Texas A&M Aggies: Spencer Nealy

Why A&M has so much youth on defense

October, 25, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The words "youth" and "inexperience" are frequently used to describe the Texas A&M defense this season.

The struggles are significant. The Aggies rank near the bottom of the FBS in most defensive statistical categories. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the five teams that have allowed more yards per game than the Aggies -- New Mexico State, Idaho, California, Nevada and Indiana -- have a combined record of 8-27.

Texas A&M is fortunate enough to have a 5-2 record (2-2 in the SEC). It certainly helps to have one of the nation's most high-powered offenses and a reigning Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback (Johnny Manziel).

For defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and his staff, it has been a challenge from the start of the season. Suspensions, injuries and ineffectiveness are all to blame.

The Aggies currently have 11 freshmen in their defensive two-deep depth chart. Two true freshmen (defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne) are starting. The four defensive line first-team spots include Golden and two sophomores. At linebacker, a former receiver who moved to linebacker this offseason (Nate Askew) is the starter at strongside linebacker. Of the seven linebackers on the Aggies' two-deep, only one (Steven Jenkins) started a full season at the position before this year.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin's first signing class that was completely under his watch had 32 members, 18 of whom were on defense. Of those 18, a dozen have already played this season.

But how did the Aggies get to this point, playing this many freshmen and newcomers? There are some juniors and seniors on the field, but there aren't nearly as many as there were a year ago when the Aggies went 11-2 in their debut season in the SEC.

In 2012, the Aggies were fortunate to have the benefit of some good leaders on defense and others who were productive. At linebacker, Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart both provided leadership and production. Along the defensive line, Spencer Nealy made the move from defensive end to defensive tackle effectively despite not having the ideal size for the position. Steven Terrell was a steady and heady player at free safety. All four of those players were seniors and part of the 2009 recruiting class. So was Dustin Harris, who didn't always start but played plenty at cornerback and was the team's primary punt returner.

One defensive player still remains from that 2009 class: defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, who started last season and this year but suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sept. 28 against Arkansas. But last year's A&M starting defense was more than half made up of what turned out to be a solid recruiting class on the defensive side of the ball.

So to understand why A&M is in the position it is now, take a look at the recruiting classes on defense since then:
  • In 2010, the Aggies signed seven defensive players and two more that were offensive players but eventually moved to defense. Defensive end Damontre Moore turned out to be a star, but declared for early entry into the 2013 NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining. For a team that's lacking in its pass rush (only three FBS teams have fewer sacks than Texas A&M's seven this season) a guy like that could help. Of the remainders in that class, three are starting: Toney Hurd Jr. at nickel back, Gavin Stansbury at defensive end and Askew, who was recruited and spent his first three years at receiver, at strongside linebacker. Two others (defensive tackle Ivan Robinson and quarterback Clay Honeycutt, who's now a reserve safety) are playing but not starting. Nehemiah Hicks was considered to be either a defensive end or tight end and became a tight end. The other two players in the defensive class are no longer on the team.
  • The 2011 class -- the final class signed by former head coach Mike Sherman -- brought 13 defensive players. Deshazor Everett, a cornerback with ability to play safety, is currently the defense's best player. Safeties Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven and linebacker Steven Jenkins also emerged as starters out of that group. One of the big fish landed late in that class, defensive end Brandon Alexander, has rarely played. He's now getting some playing time at tight end. Linebacker Donnie Baggs entered this season as the starting middle linebacker but is now a reserve. Tyrell Taylor is rotating at defensive end. The rest of the group hasn't made any impact at all. Five players in that group are no longer with the program.
  • The 2012 class, the first one Sumlin signed after essentially two months on the job, had some holdovers that committed to the program under Sherman. It is a mixed bag. Four of those players are starting as either true sophomores (Julien Obioha at defensive end, Alonzo Williams at defensive tackle and De'Vante Harris at cornerback) or in one case, a senior (cornerback Tramain Jacobs, who was a junior college transfer). Defensive end Tyrone Taylor, brother of Tyrell, gets some playing time at defensive end. Edward Pope, who was a receiver/defensive back, is playing receiver for the Aggies. A car accident took away one member from that class -- defensive tackle Polo Manukainiu, who died in a crash in July and is being honored by the team every week this season. A spinal injury took away another member, linebacker Michael Richardson, who played as a freshman. He had successful surgery and was fortunate to not suffer any major physical issues, but is no longer playing football. Defensive back Kenneth Marshall, though on the team, was not part of the 105-man roster during preseason training camp. Linebacker Jordan Richmond transferred to Navarro College in the offseason and one player in the class, defensive tackle Edmund Ray, never made it to campus because of qualifying issues.

