry, because as was the case in Manziel's first season at quarterback, the Aggies open with an SEC opponent: on the road Aug. 28 vs. South Carolina.
If a new star doesn't emerge before then, it could be the start of a long season in College Station.