HOUSTON – This was supposed to be a season full of promise for the Texas A&M Aggies after they finished 11-2 in their first SEC season.
Instead they're in limbo with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel under an NCAA investigation after allegedly being paid to sign autographs.
The quarterback threw for more than 3,000 yards and added more than 1,000 on the ground last year to become the first freshman to win the Heisman.
He then spent the offseason making headlines for immature antics off the field. But none of those mistakes could have jeopardized his college career. His most recent reported transgressions, if proven true, could keep him off the field and completely change the complexion of Texas A&M's upcoming season.
The ESPN report that said the NCAA is investigating whether Manziel was paid for signing hundreds of autographs last January surfaced the night before A&M started camp. If Manziel was paid for his autograph on memorabilia, it could potentially violate NCAA amateurism rules and put his eligibility in question.
Manziel hasn't spoken to the media since the allegations came to light, but coach Kevin Sumlin was forced to field scores of questions about his quarterback's future.
At one point during the inquisition Sumlin was asked if he was annoyed that all the positives of his team were being overshadowed by Manziel's constant distractions.
"What do you think," he shot back. "You can answer that."
Then he softened up a little.
"We've got a team of guys that are hungry," he said. "Guys that understand the challenges that are ahead of them, that have been away and know the expectations from their communities ... and they're excited about it. Annoyed is not the word. It's part of it."
He wouldn't speculate when asked if Manziel would start when A&M begins the season Aug. 31, but did acknowledge that they need to use camp to identify his backup regardless of his status.
Five things to know about Texas A&M in 2013:
WHO COULD FILL IN?: If Manziel is suspended, the Aggies will have to scramble to groom someone to fill in for the Heisman winner. The two top contenders are junior Matt Joeckel, who is the twin brother of former A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel, and redshirt freshman Matt Davis. Joeckel is the true passer of the two, having thrown for almost 6,900 yards and 72 touchdowns in high school. He's seen limited game action for the Aggies and had just 42 yards passing last season. Davis is more in the vein of Manziel after throwing for almost 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns and adding another 931 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground at a senior at Houston's Klein Forest high school.
NO DROPOFF HERE: Left tackle Luke Joeckel, who won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best offensive lineman, is gone after forgoing his senior season and being drafted second overall by Jacksonville. His absence shouldn't be cause for concern though, with right tackle Jake Matthews simply shifting into his spot. Matthews is the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and earned All-SEC honors last season. The Aggies should also be solid at right tackle with Cedric Ogbuehi moving from guard to fill that spot after he started all 13 games last season.
SEPTEMBER SHOWDOWN: The Aggies won't have to wait long for their first big test of the season with a rematch with Alabama looming on Sept. 14. Manziel and Texas A&M went down to Tuscaloosa and shocked the Tide last season 29-24, handing Alabama its only loss in its national title season. This time they'll host the showdown in what many are calling the biggest game ever in College Station. Hotels in and around College Station have been sold out for months and Sumlin joked that everyone has been begging his players for tickets to the game for longer than that.
BIG TARGETS: Whoever lines up at quarterback for Texas A&M will have a bevy of big targets to get the ball to. The group is led by 6-foot-5, 225-pound Mike Evans. Evans started 13 games as a freshman last season and led the team with 82 catches for 1,105 yards, which were both school records for a freshman. He'll be joined this season by 6-4 Edward Pope, who redshirted last year after piling up more than 1,200 yards receiving as a senior in high school. New addition 6-5 freshman Ricky Seals-Jones could be an intriguing option after lining up at both receiver and quarterback in high school.
THEY PLAY DEFENSE, TOO: Though all the focus is on Manziel and Sumlin's high-powered offense, the Aggies also have a solid defense which features five returning starters. Leading that group is defensive back cornerback Deshazor Everett. Everett had 56 tackles and two interceptions, including one at the goal line to secure the win against Alabama, last season. They also return linebacker Steven Jenkins and defensive lineman Kirby Ennis and Julien Obioha. Ennis, who was arrested in February on a weapons charge, will be suspended for the Aug. 31 opener against Rice.