Throughout the offseason, Campus Union will talk with a few team experts to go over some of the most intriguing storylines and questions in advance of the 2014 campaign.
It has been good to be a Texas A&M fan for the past couple of seasons. With a successful move to the SEC, a Heisman Trophy winner in Johnny Manziel and additional first-round NFL draft picks in Jake Matthews and Mike Evans, the Aggies have become one of college football's indisputable it teams. Coach Kevin Sumlin parlayed that momentum into big-time recruits, a Zubaz helicopter and a fun social media presence. The school is also introducing some state-of-the-art stadium renovations.
Still, transitioning to life after Johnny Football won't be seamless. The SEC remains a monster of a conference, and no amount of #swag (hashtag always included, or something) will help the Aggies keep pace with Alabama and LSU. Sure, Texas A&M had a transcendent player. What's next?
To answer that question, we turned to the fine folks at Good Bull Hunting, SB Nation's Texas A&M site. GBH keeps it lighthearted and playful while offering quality team and recruiting analysis. Here to talk Aggies football is GBH writer stringsays and lead recruiting guru Hunter Jarvis.
SI: It's been a big week for the Aggies, as class of 2015 quarterback Kyler Murray and wide receiver Kemah Siverand committed to the program. What does Murray bring to the table? And without Manziel, who gets the starting quarterback job in 2014?
stringsays: I'll let Hunter handle the on-field elements, but Murray brings a network of recruits who want to play with him. I looked at him as being the linchpin of this class because of his connections. I think we'll see more than a few players who had A&M high on their lists commit because of Murray, both on offense and on defense.
Hunter Jarvis: Murray's skill set is Johnny Football 2.0. He is deadly accurate and has the arm strength to throw downfield. Like Manziel, he's also very elusive and can make things happen with his feet. He's probably a little faster than Manziel is, too.
SS: This year is an interesting one at quarterback. Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen are battling it out for the Aggies' starting position, and they're also the only two scholarship passers on the roster. A&M needed Murray desperately, not only for his playmaking abilities, but also for depth in 2015. That's especially true if Allen wins the starting spot and Hill decides to transfer given the young talent behind him.
HJ: One of the biggest things with Murray is that he has succeeded against the best competition in Texas high school football. At Allen High, he plays schools like Southlake Carroll, Dallas Skyline and DeSoto. String’s point about the linchpin is also huge. Murray is very close with guys like Darmarkus Lodge, Daylon Mack and Malik Jefferson, among others. All are five-star guys, according to 247Sports.com's composite ranking.
SI: You have both had time to evaluate the 2014 class. Who makes an impact early? And who among the '13 guys isn't getting enough hype?
SS: Two names stand out in 2014: defensive end Myles Garrett and wide receiver Speedy Noil. Both should have an immediate impact and could be starters from day one. Garrett fills a major need as an elite rush end, something A&M lacked last year.
HJ: Don't forget Allen. I think most Aggies fans believe he'll end up winning the starting job come fall. Defensive tackles Zaycoven Henderson and DeShawn Washington should contribute early, too. As for the class of 2013, I'll spotlight defensive tackle Hardreck Walker. He should play a critical role this season.
SS: I think Jordan Mastrogiovanni, a former three-star prospect in the class of 2013, is another name to watch. He saw playing time at middle linebacker in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and all reports indicate that he was productive in spring drills.
SI: There are some big holes to fill on offense, but Sumlin and his staff seem to have the talent to reload. On defense, however, the Aggies need consistency. Can that unit make a jump? Are there enough playmakers?
SS: I think the talent is there, but it's young and unproven. Defensive tackle Isaiah Golden is a budding star in the SEC, but he's only a true sophomore. Same with Walker. Defensive backs Nick Harvey and Armani Watts are another pair of names to monitor, but again, they're untested.
HJ: There are definitely playmakers, but I'm not sure enough to see significant defensive improvement this year. And the Aggies need that kind of improvement to make up for the loss of Manziel, Evans and Matthews. There is hope for that unit to get better, but that's mainly because it can't get much worse.
SS: Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder had a good year in 2012, proving that he can field a competent defense. Still, this is a pretty critical season in his A&M tenure.
SI: Between the #YESSIRs and the stadium renovations, A&M has a lot of positive momentum, at least on the surface. So, what can fans expect this season? Can this team compete in the SEC?
SS: I don’t think the Aggies can lose guys like Manziel and Evans and not call this a rebuilding year. That said, I see this season as a chance to re-envision the program. Allen and Hill are both great talents, and they have plenty of talent around them. Heck, A&M boasts a backfield with Tra Carson, Trey Williams, and Brandon Williams -- all of whom could be feature backs at other schools.
HJ: I'm not going to be popular for saying this, but 2014 will be a rebuilding year. A&M has to hope the defense can improve enough to make up for the offense's loss of three of the best to ever to don an Aggies' uniform.
SS: The offensive pieces are there. How they fit together remains a mystery. A&M's coaches have the pedigree to put together a pretty potent attack, but I don’t think anyone has a clear-cut idea of what it will look like.
I think back to a memory from the Louisiana Tech game in October 2012. On a play at the goal line, Manziel lined up at receiver and ran the Wildcat with Christine Michael. It seems absolutely insane to think that A&M ran the Wildcat with Manziel, but coaches weren't aware of what they had at the time. I get kind of the same vibe this year.
SI: So, what constitutes a successful 2014? Bowl eligibility? Staying out of the SEC West cellar?
HJ: To me, 8-4 would be a successful year. I could even understand 7-5.
SS: I’m at the same place. Seven wins is the floor. Eight is successful. Anything more would be overachieving, and, in turn, fantastic.