Aggies find success in first SEC season
The accomplishment is even sweeter for the Aggies because of the skeptics who predicted they'd struggle in their first season in the Southeastern Conference.
Texas A&M wrapped up its regular season Saturday night with a 59-29 win over fellow SEC newcomer Missouri. This is its first season of double-digit wins since an 11-3 record in 1998.
The Aggies aren't surprised. They say they knew they'd have a good year after leaving the Big 12.
"People acted like we were going to be some kind of doormat or something," senior linebacker Sean Porter said. "But this entire time we had a lot of confidence."
Coach Kevin Sumlin said he heard three concerns about his team repeatedly entering the season. They were that the Aggies didn't have an established quarterback after Ryan Tannehill was taken drafted eighth overall, that his offense wouldn't work in the SEC, and that his defensive front was thin.
The Aggies answered the first question in resounding fashion as freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel won the starting job near the end of training camp and went on to account for 4,600 yards of total offense. He has thrown for 24 touchdowns and ran for 19 this season to make him one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy.
He's a big reason why Sumlin's high-flying offense succeeded in perhaps the toughest defensive league in the country. The Aggies are third in the nation in total offense with 552 yards a game.
The unit has also been helped by a veteran offensive line and the development of freshman receiver Mike Evans. The 6-foot-5 former high school basketball star, led the Aggies with 75 receptions for 1,022 yards.
As for the defense, defensive end Damontre Moore led a group that excelled in its switch from a 3-4 scheme to the 4-3 under first-year defensive coordinator Mark Snyder. Moore, who moved from outside linebacker to end, has a team-leading 12 1/2 sacks and 20 tackles for losses this season.
"I think that these guys kind of took (the criticism) to heart and they set a tone for this program that: `You know what, not only can we compete but we can win,"' Sumlin said.
The Aggies also used last season's struggles as motivation this year. They entered 2011 with a top-10 ranking only to finish a disappointing 7-6 in a season which ended with the firing of coach Mike Sherman.
"The type of season we had last year was just a nightmare of a season," offensive lineman Patrick Lewis said. "We just tried to put it behind us, almost as if it didn't happen. This is a new team and we had high expectations."
Sumlin believes much of the credit for his team's success goes to A&M's seniors. He called on them to step up when a hurricane postponed the Aggies opener and forced them to play their entire schedule without a week off.
"Those guys have really contributed and led this team," Sumlin said. "As a coaching staff we're forever grateful for them because they didn't sign up for us ... there's no way that we could have won half as many games as we did this year if those guys didn't buy in and lead this football team."