Aggies Embrace Challenges, Opportunities
By Matthew Osborne
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The Aggies are welcomed to the league by one of the most difficult schedules in the country.
Texas A&M got their first taste of life in the SEC on Tuesday when head coach Kevin Sumlin, senior wide receiver Ryan Swope, senior linebacker Sean Porter and junior offensive tackle Luke Joeckel ran the gauntlet of interviews at SEC Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.
The Aggies are welcomed to the league by one of the most difficult schedules in the country, which includes a four-week stretch with a home game against LSU and consecutive road trips to Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama. The first notable date on the schedule, however, is Sept. 8 when Florida comes to College Station for the Aggies’ first SEC game.
“There is no doubt our fans are extremely excited about the home opener against Florida,” Sumlin said. “All you got to do is look at our season ticket sales to gauge where we are as a university and as an athletic program.”
An SEC team has not visited College Station in almost 20 years. In a league release on Monday, the game was set for a 2:30 CT kickoff at Kyle Field.
“There’s already a ton of excitement around College Station for that game,” said Joeckel.
With first-round NFL Draft pick Ryan Tannehill gone, the battle for his replacement involves sophomore Jameill Showers, sophomore Matt Joeckel, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel and true freshman Matt Davis. While Sumlin was coy about naming a starter, Swope offered his assessment of Showers, the presumed favorite to win the job.
“Showers has a great arm. He’s got great technique, can zip it and feels very comfortable. I’m really excited for him because he’s been working hard. Now that the opportunity is here, he’s going to cherish it.”
Sumlin left the debate open for who takes the first snap in the Aggies’ opener on Aug. 30 against Louisiana Tech in Shreveport, saying it will be decided during fall camp.
“Those guys will compete in two-a-days and we’ll figure out who that is and name a starter a couple weeks, at latest, before the Louisiana Tech game.”
The 2011 Aggies were known more than anything else for failing to hold onto leads, blowing double-digit advantages in five of their six losses during a disappointing 7-6 season. Swope says those memories are out of his mind.
“I kind of put that behind me. This year, it’s a completely new season, a completely new start. We’re going to put that behind us and not even worry about it.”
Joeckel said that the past demons could be used as a motivational tool for the 2012 Aggies.
“We can’t let that happen again this year. We’re going to be a team that plays all four quarters – all four quarters smart.”
Sumlin did not offer up a prediction for the 2012 season, but said his team is a long way off from where it needs to be a viable SEC title contender after going just 4-5 in Big 12 play a year ago.
“There’s no doubt when you’re facing a bunch of top-10 football teams, we have a ways to go based on where we were as a program last year,” Sumlin said. “It will depend on how quickly, we talked about it, the buy-in from those three guys and the other 85 guys to buy into what we’re doing.”
Swope recognizes not only the challenges, but the opportunities that come with the move to the SEC.
“We’ll be in the spotlight playing the best of the best. That’s why I came back [for his senior season]. It’s a very special conference and an honor to be a part of.”
Swope is right. As just the third new member to join the SEC since its inception in 1933, Texas A&M will be squarely in the spotlight - not just on Tuesday in front the media, but on every fall Saturday. The eyes of the entire Southeast will be focused on how the team adapts to the toughest conference in college football – some (SEC supremacists) hoping for failure, but most just hoping to see how one of the biggest storylines of the season plays out.