Texas A&M makes SEC debut against Florida

Posted Saturday, Sep. 08, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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High-profile RBs matchup

Miami's Duke Johnson, who averaged 19.29 yards per carry (seven rushes, 135 yards, two touchdowns) in the Hurricanes' 41-32 win over Boston College, leads the nation in yards per attempt after the first week. He will be part of an intriguing matchup of big-play threats when Miami (1-0) visits the 21st-ranked Kansas State Wildcats (1-0) today in Manhattan, Kan. (11 a.m., FX). His debut elicited this tweet from Miami Heat star LeBron James: "Duke Johnson is the truth out there for the U! True freshman. #speedkills." Kansas State coach Bill Snyder noticed. "He has good quickness to go along with his speed, and I think that he is... probably growing as a receiver as well," Snyder said. "He's a tremendously talented little player." Kansas State running back John Hubert, a junior from Waco Midway, averaged 12.67 yards per carry in last week's 51-9 rout of Missouri State (12 carries, 152 yards, one touchdown). He ranks fourth among FBS rushers in yards per attempt. Asked about getting more touches for Hubert (5-foot-7, 191 pounds), Snyder said: "I do not think that there is a number that is too many. You would like for him to have a significant number of carries in order to demonstrate balance in your offense ... If they give him the opportunity to run it, then he will probably run it a bunch."

Storylines

SEC expansion debuts: Lots of intrigue with SEC newcomers Texas A&M (vs. Florida) and Missouri (vs. Georgia) opening their league campaigns at home against Top 25 opponents.

Mega-mismatch: No. 6 Florida State, a team coming off a 69-3 rout of Murray State, meets Savannah State, an FCS school coming off an 84-0 loss to No. 18 Oklahoma State. Triple digits, anyone?

Staying power? No. 22 Notre Dame (1-0) cracked the Top 25 this week. But the Irish begin a season-defining, seven-game stretch today against Purdue (1-0). They follow with games against No. 11 Michigan State, No. 19 Michigan, Miami, No. 25 Stanford, Brigham Young and No. 5 Oklahoma.

Games of the week

No. 24 Florida at Texas A&M (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., ESPN): Anything can happen with two young QBs in mix. But Florida has more proven commodities on defense. Florida 24, A&M 21.

No. 16 Nebraska at UCLA (Saturday, 6:30 p.m., KDFW/Ch. 4): Huskers claim a road win at the Rose Bowl, thanks in large part to QB Taylor Martinez's improved passing. Nebraska 35, UCLA 24.

Washington at No. 3 LSU (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN): The Tigers handle the toughest nonconference opponent on their 2012 schedule. LSU 41, Washington 24.

Last week: 3-0

Playing to the crowd

Texas A&M's first game as an SEC member has been sold out for months. How the Aggies have fared in front of the 10 largest crowds in Kyle Field history:

Crowd

Opponent (Season)

Result

90,079

No. 8 Nebraska (2010)

W, 9-6

88,645

No. 25 Texas (2011)

L, 27-25

88,253

No. 12 Texas (2007)

W, 38-30

87,555

No. 5 Texas (2001)

L, 21-7

87,361

Baylor (2011)

W, 55-26

87,358

No. 6 Oklahoma State (2011)

L, 30-29

87,206

Notre Dame (2001)

W, 24-3

87,188

No. 1 Oklahoma (2000)

L, 35-31

86,951

SMU (2011)

W, 46-14

86,934

Missouri (2011)

L, 38-31

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

A year of pomp, preening and projecting about Texas A&M's readiness to play football at a Southeastern Conference level ends today in College Station.

No. 24 Florida (1-0) will apply the measuring stick at 2:30 p.m. in Kyle Field, with a standing-room-only crowd on hand to judge whether the Aggies' initial foray into its new league truly will be "a decision we will relish today, and every day, for 100 years or more."

Those were the words uttered last September by A&M President R. Bowen Loftin in announcing the Aggies' move from the Big 12 to the SEC. They were meant to offer a long-term perspective.

But this is college football season in Texas, where legions of fans draw binding conclusions every Saturday. And this is a Saturday that A&M supporters and players have anticipated for quite some time.

"We didn't come to the SEC to be pushed around," A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews said earlier this week. "We're not just happy to be here. We came here to compete and do well."

For a team coming off a 7-6 season and a coaching change, as A&M is doing, the definition of doing "well" in a league that boasts college football's past six national champions could be open to interpretation.

But not today. Florida, like A&M, was a 7-6 team last season and this is a winnable game for the Aggies. Around the country, knee-jerk conclusions will be drawn about A&M's SEC mettle -- or lack thereof -- depending on what happens in Kyle Field. That's inevitable.

And valid, at least for one week.

That also raises the level of intrigue in regard to the Aggies, whose scheduled opener against Louisiana Tech was postponed until Oct. 13 because of Hurricane Isaac. That means quarterback Johnny Manziel, a redshirt freshman, draws his first career start today in front of an overflow crowd with ESPN's College GameDay crew in town.

"For us as a coaching staff, the challenge will be that we don't know how guys are going to react in certain circumstances. We haven't been around this team," first-year A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "There's adversity in every football game. The only way to know how guys are going to react... is to see them in those kinds of situations. But from a practice standpoint to a game standpoint, they're two different things."

Color these Aggies unpredictable, then, as they prepare to make their first statement about whether they will be a top-shelf or SEC-ond tier football program in their new neighborhood. And place Manziel in the eye of the storm as the guy seeking to raise the level of play at a school that won its only Big 12 title in 1998 and is 68-64 over the past 10 seasons.

Not exactly starter-kit numbers for an SEC title contender. But nothing to sneeze at if you're Florida, walking into a place where 90,000 screaming, towel-waving zealots have played a role in past upsets of better teams than these Gators. You need look no further than a 9-6 victory over No. 8 Nebraska in front of a stadium-record crowd (90,079) in 2010 to see the potential for an epic moment in A&M history.

Sumlin plans to unveil a new, up-tempo team entrance to the playing field to inspire the crowd. Linebacker Jonathan Stewart can't wait.

"The 12th Man is going to be more fired up than it has been for any other game," Stewart said. "It's going to be electric."

But it won't resonate nationally unless the Aggies win. Nor will it stop the smirking of former Big 12 rivals convinced the Aggies will hit the water belly first, and bowl-free, as an SEC newbie in 2012.

Especially not after school officials added references to two national titles (1919, 1927) and two conference titles (1997, 2010) to the outside of Kyle Field this off-season. None of the titles was listed last year and the conference titles referenced are from seasons when A&M won or shared Big 12 divisional titles but did not win the league.

Also, a billboard went up this week in Gainesville, Fla. declaring that the Gators' hometown had been "annexed by Aggie Nation. The Best Academics & Cleanest Program in the SEC. Whoop! Real Football. Real Tradition." The billboard was quickly removed after A&M officials objected, denied involvement and vowed to launch an investigation to find the perpetrator.

Against that backdrop, a disproportionate burden of proof falls on Manziel (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), a dual-threat player who won the quarterback job because of his moxie and intangibles.

"He has the feel of a kid that has always expected this moment. He acts like it's his team and he's never played a [college] game. I like that confidence," A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said. "He's one of those kids that has that type of vibe about him that nothing's too big for him."

Today is huge for the A&M football program. We'll soon know if Manziel and the Aggies are ready for some SEC football.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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