Aggies turn to Sumlin as they venture into new waters

New coach, new conference and even new uniforms — the Texas A&M Aggies are finally out of the shadow of the University of Texas. The team lost four of its last five regular season games, and parted with coach Mike Sherman, hiring Kevin Sumlin from the University of Houston. The Aggies did manage to end the season on a high note as they defeated Northwestern 33-22 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Things are much different now — a new offense, new defense and more important, a much tougher schedule, leaving the Big 12 for the mighty Southeastern Conference.

Offense (7 starters return)

Get ready for an all out spread offense, which features passing, passing and more passing. The biggest question is who will be throwing the football? Will it be sophomore Jameill Showers, freshman Johnny Manziel, sophomore Matt Joeckel or freshman Matt Davis? Showers looked better than the rest in the spring, but offensive coordinator Kliff Klingsbury, a former Texas Tech quarterback, will have his work cutout for him.With plenty of pigskin flying through the air, senior Ryan Swope should flourish in the new offense. The Austin native caught 89 balls for 1,200 yards with a team-best 11 touchdowns last season. Fellow senior Uzoma Nwachukwu will also be a good target.

Beaumont native and senior Christine Michael will hope to have an injury-free season during his final college campaign. Despite a knee injury in November, Michael ran for 920 yards with 8 touchdowns and should be the team’s featured back.

The offensive line should be one of the school’s better ones, historically. Four starters return including both tackles, center and guard.

Defense (6 starters)

Former Marshall head coach and former Ohio State assistant Mark Snyder will take charge of the defense, and he has changed the scheme from a 3-4 to a 4-3, which consists of four linemen and three linebackers. Last season, the Aggies led the nation in sacks with 51, but that will likely drop this season. Some names to look out of include Kirby Ennis, Jonathan Mathis and Jonathan Stewart. If the defense struggles, as did Sumlin’s group in Houston, it could be a very long season.

Special teams

The punting duties will once again be handled by Ryan Epperson, a senior, but the place kicking will likely come from youngster Taylor Bertolet.Outlook

The Aggies definitely chose the hot coach at the right moment. Sumlin, the former offensive coordinator at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops, helped Houston’s momentum, which was started by Art Briles, by guiding them to one of their best season’s ever last year, a 13-1 finish for the Cougars. But with a new system, heading into the toughest conference in college football could be concerning. On the schedule for TAMU this season are the teams who have won the last five BCS National Championships.

Opening at Louisiana Tech will be no cakewalk. Tech had Sumlin’s Cougars down 34-7 last year before Houston’s heroic effort to come back and win. They do manage to get Florida, LSU, Arkansas and Mizzou at home, but three straight road games against Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama beginning Nov. 3 will be gut-check time.

If the Ags have early season success, a 4-0 record heading into the game with Arkansas would be a true blessing.