Tide schedule preview: Texas A&M

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin will need a stout defense to compete in the SEC. AP Photo

The rundown

2011 overall record: 7-6

2011 conference record: 4-5

All-time record against Alabama: 3-1

Returning starters

Offense: 8; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, OT Luke Joeckel, OT Jake Matthews, DE Damontre Moore, LB Sean Porter, LB Jonathan Stewart, S Steven Campbell

Key losses

QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Cyrus Gray, WR Jeff Fuller, PK Randy Bullock, DT Tony Jerod-Eddie, CB Terrence Frederick, S Trent Hunter

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Cyrus Gray (1,045 yards)

Passing: Ryan Tannehill (3,744 yards)

Receiving: Ryan Swope* (1,207 yards)

Tackles: Jonathan Stewart* (98)

Sacks: Sean Porter* (9.5)

Interceptions: Trent Hunter, Steven Terrell* (2)

What they're saying:

"Our fans all the time say, 'I can't wait to get to the Swamp, I can't wait to get to Tiger Stadium.' I said, 'Pshh.' I bet you'll have a different answer for me next year. . . . Guess what, buddy, they're not going to be shaking your hand," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin told the Touchdown Club of Houston last month, as reported by the Dallas Morning News.

Three things to watch:

1. New across the board: There's starting from scratch, and then there's what Texas A&M is doing. Not only are the Aggies entering a new conference, they're doing so with a new coach, new coordinators, a new quarterback and a new starting running back. It's hard enough to deal with replacing or starting over in one of those positions, let alone all of them. The SEC won't do A&M any favors, either. The Aggies schedule is tough across the board with home games against LSU, Florida and Arkansas, plus a brutal three-game stretch at Auburn, at Mississippi State and at Alabama in consecutive weeks.

2. The Sumlin effect: Kevin Sumlin is a good coach. He came up through the coaching rankings, honing his offensive philosophy at stops like Oklahoma, Minnesota and Purdue. At Houston, it all came together, creating one of the scariest offenses in college football from 2008-11. But his offense is predicated on spreading out the field and using speed as an advantage. And as we've seen with several spread coaches, it takes a recruiting class or two to get the guys you need into the system. Texas A&M has some weapons on offense, especially Ryan Swope, but is there enough in the cupboard for Sumlin to put his offense to work?

3. A Big 12 defense: Forget about the Aggie offense for a second. Don't bother worrying about who will throw the football -- Jameill Showers or Johnny Manziel? Put that aside for a second and consider what wins football games in the SEC: defense. For years, Texas A&M has been a team built on scoring points, not necessarily stopping them. Last year, the Aggies finished 59th in the country in total defense. The year before, 55th. The year before that, 105th. While it could be argued that those numbers are a product of the conference and their style of play, what matters now is how the Aggies move forward. The team leaders in sacks and tackles return, which is a start. Sean Porter was good enough to be named to the first-team All-SEC by coaches last week. Damontre Moore joined him on the list of All-SEC athletes, coming in as a third-team selection. If linebacker Steven Jenkins improves upon last season and his progress this spring, it would go a long way in solidifying the A&M defense.