New expectations, same approach for A&M

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin isn't the type to dwell on comparisons, particularly as the calendar pages turn each year in college football.

Sure, there are holdovers that were around and played the year before, but all in all, he looks at each of his teams as a new one.

"From my standpoint it's always a new team; it's always a new personality," Sumlin said. "As coaches what you're trying to do is figure out where you are, who can do what and put them in the best position to try to win games."

Going along with this new Aggies team is a new set of expectations. At this time a year ago, many across the country thought Texas A&M was headed for a buzzsaw in the SEC and some even felt the Aggies would be fortunate to earn a bowl berth.

Instead, Texas A&M destroyed perception and created their own, new reality, one that had them finish the season fifth in the national rankings and winning 11 games for the first time since 1998.

As a result, the Aggies will enter this fall as a highly-ranked team in the preseason, perhaps in the top five, after being unranked going into last season. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel said the Aggies are trying to keep the same approach they did a season ago despite the change in outside perception.

"I feel like we're doing all right," Manziel said. "We're still out here just playing football, doing the same thing that we did last year. We didn't have a lot of expectations last year. There's a lot more talk this year. For us, it's just to continue to make sure that we do the things that got us to where we are today."

In many ways, the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback's change in status over the course of the last year is a microcosm of how perception and expectations of Texas A&M have changed. During spring football a year ago, few outside of College Station, Texas, or Manziel's previous Texas hometowns, Kerrville and Tyler, knew his name.

Now, he has a nickname -- "Johnny Football" -- that is known across the college football landscape. With a full offseason and a 13 games worth of game footage to break down Manziel's game, it's natural to think that opposing coaches, particularly those in the SEC, will be better prepared for Manziel, who befuddled defenses all last season.

Manziel, again, said he plans to keep doing what he has been.

"Coaches are going to scheme just like they always do," Manziel said. "Some might have one game [circled] on their calendar, but I highly doubt it. This was the same talk whenever we were in the Cotton Bowl and they [Oklahoma] had a month to prepare. That didn't really work out well for them.

"If they want three months, four months, whatever, we're OK with it. We're going to be here trying to get better and trying to make sure we're going to outplay them on Saturday."

Aggies' offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said he likes the position the team is in.

"I'd rather be in the position we are now than in the position we were in last year," McKinney said. "We'd rather be at the top, getting hunted. That means we're always out front, rather than not being ranked and having to climb so far."

The Aggies also know that because they are hunted, they must continue to push if they want to repeat or improve on last year's success.

"When Coach Sumlin first got here last year, he told us that we had enough talent to beat anybody," running back Ben Malena said. "Now that we know for a fact that we have enough talent and a new group of guys coming in, we know that this year we have a target on our back.

"The work ethic of the team collectively has stepped up even more. We know last year's success was last year's success, but this year's success will be even harder because now you have a target on your back."