Revisiting Texas A&M-Alabama, part I

September, 10, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M shocked the college football world when it went into Tuscaloosa, Ala., and upset the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide last November. It was a game for the ages, with the Aggies jumping out to a 20-0 lead, Alabama charging back to make it close and a nailbiter finish that included a turnover near the goal line.

With the Crimson Tide coming to Kyle Field for a rematch with the Aggies, anticipation has built throughout the offseason. The Tide are again No. 1, defending their BCS championship from a year ago and the Aggies still have their linchpin, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who made his most compelling case for the trophy that afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

As the heavily hyped clash approaches, let's look back at some of the keys to last year's game and how they might affect the rematch.

1. Credit to the Texas A&M defense

When dissecting Texas A&M's upset of Alabama last season, many cite the Aggies' offensive explosion en route to a 20-0 first-quarter lead as one of the most difficult things for Alabama to deal with. And while the Aggies used creative playcalling and personnel packages, their fast pace and precision execution to score three touchdowns on their first three drives, the Aggies' defensive effort had as much -- or more -- to do with their ability to take that kind of commanding lead.

A.J. McCarron
John David Mercer/US PresswireAJ McCarron threw his first interceptions of the season in Alabama's loss to Texas A&M last season.
The first play from scrimmage helped the Aggies set the tone as Alabama handed off to running back Eddie Lacy on an off-tackle play to the left side. Tight end Michael Williams motioned to that side of the formation to help open a hole for Lacy, but Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter eluded Williams and sliced into the gap between Williams and left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and made a strong tackle to stop Lacy for no gain. Alabama went three-and-out on that drive and punted.

The Crimson Tide's next offensive drive started on a much better note for Alabama, with Lacy gaining 23 yards on his first two carries. But everything halted as the Aggies created a turnover when quarterback AJ McCarron tried to find Kenny Bell in the middle of the field. As a McCarron pass hit Bell in the chest, safety Howard Matthews delivered a hard, clean hit to Bell, who dropped the pass. Porter was there to intercept the pass, and that set up the A&M offense with great field position after a 16-yard return to the Alabama 41.

One of the key players throughout the day for the Aggies' defense was defensive tackle Spencer Nealy. A former defensive end who moved to defensive tackle at the start of the 2012 season despite lacking what would be considered "SEC size" for a tackle, Nealy played an integral role in the Aggies' run defense. Evidence of that was on display at the start of the Crimson Tide's third drive of the game.

On the first play of the drive, Alabama handed off to T.J. Yeldon on the left side and the 6-foot-5, 277-pound Nealy, who lined up at nose tackle on that play and for much of the day, used his quickness to beat center Barrett Jones and tackled Yeldon for a loss of 4 yards. The Crimson Tide went three-and-out on that drive as well as the Aggies forced McCarron's hand with a safety blitz and Matthews got into the backfield untouched, forcing an incomplete pass. The defensive effort by the Aggies forced McCarron to start the game 1-of-5 passing for 5 yards.

And even though the Tide were able to gather their bearings and make a strong comeback with some big plays on offense, the Aggies still found ways to make plays on defense. Matthews plugged a gap on third-and-2 when Yeldon tried to cut back for first-down yardage, holding the Crimson Tide to a third-quarter field goal. Safety Steven Terrell stripped Yeldon in the fourth quarter on the play after a 50-yard pass from McCarron to Amari Cooper. And of course, cornerback Deshazor Everett picked off McCarron on the Tide's final offensive play with 1:36 remaining.

