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Thursday, June 27, 2013
Title criteria: How Texas A&M stacks up

By Sam Khan Jr.

It wasn't long ago that the terms "BCS Championship Game" and "Texas A&M" in the same sentence would seem absurd. To some, it still might.

Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is one of the reasons expectations are so high in College Station.
But after a successful inaugural season in the SEC, producing the Heisman Trophy winner, finishing ranked in the top five for the first time in more than 50 years and being projected to start the season in the top five -- with said Heisman Trophy winner in tow -- has at least brought the idea into the conversation for some Aggies.

Every team has its own goals and standards that it feels it needs to meet to achieve ultimate goals. But there's certain criteria that has been consistent in recent years, criteria that every BCS champion has met since 2006, according to ESPN's Mike Rothstein.

If those criteria were to hold true again this season, what are the Aggies' chances of meeting them? Let's take a look:

Finish 38th or better nationally in rushing offense: The Aggies passed with flying colors on this one last season as they finished 11th in the country in rushing yards per game (242.08). Now, it's worth noting that the leading rusher was the quarterback (Johnny Manziel), but that's part of what makes him special. Even if he cuts back how much he runs in the interest of trying to stay healthy, his improvisation on scrambling will still be a prevalent part of his game and the Aggies' offense. Not to mention the Aggies return their starting running back from last season, Ben Malena and Trey Williams, who played as a true freshman and add Tra Carson and Brandon Williams to the mix, two talented, highly touted backs who transferred to Texas A&M but sat out last year per NCAA transfer rules. The Aggies should have no issue finishing in the top 20 again when it comes to running the football.

Finish 23rd or better in scoring offense: Offense is the name of the Aggies' game. Last season, Texas A&M averaged 44.5 points per game, tied for fourth in the nation. In Kevin Sumlin's tenure as a head coach, his team has never finished below 13th nationally in scoring offense, and that was in 2010 when he was at Houston and starting quarterback and NCAA record-holder Case Keenum was lost for the season with an injury three games into the 2010 campaign. With Manziel back, a loaded backfield, a big, talented offensive line and the Aggies' best receiver from 2012 returning (Mike Evans) they will likely be a top-five scoring offense again this season.

Finish 15th or better in rushing defense: This one isn't an automatic for Texas A&M. Last season the Aggies finished 35th in the country, allowing 139.54 rushing yards per game. The roughest game they had defending the run was in their loss to LSU, when the Tigers compiled 219 yards at Kyle Field. But Texas A&M showed the ability to limit the run when it upset Alabama, allowing only 122 yards on 31 carries (3.93 average) in Tuscaloosa. There were also some blowout wins where the Aggies gave up a lot of yards that ultimately didn't matter, like Sam Houston State (191) and Missouri (189). Is it realistic to think they can move into the top 15? If senior defensive tackle Kirby Ennis improves on his solid 2012 and some younger, newer players in the starting front seven grow up fast, it's not impossible. Will it be easy? Not in the SEC.

Finish 37th or better in passing efficiency: Again, with a Heisman Trophy winner in Manziel back, this one seems to be pretty attainable. Last season the Aggies were 20th in the category (151.85) and that's taking into account that reserve quarterbacks or other players accounted for 58 attempts. Manziel's rating was 155.3 and with a greater understanding of the offense, there's a strong possibility it goes up.

Finish in the top 40 in sacks: The Aggies just made the cut in this category last season (36th nationally, 2.38 sacks per game) and that was with Damontre Moore (12.5 sacks) in the fold. He left school early for the NFL and the Aggies need bodies to step up and replace that production. This one is attainable, but it'll be a close call. Defensive ends Julien Obioha, Tyrell Taylor, Tyrone Taylor and Gavin Stansbury and linebackers Steven Jenkins and Tommy Sanders will be the ones to help the Aggies get to the quarterback.

Had at least one player selected in the first round of the NFL draft following the championship year: Jake Matthews, anyone? The senior offensive tackle could have been a first-round pick if he chose to leave school after his junior season but he chose to stay one more year. If Evans or Manziel declare for early entry into the draft, it's worth watching to see if they wind up in the first round as well.

Had a player combine for at least 10 rushing or receiving touchdowns: Manziel took care of this with his feet alone (21 rushing touchdowns last year) and now-graduated running back Christine Michael (12 rushing touchdowns) did it too. If it's not Manziel, someone like Ben Malena (eight rushing, one receiving last year) is a candidate or Tra Carson could be a possibility, since he'll likely be used as a short-yardage and goal-line back and also has good hands. Mike Evans could approach 10 receiving touchdowns also.

Did not lose a non-conference game in the regular season: The Aggies' nonconference schedule consists of Rice, Sam Houston State, SMU and UTEP, in that order. If Texas A&M loses one of those games, it won't be in the national title conversation anyways. The Aggies should go 4-0 in nonconference play.