SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2014. Next up: Texas A&M Aggies.

SEC Subplots 2014:

1. The program
Texas A&M is in a great position to take over the state of Texas and become one of college football’s biggest rising programs. While the Longhorns are wading through rough waters, the Aggies can become a behemoth the next few years, thanks in part to the backing of the SEC brand. Now that Kevin Sumlin is selling one of the richest programs in the country, along with unbelievable facilities, you can justify the Aggies as the next big SEC monster. Texas is a talent-rich state, and Sumlin is positioning A&M’s brand to reap the rewards of the absolute perfect timing of entering the SEC. As long as Sumlin’s there, the offense will be putting up silly numbers, but now that he’s starting to reel in elite defensive prospects, it will help the Aggies put a championship program together. Though Sumlin’s defenses – as a whole – have been very average, if you’re buying stock in one program, you’ll be hard pressed to find a program with a higher outlook right now.

2. Doesn’t matter who the quarterback will be
Kevin Sumlin recently named Kenny Hill the starter over freshman Kyle Allen, who is the Aggies’ future at the position, but it doesn’t matter which quarterback Sumlin named, because the system will allow a signal caller to step in and put up numbers. If you read the tea leaves of Sumlin’s statement of naming Hill the starter, you noticed the quarterback battle will be ongoing through the first few weeks of the season. Johnny Manziel threw for 4,114 yards in 2013 and 3,706 yards in 2012. When Sumlin was at Houston, Kase Keenum threw for 5,631 yards in 2011, 5,671 yards in 2009 and over 5,000 yards in 2008. Those are incredible numbers, and yes, Manziel and Keenum were great players, but Hill and Allen are too. The Aggies’ offense could lead the SEC in scoring…again.

3. The season will be successful if the defense is successful
Speaking of Mr. Manziel, Texas A&M almost lost three other games with college football’s most dynamic player, because the defense was just putrid. Now, the Aggies look ahead to the 2014 season without two of their three best defensive players last season — Gavin Stansbury and Darian Claiborne — because both are no longer part of the program. The Aggies allowed opponents to score over 32 points per game and allowed opponents to have over 222 rushing yards per game. That has to improve…and improve drastically. The front seven has to make a major transformation, but the secondary should be good, headlined by future NFL corner Deshazor Everett. Regardless of how dynamic the offense will be, the defense will be the tell-tale of either a seven or 10-win season.

4. Is Kevin Sumlin worth $5 million per season?
Is Kevin Sumlin an elite coach? That’s what many are asking heading into this season. We know his offenses are elite, but can he put a defense together that can win a national championship? As a head coach, Sumlin’s defenses haven’t exactly played lights out. Here’s a look at Sumlin-coached scoring defenses since 2008 and where they ranked in the country:

  • 2008 Houston: 92nd
  • 2009 Houston: 95th
  • 2010 Houston: 96th
  • 2011 Houston: 35th
  • 2012 Texas A&M: 26th
  • 2013 Texas A&M: 96th

Sumlin is the second highest paid coach in the SEC at $5 million. So, he is worth the money? You bet he is. What’s happening right now in the state of Texas has a chance to catapult Texas A&M into being a dominant force for years to come, and if the Aggies were to lose Sumlin, they risk losing all the momentum they have right now.

SDS Takeaway: The program’s direction couldn’t be more promising, but in order to ultimately win a championship, Sumlin’s defense will have to be a bigger dominant factor. Though elite defensive talent is heading to College Station over Texas, LSU and others, the Aggies’ defense is still a couple years away. For the short term, Texas A&M could take some lumps, but longterm, the program is climbing the mountain to becoming a behemoth, assuming many factors stay on course.