The drawback for Texas A&M in the rematch is that many of the above names are gone. Nealy, Porter, Terrell and other key players -- such as defensive end Damontre Moore and linebacker Jonathan Stewart -- have graduated. They've been replaced by younger, more inexperienced players who have taken their lumps in the first two games. The Aggies also haven't had their full complement of defensive players because several served suspensions in the first two games. Saturday will be the first opportunity for all of their key guys to play together this season.

Lacy is gone for the Tide, as are several offensive linemen. The Tide struggled in that area in their season-opening win against Virginia Tech. So there will be adjustments on both sides with the differences in personnel.

2. Finding the "Y"

Manziel went to receiver Ryan Swope, the "Y" receiver who lines up in the slot on the right side of the offensive formation, early and often against the Crimson Tide. Early in the game the passes were of the short, quick variety, hitch routes that gained incremental yardage, almost like running plays.

Ryan Swope
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRyan Swope, a senior last season, made 11 catches against Alabama.
As the game wore on, Manziel went downfield to Swope, who made some of the biggest catches of the season. One was in the middle of the field for 28 yards as he was nailed by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the third quarter. In the fourth, Manziel found Swope down the right sideline for 42 yards.

Swope graduated as well, but look for the guy who made the catch on the play after Swope's 42-yard reception -- Malcome Kennedy -- to be a factor. Kennedy caught a 24-yard touchdown pass on the next play and having experience in a game like that can only help him this Saturday. The question is, can Kennedy bring the kind of consistency that Swope did in catching 11 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown against Alabama?

And should he be healthy for the game, 6-foot-5 freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones could be a factor at that position as well. Seals-Jones missed the Sam Houston State game last Saturday with a knee injury.

3. McCarron can scramble, too

While Manziel is known for his scrambling, McCarron showed he has good mobility as well.

McCarron isn't nearly as fleet of foot, but he did show the ability to escape pressure and make quality throws. On two instances in the Crimson Tide's first scoring drive, he evaded the Aggies' pass rush and found Cooper for a first-down completion.

In the second half, McCarron scrambled and tried to find Cooper. He avoided an interception from Everett (who was ruled out of bounds on the catch), but nevertheless, scrambling is a tool McCarron can use if the Aggies dial up extra pressure Saturday.

4. Defending Manziel on the ground

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Dave MartinJohnny Manziel had great success running in the first half against Alabama, but the running lanes closed a bit in the second half.
In the first half last year, Manziel was electric with his feet. Then-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury was comfortable in calling designed quarterback draws. They were successful as Manziel piled up 82 yards on nine first-half carries.

But the Tide did a much better job containing Manziel in the final two quarters. In the second half, he finished with 10 rushing yards on nine attempts.

This season, Manziel is making an effort to improve as a pocket passer without taking away his playmaking ability. The Aggies have a new offensive coordinator and playcaller (Clarence McKinney) and a new quarterbacks coach (Jake Spavital). It will be interesting to see how much running Manziel does Saturday and how Alabama handles it.

5. Big plays in the Alabama passing game

Cooper, now a sophomore for the Tide, had a huge game in last year's matchup, catching six passes for 136 yards.

He had a catch of 50 yards and a 54-yard touchdown reception, both in the fourth quarter. The first came on an out-and-up, when he beat Everett one on one. The next one came when the Aggies sent Everett on a cornerback blitz and Cooper beat Matthews deep for a touchdown.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M wrapped up spring football on Saturday with the annual Maroon and White game. After 15 practices, there's plenty to take away, but here's five things we learned during the Aggies' spring:

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Moments after his team's first practice in pads and scrimmage on March 7, Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder was thankful for at least one thing.

"The fortunate thing is we don't have to play tomorrow, thank goodness," he said. "We've got a ways to go."

[+] EnlargeMark Snyder
Sam Khan/ESPN.comMark Snyder has a lot of key players to replace on the Aggie defense.
Flashing back to his team's first practice in pads a year ago, the Aggies' second-year defensive coordinator could at least see some progress.

"We may be a little further along, but we still have a long way to go," he said.

What Snyder and the Aggies' defense accomplished last year was significant. There were numerous questions about that side of the football going into Texas A&M's 2012 season, namely depth across the board and in particular, the defensive line.

