- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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We continue our "Most important game" series, which looks at the most important game for each SEC team in 2014. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved. Today we take a look at Texas A&M.
Most important game: Aug. 28 at South Carolina
Key players: Texas A&M fans will have their eyes on the signal-caller, whomever it may be -- sophomore Kenny Hill or true freshman Kyle Allen. Regardless of the winner, whoever starts at quarterback will be doing so for the first time in their college football careers and doing so on the road in the SEC should be quite the test. This game will also mark Cedric Ogbuehi's debut at left tackle. The projected future first-round NFL draft pick started at right tackle last season but makes the transition to the blind side this year. The Aggies are hopeful that a healthy Ricky Seals-Jones can have a significant impact on the receiving corps after missing most of last season with a knee injury, but veteran Malcome Kennedy is the returning statistical leader and should provide a steady presence. Defensively, the Aggies' secondary is led by senior cornerback Deshazor Everett and the coaches are excited about the potential of new middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni, who played as a true freshman last year but looks to develop into a leader this fall. Up front, defensive end Gavin Stansbury looks to build on a solid junior season. For the Gamecocks, the player to watch closely is running back Mike Davis. The Aggies were atrocious on run defense last season and Davis was one of the SEC's best rushers, finishing with 1,183 yards (fourth in the league). Like Texas A&M, South Carolina will be working in a new starting quarterback in Dylan Thompson, who steps in for the now-graduated all-time winningest quarterback in school history, Connor Shaw. On defense, the linebackers are expected to be the strength with several returnees, including Skai Moore, who had a strong freshman season. On special teams, the Gamecocks have a talented return specialist in Pharoh Cooper and a good kicker in Elliott Fry -- both of whom were All-SEC freshman team picks last year.
Why it matters: It will be far too early to put too much focus on the season opener when it comes to postseason implications, and the Aggies have several key games to choose from when it comes to pivotal matchups (their road trips to Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn come to mind, not to mention their season-ending Thanksgiving home clash against LSU). However, this game is important because of the caliber of opponent (South Carolina), the location (on the road) and what could potentially come afterward for the Aggies. If they're able to win, that could jumpstart serious momentum for the Aggies' 2014 season with non-conference dates against Lamar, Rice and SMU following. A win against the Gamecocks could set the stage for a potential 4-0 start heading into their second conference game against Arkansas at AT&T Stadium in late September. With outsider expectations probably lowered this season because of the departure of three first-round draft picks on offense and a young defense that was brutal last season, starting the season off with consecutive wins strung together could be a huge boost to the young Aggies and potentially raise some eyebrows nationally. When you also take into account that this will be the first game of the college football season, the SEC Network game debut and the Aggies' chance to show the nation what life will be like after Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews, it adds up to a game of high stakes. Even if the Aggies lose, how they play will say a lot about them, much like how their performance on Sept. 8, 2012 vs. Florida -- Texas A&M's SEC debut, a 20-17 loss -- set the tone for a thoroughly successful 2012 campaign. And hey, isn't the old coaches cliché, "The most important game is the next one?"
3dAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf
4dEdward Aschoff and Greg Ostendorf