Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Dallas Colleges [Print without images]

Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Texas A&M and Missouri switch SEC paths

By Edward Aschoff

If Mark Richt and his Georgia Bulldogs are in the Twilight Zone, consider Missouri and Texas A&M the stars of "Trading Places."

In a year that was supposed to be a fine welcome for the Tigers and a rude awakening for the Aggies, both programs have switched roles as they prepare for Saturday's matchup against each other.

James Franklin
Missouri QB James Franklin has had his fair share of on-field challenges this season.
Missouri (5-6, 2-5 SEC) was supposed to be all smiles heading into College Station. They were supposed to have the high-flying offense and the deadly dual-threat quarterback. Missouri, which had more experience and more confidence coming into the SEC was supposed to challenge for the SEC Eastern Division.

But these new kids on the block aren't putting out many hits in their first year in the SEC.

Instead, No. 9 Texas A&M (9-2, 5-2) is a national darling and is equipped with a Heisman frontrunner in quarterback Johnny Manziel. Even with a brand new coaching staff, brand new offense, brand new defense and a brand new quarterback, the Aggies are in line for a BCS bowl. They even took down No. 1 Alabama ... in Tuscaloosa.

Roles really have reversed here. Missouri's James Franklin, who broke out onto the college football scene last year with his 2,865 passing yards and 981 rushing yards, was supposed to be the SEC's top dual-threat QB. But he's been held together by bandages this season and won't come close to his 2011 numbers, as he's averaging 1.4 yards per carry this season.

Johnny Football, who has become the first freshman and fifth NCAA FBS player to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season, now owns Franklin's old title, as he looks to extend his eight-game streak of having 300 or more total yards of offense.

The offenses flipped as well. Missouri returned so much experience and speed. The offensive line had good experience and the wide receivers were supposed to make Dave Yost's spread offense a challenge for SEC defenses.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, injuries piled up on the offensive line. All five preseason starters have gone down -- some for the season. Add inconsistency at wide receiver, and Mizzou's offense has gone in reverse, averaging just 316 yards in SEC games (12th in the conference).

Johnny Manziel
QB Johnny Manziel has gone above and beyond expectations for the Aggies' first season in the SEC.
We thought we'd see a breakout year from the likes of Marcus Lucas or L'Damian Washington at wide receiver. And former No. 1 recruit Dorial Green-Beckham's impact in the passing game was supposed to come much earlier and more often.

Coach Gary Pinkel said he expected the SEC to be tough, but he never thought Mizzou would limp through the season like this. You have to wonder if the physicality of this league really has affected the Tigers.

Remember how the Aggies lost their starting quarterback and were completely changing the offense? Well, A&M leads the SEC in total offense (543.7 yards per game) rushing (234.9) and scoring (43.5). A&M is also second in passing (308.8). Kevin Sumlin has done a phenomenal job in his first year and many hats have to go off to offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury for the job he's done with Manziel and that offense.

Having receivers like Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL this spring, and Mike Evans combine for 124 catches, 1,681 yards and 10 touchdowns helps, but it's also nice to have a stout offensive line with two future first-rounder at the tackle spots in Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews.

Both defenses have played well, but the Aggies were expected to struggle mightily with a brand new secondary. Instead, the Aggies have done enough to be about even with Tigers in pass defense.

Overall, these two teams just aren't what we expected. A&M has swag, Missouri has bruises.

Sumlin kept his guys working out for two extra weeks before spring practice and it has obviously helped with endurance and health. This team hasn't slowed down, even though it hasn't had a bye week, and that extra work is a major reason why.

Texas A&M is clearly on the rise, and this season should only help recruiting, where the Aggies will really be able to hit Texas -- and the southeast -- even harder with their success and popularity.

Sumlin has already been cleaning up with his 12th-ranked recruiting class Insider that has four ESPN 150 members and seven ESPN 300 members. Missouri has 17 commits with one ESPN 300 member.

It's too early to tell what impact this season will have in the long run in recruiting, but it's clear that 2012 has really helped A&M, and the Aggies are leaving Mizzou behind. They've done it on the football field and if they do it in recruiting, these roles won't change.