Those questions were answered throughout the year as Snyder's unit played above expectations. Damontre Moore broke out as a star at defensive end, the defensive line stayed mostly healthy and performed well in its first season in the SEC, a league known for line-of-scrimmage play. Players like Spencer Nealy and Kirby Ennis were strong on the interior line, while leadership came from linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart.

The result was a unit that was among the best in the nation on third down (16th), one of the better scoring defenses in the country (26th) and a unit that was solid against the run (35th).

Many of those key players are gone. Moore declared for the NFL draft; Nealy, Porter and Stewart were all seniors. A unit that may have been considered the weak link a year ago -- the secondary -- might actually be a strength this fall. The charge this year for Snyder and his staff is to reconstruct the front seven.

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Position breakdown: Defensive line 

February, 25, 2013
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The area that was probably of most concern for Texas A&M heading into the 2012 season was the defensive line.

With the Aggies entering their first year in the SEC, the coaches kept a close eye on the depth, particularly on the interior. But that unit turned out to be a pleasant surprise for the Aggies last season, playing consistently well throughout the year.

Now, as the Aggies go into spring football, there are again questions about the defensive line.

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The 2012 season was one to remember for Texas A&M.

The Aggies' first season in the Southeastern Conference was better than almost anyone could expect. And while much of the focus centered around a redshirt freshman -- Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel -- first-year A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin repeatedly praised his seniors for their leadership and buying in when they didn't have to.

[+] EnlargeChristine Michael
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireRunning back Christine Michael was Texas A&M's top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2009.
As Sumlin often said this year, "They didn't sign up to play for us."

Sumlin was referring to the upperclassmen -- and, really, anybody who wasn't a true freshman or transfer who joined the squad this season -- who signed up to play for previous head coach Mike Sherman.

Many of the Sherman recruits (Manziel included) played critical roles in the Aggies' ability to go 11-2, finish tied for second in the SEC West and conclude the season ranked in the top five. When looking back four years ago at the 2009 recruiting class, roughly a dozen of them wound up being key players in the memorable 2012 season.

There were several diamonds in the rough. Among them were Ryan Swope, who was ranked the No. 116 athlete in the country in 2009. The running back from Austin (Texas) Westlake became a receiver at Texas A&M and eventually set the school's career receiving yardage record, among other marks, such as single-season catches, single-season receiving yards and career 100-yard games.

Another lightly heralded player was defensive tackle Spencer Nealy. Ranked 105th nationally at his position, the San Antonio Reagan product always brought high energy and effort and this season became a catalyst in the Aggies' transition to a 4-3 from a 3-4 the last two years. Nealy, a defensive end the previous two seasons, moved inside to defensive tackle and took on double teams week after week. The job he did inside helped facilitate the terrific season outside by defensive end Damontre Moore.

The other starting defensive tackle in 2012, who had a solid season of his own -- Kirby Ennis -- was also a member of the 2009 class.

One of the most important offensive players in 2012 not named Manziel was center Patrick Lewis, another class of 2009 recruit. As one of the "Louisianimals" as Lewis referred to himself and his fellow Louisiana natives, Lewis was the man who made the offense go, literally. The Aggies installed a high-tempo attack upon Sumlin's arrival, and dictating tempo was one of Lewis' primary jobs. He had to get to the ball before the ref spotted it and make protection calls as well. As one of the team captains, Lewis was a true leader.

The two senior linebackers who started for the Aggies, who also served as leaders for this year's team, were also part of the class of 2009: Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart. Both started all 13 games this year. Stewart was second on the team in tackles with 81, while Porter was fifth (66) and second on the team in tackles for loss (6.5).


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GigEmNation writer Sam Khan Jr. chatted with readers on Friday about Texas A&M football and recruiting. Here's the full transcript of the chat. Topics covered included Jake Matthews' return, the promotion of Clarence McKinney to co-offensive coordinator and playcaller and of course, recruiting. Here's an excerpt from Friday's chat:

Drew (Colleyville, TX): So with Jake Matthews coming back does this mean he will be moved over to LT? And if so who do you think will be the RT next year? And who do we have on the C depth chart that can take over? Thanks for the chats!
Sam Khan Jr.: Drew, yes, Matthews will be moved to LT. That should be a good transition for him and I think he'll do well. As for right tackle, I think you're looking a few possibilities: redshirt freshman Joseph Cheek, who backed up Matthews and played in the "unbalanced line" power running formations could be an option. True freshman Germain Ifedi, who was on the two-deep, is an option. And I wouldn't rule out moving someone out to right tackle that's already in the lineup (maybe RG Cedric Ogbuehi?). As for center, Mike Matthews, the younger brother of Jake Matthews, will be the heir apparent to Patrick Lewis. Matthews is the favorite to start and was the backup this year. Look for him to be a possible three-year starter at C for the Aggies.

