By Johnny Horton
Texas Aggies Contributor
Life without Johnny and Connor. It’s a reality that both Texas A&M and South Carolina are about to face as the two SEC football programs prepare to square off in Columbia, S.C. at Williams-Brice Stadium on August 28th. Coincidentally, now Manziel and Shaw are backing up Brian Hoyer in Cleveland, and the Aggies and Gamecocks have got to quickly figure out who will step up and be the next Big Man on Campus.
Kevin Sumlin declared former South Lake Carroll state champion sophomore Kenny Hill the starter after winning a hotly contested battle over true freshman and five-star recruit Kyle Allen out of Arizona. Hill, the son of former Texas Rangers pitching great Ken Hill, Sr., had his share of off-season problems, much the same as his predecessor.
The young quarterback was arrested for public intoxication at Northgate back in March, leaving many to wonder what his status would be for the fall season. Manziel also had bracelets slapped on him at Northgate in the summer of 2012 before beating out Jameill Showers for the starting job and going on to become the first freshman in NCAA history to win the Heisman Trophy. If the Aggies can get half the production out of Hill that Johnny Football provided then they should surprise a lot of folks this year.
The ol’ ball coach, Steve Spurrier, has decided on fifth year senior Dylan Thompson. He’ll also have some big shoes to fill in Shaw’s, who left S.C. as the winningest quarterback in school history. He also left behind the nation’s longest current home win streak at seventeen. While that should certainly give them a huge advantage, it also poses the threat of adding extra pressure to Thompson, who has seen most of his past experience come in garbage time or against spare non-conference teams.
As with most SEC matchups, this one will be won or lost in the trenches. A&M returns four starters on the offensive line, led by pre-season All-American and potential top 10 pick in next year’s NFL draft, Cedric Ogbuehi. They’ll also be blessed with a trio of quality running backs in Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams. Each brings their own unique skill set to the table and this should help ease Kenny Hill into his first real test under the bright lights of a mega SEC battle.
The biggest buzz surrounding Aggieland is the debut of wide receiver and starting punt returner Speedy Noil. By all accounts, the five-star true freshman blew everybody’s socks off in workouts and practices and is poised to become the next breakout star in college football. He’ll have plenty of support on the outside with returning senior Malcolme Kennedy and redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones. Kennedy should bring a ton of leadership to the bunch after playing flawlessly the last two years in epic slugfests against #1 Alabama. And it doesn’t hurt that the Aggies won’t have to deal with the beast monster Jadeveon Clowney.
On the offensive side of the ball for South Carolina, they should find a bit of comfort in knowing that they will be going up against one of the worst defenses in the entire FBS in 2013. A&M was hoping to improve this year but were dealt a major blow when Isaiah Golden and Darian Claiborne were dismissed from the team for a series of off-the-field incidents. It’ll be up to newcomers Myles Garrett and Zaycoven Henderson to line up and be ready to fill in the gaps immediately. Garrett was the top-rated defensive end in Texas coming out of Arlington and at only eighteen years old looks like an absolute man-child.
The much-maligned secondary will rely on seniors Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven Sr. to make plays and the young guys will have to follow their lead on the fly. If the Aggies don’t look drastically better from the get-go than last year then Sumlin and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder may see their hairs growing grayer with each passing Saturday. However, if they can get some good D line support and some early stops on South Carolina standout running back Mike Davis, then we should see a helluva start to the 2014 college football season. And the SEC Network will be happy with that.
South Carolina, ranked #9 in the Coaches and AP polls, were the consensus pick to win the East division at SEC Media Day back in July. Meanwhile, the Aggies were picked to finish sixth in the West. Throw all of that out the window on this one. With both teams entering new eras filled with a ton of uncertainty, expect South Carolina versus Texas A&M to be a measured and methodical dogfight. Whichever team runs the ball most effectively and can get the most composure and fewest mistakes from their new quarterback will walk away 1-0 and well on their way to big things this Fall.
Prediction: Texas A&M 27, South Carolina 23
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