|Texas A&M's 2013 schedule|
The SEC title game is Dec. 7 in Atlanta.
Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.
The case for
If Heisman winner Johnny Manziel isn't declared ineligible amid reports that the NCAA is investigating if he accepted money for autographs, he'll likely follow the trajectory of other quarterbacks in the Kevin Sumlin/Dana Holgorsen coaching tree (Houston's Case Keenum, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, West Virginia's Geno Smith) and improve on his 68.0 percent completion rate. That will make the SEC's top offense last season (558.5 yards per game) even scarier. Up front, All-America senior tackle Jake Matthews slides over to replace Luke Joeckel on the left side. The receivers, led by sophomore Mike Evans, are young but talented. And the backfield could go four deep with returnees Ben Malena and Trey Williams and touted transfers Brandon Williams (Oklahoma) and Tra Carson (Oregon). The Aggies might not catch defenses by surprise this year, but that doesn't mean they'll be easy to stop.
The case against
A&M sustained tough losses to a defense that allowed only 21.8 points per game last year, especially end Damontre Moore, tackle Spencer Nealy and linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. In the secondary, cornerback Deshazor Everett and safety Floyd Raven are indefinitely suspended as they face assault charges.
Cupcake is the operative word. While the Aggies host a much-anticipated rematch with Alabama the third week of the season, they open with Rice and Sam Houston State, and later face SMU (Sept. 21) and UTEP (Nov. 2). They do face six 2012 bowl teams but avoid SEC East heavyweights Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.
100: The number of plays the Aggies had that went for 20 yards or more last season, the most in the nation. They were also second in the FBS with 51 plays of 30 yards or more.
RB Brandon Williams: The former five-star recruit, who rushed for 216 yards as a true freshman at Oklahoma in 2011 before transferring to A&M, showed off his skills in this year's spring game with 88 all-purpose yards. He should be a big-play threat for the Aggies. "He's got real gear with the ball. He can run," said Sumlin, though the coach also hopes the 6-foot, 200-pound slasher can become a stronger, more physical runner.
Freshman to watch
WR Ricky Seals-Jones: Seals-Jones is a top 10 national recruit and the headliner of A&M's loaded 2013 class. The 6-5, 225-pounder out of Sealy (Texas) High should see plenty of action since the Aggies play at least four receivers at a time and rotate six or seven.
The kicking game: A&M placekicker Taylor Bertolet had an unusual freshman season: He made 3-of-4 attempts from 50-plus yards, but just 2-of-9 tries between 30 and 49 yards and also missed seven extra points. The Aggies played in only four close games in 2012, but Bertolet's two missed field goals and missed extra point proved costly in a 24-19 loss at LSU. They can't afford to keep living dangerously in this department.
Projected 2013 stats (By RotoWire.com)
QB Johnny Manziel: 3,310 passing yards, 26 TDs; 1,175 rushing yards, 20 TDs
RB Ben Malena: 750 rushing yards, 11 TDs; 165 receiving yards, 1 TD
WR Mike Evans: 1,125 receiving yards, 10 TDs; 25 rushing yards
Coach speak: Kevin Sumlin
SI: After last year, what do you do for an encore?
KS: We just got here. We're still trying to catch up. People are talking about, Well, you guys have a target on you. I don't know why. We didn't win the West, we didn't win the league.
SI: Football-wise, what's the next step for Manziel?
KS: Last year he went from being an athlete who's playing quarterback to a quarterback who's an athlete. You look at the first five games versus the last five games, he threw the ball a lot better, read defenses a lot better. Those are the things he's going to have to continue to work at. Defenses are going to show him some different stuff.
SI: How are the pieces around him shaping up?
KS: We lost Luke Joeckel, but we moved Jake [Matthews] to left tackle, Cedric Ogbuehi to right tackle, his natural position. Very rarely do you have your whole line back every year. You're going to lose one or two guys every year. So from my standpoint, you never have the same team. You've got to get those new pieces to fit. We're going to have to fill in some pieces on the perimeter, but I think we've recruited pretty well.