With Alabama wiping Notre Dame off the field last night, every A&M fan had the same thought. “That could have been us this year, and it could be us next year.” But could it? Here are three reasons why the Aggies could extend the SEC's winning streak to eight championships, and three reasons they can't.
Johnny Manziel took college football by storm in 2012, can he continue his dominance in 2013?
Why they can...
Johnny Football: Let's start with the obvious one. For all of the things they Aggies may not have, there's one thing they do have, and it's the best player in college football. Manziel got better with every game he played this season, and though he wasn't ready to beat Florida in week one, he certainly was ready for Alabama later on. Now, with another offseason under his belt, how much better can Manziel get as a passer? Make no mistake, the Heisman Trophy is a secondary award for Texas A&M next season to the BCS Championship.
Running Back Stable: Not only do the Aggies return their leading two rushers from this season in Manziel and Malena, but they now bring in two runners that figure to be solid contributors. Based on the rotation in the spring and fall, Brandon Williams might have been the starter this year if he was eligible, and players have talked all season about how Tra Carson has been a big-time back in practice, particularly in the preparation for Eddie Lacy and Alabama. Add another year of experience for Trey Williams and there's no reason not to think that the Aggies won't again lead the SEC in rushing.
Offensive Line: Even if Luke Joeckel declares for the NFL Draft, which isn't a certainly at this point, the Aggies still should have a solid offensive line next season as long as Jake Matthews returns. Cedric Ogbuehi will move to tackle, Mike Matthews will enter the lineup at center, and there will be a battle for the open guard spot between a few different players. Ben Compton, Shep Klinke and Germain Ifedi all figure to be in the mix there. It might not be quite the unit the Aggies had in 2012, but when you combine their ability with added experience from the skill positions you might have an even better offense in 2013 than A&M had in 2012.
Why they can't...
Defensive Line Losses: The Aggies lose three starters from their defensive line this season, and that's going to be tough to replace. Not only the athletic ability of Damontre Moore, but the leadership of Spencer Nealy will be missed by the Aggies. Also gone is Jonathan Mathis, who was a solid contributor in the middle this season. The Aggies will not only have a young defensive line, but they'll face their toughest test early in the season when Alabama comes to College Station on September 14th.
Linebackers: If you're starting to see a trend here it's because there's a very clear one. The Aggies may very well be the nation's best offensive team next year, but they're going to have to figure out how to field a serviceable defense with so many players gone. They might not have been All-Americans, but Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart were solid players for the Aggies and there's no clear answer as to who will take their place next season. Donnie Baggs has the potential to be a good linebacker, but who lines up beside him and Steven Jenkins?
Special Teams: It takes a special season to get to a national championship game. You have to win close games, and you have to have the ball bounce your way a few times. This season, the Aggies didn't have a huge margin of error because they were shaky in special teams, specifically in kicking field goals. Field goals could have potentially won A&M a national championship this season, after all, the Aggies were less than ten points away from being undefeated. But that's the difference between a good team, and one that wins the championship. Next year the Aggies not only have to find an answer at kicker, but find a replacement for Ryan Epperson, who ended up being a solid punter this year for A&M.
Between now and next fall, we're going to dissect every part of the A&M football team, and there are plenty of reasons for both hope and concern. However, this is college football, and almost anything can happen over the course of a year. One thing is a certainty though, eight months and one week from now the Alabama Crimson Tide will roll into College Station as the two-time defending BCS Champions, and you aren't going to want to miss it.