Coach says tough opening foe like USC will help Texas A&M prepare this summer

jkendall@thestate.comJune 14, 2014 


    WHEN: Thursday, Aug. 28, 6 p.m.

    WHERE: Williams-Brice Stadium

    TV: SEC Network (first telecast)

    LINE: USC opened as a nine-point favorite in April

    BUZZ: Both teams lose their starting quarterbacks: Connor Shaw at USC and Johnny Manziel at A&M.

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    RECORD: 55-23 overall (35-17 in four seasons at Houston from 2008-11; 20-6 in past two seasons at Texas A&M)

    STRENGTH: His teams feature great offenses, whether with a dropback passer or a mobile signal-caller, such as Johnny Manziel.

    WEAKNESS: The Aggies ranked last in the SEC in total defense (475.8 yards per game) and scoring defense (32.2 ppg).

If Kevin Sumlin has some sleepless nights this summer, it won’t be because he’ll be bringing a first-time starting quarterback into Williams-Brice Stadium on Aug. 28.

“It’s going to happen anyway,” Texas A&M’s third-year coach said.

Sumlin’s Aggies and South Carolina will kick off college football’s 2014 season on a Thursday night. The Gamecocks will be putting the nation’s longest home winning streak on the line, while Texas A&M will be starting the post-Johnny Manziel era.

Senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen are battling to replace Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and college football’s biggest lightning rod in years. Whoever wins the job, the story when the Aggies visit Columbia will be more about Manziel’s absence than who is replacing him.

That will be the external story, at least. For the Aggies, the story will be the team, Sumlin said.

“I’m not looking at it from the outside looking in. Internally, it’s always been about a complete team atmosphere,” Sumlin said. “It took a lot of people to win 20 games in two years.”

Manziel is not the only one of those people who’s gone. Wide receiver Mike Evans and offensive lineman Jake Matthews also were selected in the first round of May’s NFL draft.

“That’s the positive side. The other part of it is they were the only three guys we had drafted which puts us about ninth in this league,” Sumlin said.

Sumlin, who is 19-6 in two seasons at Texas A&M, believes playing South Carolina to open the season will make for a crisper offseason and fall camp in College Station, Texas, he said.

“In some ways, it’s a little bit easier to get your team’s attention during fall camp with an opponent like that,” he said. “You have to get ready right now. I have always looked at it as a situation where to me it’s been a little bit more of a motivating factor during fall camp than maybe some other opponents.”

He won’t, however, tell his team it has something to prove against South Carolina in the post-Manziel era, he said.

“We have been pretty good on the road by staying pretty even keeled about how we handle things,” he said.

Sumlin and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier have a casual friendship thanks to Sumlin’s five years of working for Spurrier protégé Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. Sumlin, Stoops and Spurrier all spent a week golfing in Ireland in 2012.

“I think coach Spurrier had a huge influence on (Stoops),” Sumlin said. “The years I was there, there were a lot of things coach Spurrier did and implemented at Florida that Bob still utilizes today.”

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