The new look of the SEC isn’t limited to the changes in its geography, though, as the Aggies have remained one of the top offenses in the country, shaking up things in a league long known for defense.
The Aggies are third in the nation in scoring (45.5 ppg) and tied for fifth in total offense (542.88 ypg). It’s nothing new for first-year Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, whose Houston team topped the country in scoring and total offense last season.
Despite that success in Conference USA, many doubted he could replicate it in a league where five teams finished in the top 10 nationally in defense last season.
Sumlin was matter-of-fact when asked if he ever questioned whether his offense could succeed in the SEC.
“If we didn’t think it could work, we wouldn’t run it,” he said.
Still, he understands why people were reticent to believe this offense could put up huge numbers against much tougher competition. Especially in a conference where no team has finished in the top 5 nationally in scoring since Florida was fourth in 2008, or total offense since the Gators finished second in 2000.
“People have the right,” Sumlin said. “We’re the new guys in the league so I don’t see that as derogatory or anything like that. You’re always going to be skeptical of anything that’s new or that you don’t know about.”
Auburn coach Gene Chizik saw just how powerful A&M’s offense could be on Saturday in a 63-21 A&M win. Texas A&M had 34 first downs, 671 yards and scored touchdowns on seven of eight possessions with quarterback Johnny Manziel before he was replaced after the first possession of the third quarter.
“I think that his is a different type of offense,” Chizik said. “They are spread, no-huddle offenses that are obviously difficult to defend. Some are very different than others. This one is very unique.”
Mississippi State defensive coordinator Chris Wilson, who worked with Sumlin at Oklahoma from 2005-07, is one person in the SEC that isn’t a bit surprised by Sumlin’s success at A&M. No. 17 Mississippi State hosts 16th-ranked A&M on Saturday.
“Kevin is a guy who knows what he wants to do. He’s got a great plan,” Wilson said. “The biggest thing is he’s a good communicator — communicating with his coaches, with the administration and with the players. That makes a good teacher. And when you can deliver your message and do it with accurate information, it definitely speeds up the process. He does that as well as anybody.”
Sumlin believes some of Texas A&M’s success comes from his team having a chip on its shoulder because of those who expected the Aggies to fail in their move from the Big 12 to the SEC.
“We do have something to prove,” he said. “I’ve said that from the beginning, we’re in the best league in the country for football and as new guys to the league we’ve got to prove ourselves. I think our guys understand that, I think as coaches we understand it.”
The Aggies have enjoyed the travel that has come with the move as well. They’ve switched in-state trips to places like Austin, Lubbock and Waco for jaunts to Oxford, Miss. and Auburn, Ala. They’ll travel to Starkville, Miss. this week before next Saturday’s visit to Tuscaloosa, Ala.
“Every one of these games is new to these guys and I think last week was a prime example of being excited to play,” Sumlin said. “We’re going places we’ve never been and guys are excited to go there.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt has also enjoyed the change in scenery that came with adding the new teams this season.
“In life, change is good sometimes,” he said. “You start doing the same thing over and over again, and sometimes that can be tiresome.”
Second-year Vanderbilt coach James Franklin’s team picked up its only road win this season on its first trip to Missouri on Oct. 6. Still, he’s more worried about his team than how Missouri and A&M have changed the SEC.
“I think it’s great for the league,” Franklin said of the expansion. “It’s something new, exciting and different. I haven’t been in the league long enough to have a great perspective. The venue I’m concerned about making the best in the SEC is right here in Nashville at Vanderbilt. It’s getting better every single week and we just have to keep building on that.”
The Tigers, who got their first SEC win last week against Kentucky, have a similar mindset as they prepare for a trip to No. 8 Florida on Saturday.
“It’s a great experience, and we’re not there for the experience, we’re there to win,” Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said. “That’s how we look at it.”