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Texas A&M 10: Post-Cotton Bowl 

January, 6, 2013
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Johnny ManzielMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel was the clear leader for Texas A&M this season.
Each week this season, GigEmNation ranked Texas A&M's top 10 performers of the season. After the Aggies' dominating 41-13 win over Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, here's a look at who we think shined brightest throughout the entire year:

1. QB Johnny Manziel
The redshirt freshman quarterback not only won the Heisman Trophy, but followed it up with a terrific performance in the Cotton Bowl, setting the bowl's record for total yards (516). He finished the year 5,116 total yards and 47 touchdowns.

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Grading the positions: Defensive line 

December, 20, 2012
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In the weeks leading up to Texas A&M's bowl game, GigEmNation will take a look back at how the Aggies performed position by position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we look at the defensive line.

GradeHighlights: This was the group that garnered the most questions from observers going into the season. At SEC media days and during fall training camp, questions about depth -- particularly at defensive tackle -- lingered as the Aggies moved around the pieces. The front four responded resoundingly, becoming one of the bright spots, if not the bright spot, on the defense. Defensive end Damontre Moore was dominant virtually all season, finishing tied for third in the nation in sacks (12.5) and tied for fifth in tackles for loss (20) and leading the Aggies in tackles (80). Spencer Nealy, who transitioned to defensive tackle from defensive end, received high praise from the coaching staff for consistently taking on double teams and having an impact. Kirby Ennis was effective in run defense and true freshman Julien Obioha made an impact despite his youth.

Lowlights: The biggest struggle the Aggies had up front came against LSU. Early on, the unit performed well but the Tigers ate up chunks of yardage on the ground as the game went on and finished with 219 rushing yards, the most any team compiled against Texas A&M all season.

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TAMU recruiting momentum continues 

December, 6, 2012
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videoLanding Dallas Kimball defensive tackle Justin Manning is hardly the start of a wave of momentum for Texas A&M on the recruiting trail, but it is without question one of the biggest signs of it.

Whatever a recruit has on a list of wants in a football program, chances are the Aggies can fulfill it. With a winning season in the country's premier football conference, the possibilities seem endless. The energy Kevin Sumlin, Johnny Manziel and the Southeastern Conference membership has injected into the program has the Aggies thinking big and it's catching the attention of the top recruits around the state of Texas, with Manning being the latest to jump on board.

[+] EnlargeJustin Manning
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comJustin Manning is the top defensive tackle in Texas.
The ESPN 150 defensive tackle, who is ranked eighth at his position in the country and is the 12th-best prospect in the state, committed to Texas A&M during a ceremony on Thursday afternoon at Kimball High School. The four-star prospect is the No. 88 player in the ESPN 150 and is the fifth player in the ESPN 150 to commit to Texas A&M.

The acquisition of Manning gives the Aggies 33 commitments in their 2013 class. Included in that list is Texas' No. 1 tight end prospect [Derrick Griffin], the state's No. 1 quarterback [Kohl Stewart], the No. 1 offensive guard [Joas Aguilar], the No. 1 safety [Kameron Miles] and now the No. 1 defensive tackle in Manning.

Let that sink in for a minute. The Aggies have the state's top-ranked 2013 recruit at five different positions. They could make it six if they close on Sealy (Texas) High School athlete Ricky Seals-Jones, a former Texas commit who is considering only LSU and Texas A&M currently.

Manning, a 6-foot-2, 275-pound prospect, was long considered an Oklahoma lean. His older brother, DeMarcus Granger, was a defensive tackle at Oklahoma. It was thought that Manning would follow in his brother's footsteps.

