COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There has already been plenty of anticipation for this season at Texas A&M, with the Aggies entering their first year of Southeastern Conference play and all the newness surrounding the program, from the new coaching staff, offensive and defensive schemes, logos, uniforms and more. The payoff for all the waiting was delayed for the Aggies after their originally scheduled season opener against Louisiana Tech was postponed because of Hurricane Isaac.
Players and coaches alike have been asked time and again about playing in the SEC: what they expect, what they think about what others expect, what it means to play in college football's premier conference and so on. For many of the Aggies, they're simply ready to get on the field with Florida and play instead of talking about what's ahead, and at least one said as much when players and coaches met with the media on Tuesday in advance of the Aggies' showdown vs. Florida on Saturday.
"I'm actually glad that all that talk and stuff is over and it's time for us to get on the field with some SEC players and be a part of this league," senior linebacker Sean Porter said. "I'm glad that we can stop talking about it. It's time to play on Saturday, so I guess we'll see what happens on the field."
Because there has been so much buildup, the magnitude of the moment is something the Aggies are well aware of. A&M coach Kevin Sumlin alluded to the game being a historical moment in the history of Texas A&M.
"I'm extremely honored to be the head coach at Texas A&M in this situation," Sumlin said. "There are a lot of historical moments in this university and this football program and without a doubt, this is one of them. To be the head football coach at this time is really an honor, not only it being our first home game but our first game in the SEC. There are a lot of firsts going on here."
Junior tackle Jake Matthews said that the buildup to the game has made it special.
"There's always so much hype over the offseason, the spring, fall camp, all that stuff," Matthews said. "It's all just piled up and come to this one moment. This moment we have to open up, it's something real special. Coach keeps telling us that we have a chance to do something that's never been done here. It's the first game in the SEC and going out there and making a statement, we're really looking forward to it."
While the Aggies missed the chance to play and continued to prepare, shifting their focus to Florida, they had the chance to see the Gators play Bowling Green. Among the things that stood out about the Gators was their size and speed.
Matthews cited those same characteristics about the Gators' defensive line, which Matthews and his unit will match up against on Saturday.
"They're good," Matthews said. "They're big guys, they're fast, they're talented. We're definitely going to have a challenge up front. We're really going to have to step up as a group and focus on the little details, making the calls and staying on top of everything. They have a lot of talented players, that's for sure, so it'll definitely be a good game."
Offensively, Sumlin said he knows Gators coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease well and he knows that Florida didn't come close to showing its entire offensive arsenal in its win against Bowling Green.
"From our standpoint, knowing both coaches, Will and his aggressiveness on defense and knowing Brent Pease for a long time, for me, they were extremely vanilla in their approach," Sumlin said. "I think it was a way for them to evaluate their program and their players and they won the game. For us it was really a chance to just look at talent level because I think just like he said and I said, they didn't show very much as far as scheme."
The Aggies have studied Boise State film since Pease was previously the offensive coordinator for the Broncos, and Sumlin said he has a respect for what Pease has accomplished.
"Anybody who has watched Boise the last couple of years knows that Brent has been extremely creative using personnel, tight end shifts, using wide receivers in the backfield, anything goes," Sumlin said. "Trick plays, jumping around hiding, running and playing power football, throwing play-action off that, he's got the whole arsenal ... double passes, reverse pass ... . I have a lot of respect for what he's done."
Players and coaches alike complemented the confidence shown during fall camp by redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who will make his first career start on Saturday against the Gators.
"That's just who he is," Sumlin said. "I haven't been around very many shy quarterbacks that have won any games."
And though Manziel doesn't have any game experience at this level, Sumlin feels like the experience of the veterans around him (the Aggies have seniors at running back, receiver and on the offensive line) can help him.
"Until you're in a game with game speed, the intensity level and what a mistake actually means, that's where your experience comes from," Sumlin said. "He's an inexperienced player, but because of that, the surrounding cast of our offensive line, our running back and our skill people on the perimeter who have experience have to play well and create a quarterback-friendly atmosphere for him to take the pressure off of him. Fortunately, we have experienced players in those positions."