By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: The 2012 season was Texas A&M's first as a member of the SEC, and its inaugural campaign in the nation's most difficult conference managed to exceed even the most ambitious expectations.
Following the offseason departure of Mike Sherman, the team was led by first- year head coach Kevin Sumlin, who had gone 12-1 with Houston in 2011. The season got off to a slow start, as the Aggies dropped their opener at home to Florida, 20-17, but then they ripped off five straight wins to creep into the Top-25.
They experienced another difficult loss to LSU on Oct. 20 (24-19), but that would be their final setback. On Nov. 10, the Aggies went into Tuscaloosa and shocked the college football world by upsetting eventual-national champion Alabama, 29-24.
A&M's regular season efforts allowed it to earn a bid to the Cotton Bowl, where it dismantled former Big 12 rival and 12th-ranked Oklahoma, 41-13.
The program's No. 5 ranking in the final AP Poll was its highest since 1956, and to add to the exceptional season, quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
OFFENSE: With Manziel running the show, the A&M offense shined in 2012, scoring 44.5 ppg behind 558.5 ypg, both of which ranked the team in the top- five in the nation. The Aggies showed plenty of balance between the run (242.1 ypg) and pass (316.5 ypg) as well.
Manziel's historic freshman campaign saw him break the SEC record for most yards of total offense in a single season (5,116). He completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,706 yards with 26 touchdowns against only nine interceptions. He was dazzling on the ground as well, rushing for 1,410 yards (an FBS Freshman QB record) and 21 touchdowns. It's hard to envision Manziel improving upon such a dominating year, but that's his goal heading into 2013.
"I've worked a lot to get better," Manziel said. "I've worked with the new guys, and that's the biggest thing is making sure my teammates are prepared because we're the one who will take it to the next level."
With the fame Manziel has gained in the offseason has come a slew of bad press, including some controversial tweets and high-profile partying, although Sumlin is sure that once football gets in full swing again, all of Manziel's energy will be focused on the field.
"I think off the field, there's no question that he's made some mistakes," Sumlin said. "I think he has done some things that he's not very proud of, has made some poor decisions. He's made some good decisions. Unfortunately, the poor decisions are the ones that are really publicized."
Manziel established a strong rapport last year with fellow freshman Mike Evans, who hauled in 82 balls for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns. Derel Walker and Sabian Holmes are slated to be the other starters at receiver, and they combined for only 14 receptions in 2012.
Ben Malena returns as the team's top running back after racking up 808 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago, and the departure of Christine Michael (417 yards, 12 TDs) could mean more goal line work for Malena.
Even with the loss of Luke Joeckel, who was the second overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the offensive line still remains one of the team's biggest strengths. Jake Matthews will take over protecting Manziel's blind side and is also anticipated to be a very high draft pick.
DEFENSE: Although the offense grabbed all the headlines in 2012, the defense quietly played very well too, holding opponents under 22 ppg on average while recording 31 sacks and 75 TFL.
Steven Jenkins (79 tackles, 5.5 TFL, one interception, FF) is the unit's most experienced playmaker, and is expected to take over a leadership role in the absence of Damontre Moore and Jonathan Stewart.
The secondary remains largely intact with Howard Matthews (58 tackles), Deshazor Everett (56 tackles, two picks) and Dustin Harris (49 tackles, one pick) all putting together productive seasons a year ago.
Julien Obioha started 12 games at defensive end but recorded just one sack, and he'll need to step up his production to help make up for the loss of Moore (21.5 TFL, 12.5 sacks).
SPECIAL TEAMS: Taylor Bertolet will be the team's placekicker once again as he tries to improve upon a lackluster season (13-of-22 on field goal attempts). The strong-legged kicker was 3-of-4 from 50 yards and longer, but he was just 2-of-9 from 30-49 yards. Drew Kaser will take over punting duties from the departed Ryan Epperson.
Trey Williams ran back 25 kickoffs for 557 yards last season and will handle those duties once again. Harris is a dynamic punt returner, piling up 432 yards on 34 returns, including a 96-yard touchdown versus South Carolina State.
OUTLOOK: Texas A&M surprised many by the way it was able to adjust to the SEC so quickly, but after such an outstanding campaign, it isn't going to sneak up on anybody this season. Sumlin in excited for the opportunity to live up to the hype.
"It's a great time to be at Texas A&M," Sumlin said. "People ask me all the time what about expectations. There's a lot of expectations on our program. For us, that's a good thing. I think you want to be a part of a situation where you have some relevancy in your own league. We work very, very hard at that. The excitement level is really, really high."
After upsetting Alabama last season, the rematch between the two powerhouse squads is set for early in the 2013 campaign, as the Aggies host the Crimson Tide at Kyle Field on Sept. 14. If they can take down 'Bama once again, playing in the SEC Championship will be a very real possibility, especially considering its relatively soft schedule by SEC standards (other than Alabama, LSU and Vanderbilt are the only teams on the schedule ranked in the Top-25). However, if A&M can't at least make it to the conference championship game, its weakened strength of schedule will likely keep it out of a BCS bowl.
08/23 12:49:48 ET