But the Aggies persisted. Texas A&M receivers coach David Beaty, who has been a force in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the Aggies, built a good relationship with Manning and the defensive tackle began to build one with his future defensive line coach, Terry Price, when he took his official visit in September. The key word for Manning throughout his recruitment has been "trust" and the A&M coaches have clearly earned Manning's.


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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- A year ago at this time, Texas A&M football was at an important crossroads.

The program sought out a new head coach, having dismissed Mike Sherman, who went 25-25 in four seasons there. The crosshairs in the process appeared to be set on Houston's Kevin Sumlin, who went 35-17 through four seasons in Houston and lifted the Cougars high into the national rankings in both 2009 and 2011.

[+] EnlargeMike Sherman
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAt this time last season, Texas A&M was looking for a head coach after firing Mike Sherman.
The Aggies were coming off a 6-6 year (which would become 7-6 after a win over Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas), one that had high preseason expectations, including a top-10 ranking. A year that was supposed to be filled with success was instead marred with second-half collapses and a wondering about where things were headed. With the transition from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference on tap, the leadership felt a new direction was needed. Sumlin was eventually tabbed to lead the Aggies into the SEC -- and since then, things have drastically changed.

The last 365 days, give or take a few, have been transformative for the program. Sumlin has injected an energy and swagger into the program that has fueled the Aggies' 10-2 season. After graduating a top-10, first-round pick at quarterback (Ryan Tannehill), a redshirt freshman named Johnny Manziel has stepped in and shattered records and become a Heisman Trophy candidate. Texas A&M is ranked in the top 10 (No. 9) and the recruiting momentum that the Aggies are building is strong, as they're quickly becoming a premier destination for recruits by offering the combination of quality facilities, college football's premier conference and a chance to win in that conference.

What a difference a year makes.

Some of the things the Aggies accomplished this season seemed like pipe dreams at the start of the year. A potential Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback? Going into fall camp, Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury had not even named a starter at the position, with redshirt sophomores Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel battling Manziel.

Even for the quarterback himself, often called by his nickname, "Johnny Football," it's a little unbelievable.

"It’s crazy," he said "It’s so surreal for me to even be mentioned in the same category or in the same sentence as the Heisman Trophy. It would be a dream come true for me to even go to New York and sit down, after years and years of watching guys that I looked up to get dressed up and sit on the front row and hope that their name is called. So for me, it would be a dream come true and something that I would cherish forever."

While Manziel has played a major role in the Aggies' success, so has the leadership of the team -- and not just Sumlin and the coaching staff, but the senior class of players. Guys like linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, safety Steven Terrell, defensive tackle Spencer Nealy, center Patrick Lewis, receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu and cornerback/return specialist Dustin Harris have been a big reason the Aggies are a top-10 team this year.

For starters, Sumlin said, they bought in to what the new coaching staff was selling and the idea that they could be successful in the SEC, despite what others said.

"It really was just guys having faith; belief without proof," Sumlin said. "Coming into the year, we really didn't care what everybody else's expectations were ... I think that what these seniors have done is to really set the tone for how to do things away from Saturday. There was a big change in that type of culture."

Sherman said something interesting in his final news conference as the Aggies' coach, after flatly stating that he felt he didn't deserved to be fired.

"I feel like the program is definitely headed in the right direction and I hope the next coach appreciates the opportunity he's going to get to work with these players," he said.

Though some changes fueled this signature season, the first since 1998 in which the Aggies have won 10 games, it turns out Sherman was right.

While many had questions about what could be for the Aggies in the SEC, the players were confident. When asked after the final game of the season whether he could have imagined the season turning out the way it has, Porter took it a step further, demonstrating the confidence the team carried throughout the year.

"It's not as good as I thought it could be," Porter said. "Like Jonathan said, we thought we were going to win all of our games. We truthfully thought that. A lot of people were giving us crap about it at the beginning of the season. I remember going into SEC media day and all those guys in there were looking at me like we were going to be some kind of doormat or something, but this entire time we've had a lot of confidence, and we have confidence in the type of players that we have. I've said it since the beginning of the season: We have the same caliber of athletes as anybody does in the nation. I think this was a great season for us to come out and prove that, and A&M is just going to go up from here."

