Can the Aggies pull the upset in Columbia tonight? DCTF's Greg Tepper previews the showdown.
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College football — at least on the FBS level — kicks off in Texas tonight. DCTF managing editor Greg Tepper previews Texas A&M's showdown with South Carolina.
No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 9 South Carolina, 6 p.m. at Williams-Brice Stadium
Storylines abound in the tailor-made-for-the-SEC Network showcase tonight in at Williams-Brice Stadium, as Texas A&M travels to play South Carolina. And for the Aggies, it’s the first opportunity to answer some pressing questions.
Offensively, it’s worth remembering that the Aggie-turned-Brown quarterback Johnny Manziel is just one player. The departure of the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner certainly changes the face of the A&M offense, but the Aggie attack was far more than just Manziel — and many of those pieces are back around new signal-caller Kenny Hill. That includes an outrageously talented offensive line led by Cedric Ogbuehi; a potentially lethal group of wide receivers anchored by a now-healthy Ricky Seals-Jones; and a steady stable of runners including Tra Carson. Hill, a former Southlake Carroll standout, could be as good as Manziel; but the A&M offense doesn’t need Hill to be as good as Manziel to still cook in 2014 and beyond.
But the other side of the ball…oh, doctor. An abysmal A&M defense last year (111th nationally in total defense) was buoyed by hopes of returning experience…until the offseason losses of arguably the team’s best defensive lineman (Isaiah Golden, dismissed), the team’s best pass rusher (Gavin Stansbury, transferred) and the team’s best all-around defender (LB Darian Claiborne, dismissed). Combine that with the absence of starting cornerback Devante Harris to injury, and the Aggie defense limps into Columbia, South Carolina with either something to prove or something to hide.
And Columbia is not the place to have a weakness, especially not in 2014. South Carolina enters the season no worse than co-favorites in the SEC East, in large part due to its offense. RB Mike Davis is one of the very best in the nation, and the entire offense is built around letting him wreak havoc. Considering A&M gave up 5.3 yards per carry last season and will be working in almost an entirely new front seven, that’s problematic for the Aggies.
The silver lining here is that South Carolina’s defense, while still formidable, is not impenetrable. The A&M offense will score here; the difference will be whether the likes of NT Hardreck Walker, LB Jordan Mastrogiovanni and safety Howard Matthews can get enough stops to make it matter.
If this game were played in late November, it’d have an entirely different feel. And the Aggies are far from outmatched in this one, with a springboard victory a mere mild surprise away. But with a rookie quarterback and a rookie defense on the road against Steve Spurrier and what appears to be a juggernaut of a Gamecocks squad, timing is not in A&M’s favor.
Tepper’s pick: South Carolina 41, Texas A&M 30
Greg Tepper is the managing editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.
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