Remember when Texas A&M was a flash in the pan and wouldn't have staying power in the SEC West after quarterback Johnny Manziel moved on early to the NFL?
Yeah, about that.
Manziel's replacement, sophomore Kenny Hill, was phenomenal in his debut as the Aggies' starting quarterback, completing 44 of 60 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-28 rout over No. 9 South Carolina on the road in a hostile environment in Columbia, South Carolina. The 511 yards and 60 passing attempts were both school records.
The performance vaulted Hill, who was a virtual unknown prior to Thursday night, right into the early-season conversation for the Heisman Trophy, according to Todd Fuhrman of Fox Sports 1.
Kenny Hill wasn't listed on anyone's Heisman board before tonight...he just opened up at 20-1 (via @Sportsbook_com )— Todd Fuhrman (@ToddFuhrman) August 29, 2014
It was a statement performance not just by Hill, but by head coach Kevin Sumlin—who proved that, even without the most dynamic college football player in recent history, his system works at an elite level.
Over the last six years, covering stints as the head coach of Texas A&M and Houston, Sumlin's offenses have finished no worse than 11th in the country in total offense. The only reason Sumlin's Houston offense finished in "lowly" 11th in 2010 was because quarterback Case Keenum was lost for the season after three games and David Piland had to step in on the fly.
Sumlin came out to prove a point, and he did it.
Sumlin doesn't fit quarterbacks to his system, he fits his system to quarterbacks. When he was at Houston, Keenum lit up opposing defenses in an offense that resembled the Air Raid. With Manziel at Texas A&M, it was a nice blend of Air Raid, zone read and Manziel's improvisational skills. Speaking of, a certain someone took notice of Hill's performance tonight as well.
KENNY FOOTBALL!!! #GigEm— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) August 29, 2014
Hill only rushed for five yards against the Gamecocks, but why mess with success?
He has the ability to be a dual-threat quarterback, and his breakout performance through the air on the road on opening night will only open up the offense more for Sumlin moving forward.
|2012||Texas A&M||Johnny Manziel||68.0||3,706||26||9|
|2013||Texas A&M||Johnny Manziel||69.9||4,114||37||13|
CFBStats.com / Highlighted row was in three games
So what does this do to the landscape of the SEC West?
Any inclination that the Aggies might suffer a drop-off post-Manziel went out the window as soon as Hill led the Aggies on their first touchdown drive—a 67-yarder to open the game. The poise Hill showed on the road in his first career start really solidifies the A&M offense as one that's incredibly dangerous.
We already knew about the veteran offensive line, the solid stable of running backs and the talented and versatile wide receiving corps. Now we know the new "running quarterback" isn't too shabby through the air.
Are the Aggies still searching for answers defensively?
The jury is still out. South Carolina racked up 433 total yards, but that's still 48.5 yards better than A&M's 2013 average on defense.
That's not just a baby step; that's a giant leap.
Is Texas A&M a contender in the SEC West?
Defense doesn't win championships anymore, just enough defense wins championships. If Hill's debut is any indication, the definition for "just enough defense" for this particular Texas A&M defense is simply one that can force pressure with four players and capitalize on mistakes.
That's not a lot to ask.
This Texas A&M team may not miss a beat in the post-Manziel era. At the very worst it's a team that can be disruptive within the division and have a big say in who plays in the SEC Championship Game. If the Aggies play like they did on Thursday night, they may be playing in the Georgia Dome themselves.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.