Film review: Texas A&M 59, Missouri 29 

November, 26, 2012
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Texas A&M closed out its regular season with a dominant 59-29 win over Missouri on Saturday at Kyle Field. Once again, the Aggies shined on both ends of the ball en route to taking a commanding 42-0 lead. They've been a quick start team all year and Saturday was no different. They took a 21-0 lead to 42-0 in the second quarter with several big plays. Here's a look at three of their second quarter plays that were indicative of not only their success on Saturday, but why they've been successful all season:

[+] EnlargeDe'Vante Harris
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesFreshman cornerback De'Vante Harris has 25 tackles and an interception for the Aggies this season.
Situation: Missouri ball, third-and-3 at its own 32. (10:58 left, second quarter
Score: Texas A&M 28, Missouri 0
Result: Pass completion from Corbin Berkstresser to Marcus Lucas, fumble, recovered by Toney Hurd.

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Texas A&M 10: Week 13 power rankings 

November, 26, 2012
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Each week this season, GigEmNation ranks Texas A&M's top 10 performers of the season. Here's a look at who shined throughout the entire regular season after the Aggies closed out their inaugural SEC campaign with a 59-29 win over Missouri on Saturday at Kyle Field:

1. QB Johnny Manziel The redshirt freshman quarterback broke several records this year, most notably the SEC single-season total yards mark previously held by Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. Manziel finished the year with 4,600 total offensive yards (3,419 passing, 1,181 rushing) and 43 total touchdowns (24 passing, 19 rushing). He's a Heisman Trophy candidate and arguably the frontrunner for the award heading into the season's final week.

[+] EnlargeRyan Swope
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireSenior wideout Ryan Swope led the Aggies in touchdown catches this season.
2. DE Damontre Moore The junior has been one of the SEC's and the country's best defensive linemen this year, registering 20 tackles for loss (third nationally) and 12.5 sacks (tied for third nationally). He finished with the Aggies' team lead in both categories as well as tackles (80) and quarterback hurries (8) and blocked two kicks.

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M closed out its regular season with a resounding 59-29 victory over Missouri on Saturday before 87,222 at Kyle Field. Let's look at the highs and lows from the victory:

THREE UP

1. 10 wins: The Aggies secured their 10th win, marking the first time since 1998 that Texas A&M has accomplished that feat. They finished 10-2 on the regular season and 6-2 in the SEC, good for a tie with LSU for second place in the SEC West.

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Johnny ManzielAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherJohnny Manziel broke Cam Newton's 2010 record for total yards on Saturday and might join the former Auburn quarterback as a Heisman Trophy winner.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M senior linebacker Sean Porter remembers what the perception of the Aggies seemed to be in July in Birmingham, Ala.

It was the Aggies' formal introduction into the Southeastern Conference, and everyone wondered what to make of Texas A&M, one of the two new programs. Many dismissed the Aggies' chances of being a serious factor in the conference. At least, that's what Porter inferred from the tone of some of the questions he was asked.

"I remember going to SEC media day," Porter said. "All those guys in there were looking at us like we were going to be some kind of doormat."

A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said plainly on Saturday, "We didn't care what everyone else's expectations were."

With that disregard and an optimism ushered in by new everything -- coaching staff, league, schemes, some players and even the uniforms -- the Aggies set out to rewrite the narrative some had already written. With their latest win, a 59-29 crushing of Missouri on Saturday at Kyle Field that put a bow on their regular season, they have done just that.

The win locked the No. 9 Aggies into a tie for second place in the SEC West with LSU. Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2 SEC) will finish the regular season in the top 10 and has won 10 games for the first time since 1998. The Aggies did it in part because of the confidence they carried, instilled by Sumlin and the coaching staff from the start.

"We thought we were going to win all of our games," Porter said. "We truthfully thought that."

A big part also was played by their wunderkind quarterback, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. The Kerrville (Texas) Tivy product exceeded just about everyone's expectations, compiling an SEC single-season-record 4,600 total yards in 12 games, eclipsing the mark set by Auburn's Cam Newton in 14 games in 2010. He was his usual dazzling self Saturday, throwing for 372 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for two more, eating up 439 total yards.

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