2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Aggies took a slight step backwards during the 2013 seasons after an outstanding 11-2 mark in 2012, but at 9-4 overall and 4-4 in the vaunted SEC, it was still a strong showing in head coach Kevin Sumlin's second season at the helm.
Texas A&M's downfall ultimately came in its inability to defeat the SEC's best. It collected strong victories versus Vanderbilt (56-24) and at Ole Miss (41-38) and also took care of business against Arkansas (45-33) and Mississippi State (51-41), but couldn't defeat the teams that finished ahead of it in the standings. It lost a marquee shootout with Alabama (49-42), dropped a contest with eventual SEC champion Auburn (45-41) and closed out the regular season with back-to-back road losses at LSU (34-10) and Missouri (28-21).
The Aggies accepted a bid to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, their fifth straight bowl game, and in their typical high-scoring fashion they were able to hold off Duke with a 52-48 triumph.
The squad finished the season ranked No. 18 in the AP poll and is 20-6 in two seasons under Sumlin, but it'll now have to adjust to life without its superstar quarterback.
OFFENSE: The Aggies had one of the nation's most prolific offenses last season, ranking fifth in the country in scoring (44.2 ppg) and fourth in yardage (538.4 ypg), but the majority of that production came thanks to the production of Johnny Manziel. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and two-time First-team All-SEC selection shined last season by completing 69.9 percent of his passes for 4,114 yards with 37 touchdowns while also causing havoc on the ground (759 yards, nine TDs).
With Manziel now suiting up for the Cleveland Browns, Texas A&M will need to find his replacement, with the competition coming down to sophomore Kenny Hill (16-of-22, 183 yards, TD last season) and true freshman Kyle Allen, one of top quarterback recruits in the country this past offseason.
As it is, Hill was recently tabbed as the starter for the opener against South Carolina, with Sumlin praising the work turned in by both guys this summer.
"The competition was close and that competition will continue to help us improve," Sumlin said. "I have talked to both quarterbacks as well as the team and we will prepare with Kenny getting the first-team reps."
The squad will also have to deal with the departure of Mike Evans, who was one of the nation's most dominant receivers a year ago with 69 receptions for 1,394 yards and 12 scores. Whoever wins the quarterback battle will have Malcome Kennedy (60 receptions, 658 yards, seven TDs) as one of the top options, and former top recruit Ricky Seals-Jones, who suffered a season- ending injury early in 2013, also has high expectations.
In the backfield, Ben Malena (551 yards, 10 TDs) is gone as well, but with the combination of Trey Williams (407 yards, six TDs) and Tra Carson (329 yards, seven TDs), the running game appears to be in good hands, especially with four starters along the offensive line returning.
DEFENSE: With such a high-flying offensive attack last season, the Aggies' clear downfall was the poor play of its defense, which allowed 32.2 ppg and 475.8 ypg (last in the SEC and 111th nationally), but the good news is that, unlike the offense, the defense has plenty of returning continuity with seven starters coming back.
The Aggies struggled with the pass rush a season ago, and they are in even worse shape than they figured, as last year's leading sack artist Gavin Stansbury (47 tackles, 3.0 sacks) left the program for personal reasons in July. Defensive tackle Alonzo Williams (27 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and linebacker Shaan Washington (3.0 sacks) are the only returning players who have experience getting pressure on the quarterback.
Luckily the team returns all four starters in the secondary in cornerbacks Deshazor Everett (73 tackles, two INTs) and De'Vante Harris (56 tackles, INT) and safeties Howard Matthews (90 tackles, three INTs) and Floyd Raven (38 tackles).
SPECIAL TEAMS: Josh Lambo returns as the kicker after knocking through 8-of-10 field goal attempts and 50-of-51 extra point tries a year ago. Drew Kaser (47.4 yards per punt) is back as the punter.
Trey Williams was an impressive kickoff return man in 2013 with 28 runbacks for 706 yards, but his involvement in special teams might be toned back as he earns a bigger role in the offense. Freshman Speedy Noil, one of the nation's top receiving recruits, will likely get an opportunity to make plays in the return game early in his career.
OUTLOOK: The Aggies have made a name for themselves over the past two seasons for their potent offense, and while Sumlin certainly had a large influence in that success, losing Manziel is an undeniably huge hurdle to overcome. Still, Sumlin believe his program is ready to move forward without Johnny Football.
"Our expectations are not going to change," Sumlin said. "We don't have time for a bunch of rebuilding years. There would be another guy standing up here real quick. We're going to try to go out there, win every game, put our guys in a position to do so, with the mentality that we are here to win."
Even with Sumlin's positive attitude, it's highly unlikely Texas A&M can be a factor in the SEC Western Division race, especially with a pair of brutal road games at Alabama and Auburn (to go with other tough matchups at South Carolina and versus Missouri and LSU). Expectations are low in College Station this season, with a low-end bowl bid appearing to be the best-case scenario.