published Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Swope a big threat for Texas A&M

Texas A&M wide receiver Ryan Swope (25) catches a touchdown pass against Kansas State.
Texas A&M wide receiver Ryan Swope (25) catches a touchdown pass against Kansas State.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TEXAS A&M

Camp start: Friday

Opener: Louisiana Tech in Ruston (Aug. 30 on ESPNU at 7:30 p.m.)

Fun fact: The Aggies led all 120 Bowl Subdivision teams last season with 51 sacks, or 3.92 per game. Sean Porter had 9.5 sacks and Damontre Moore had 8.5 sacks to lead the team, and both players return this season.

Friday's preview: Vanderbilt

Everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes the receiving numbers of Texas A&M's Ryan Swope.

Swope had 89 catches for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, with his yardage total ranking third among Big 12 Conference receivers. He would have led the Southeastern Conference, where the Aggies now reside after spending 81 seasons in the Southwest Conference and 16 more in the Big 12.

The SEC, as Swope and his teammates have heard countless times in recent months, has produced six straight national champions and contained four of the nation's top five defenses last season.

"I have so much confidence in the offense that we run that I see us doing some good things," Swope said at SEC media days. "It can be overwhelming at times because they are very strong and very fast, but we like taking this challenge. We have so much pride at Texas A&M, and we expect to win football games.

"We don't want to be overlooked. We want to be right up there with the big dogs."

The Aggies enter the SEC having not defeated a team from their new league since dumping LSU in the 1995 season opener. They have lost to Arkansas the past three regular seasons and have suffered bowl defeats in recent years against Mississippi State, Tennessee, Georgia and LSU.

It is a new frontier for the Aggies with a new leader, with Kevin Sumlin having been hired after guiding the Houston Cougars to a 13-1 record last season. The Cougars led the nation in total offense (563.4 yards per game), passing offense (433.7) and scoring offense (42.2 points per game), and it's little surprise Sumlin gets asked about SEC defenses everywhere he goes as well.

"People say we throw the ball all the time, and that's fine," Sumlin said. "I would like for people to think that. That's not necessarily the truth, because if you look at the statistics and our ratio, it's a lot closer to 55/45 than 70/30.

"Our run-game percentages and stats have been pretty effective, so being called 'pass happy' is fine with us as long as people want to defend the pass all the time."

Texas A&M certainly should have the ability to establish the run with the return of four offensive linemen and running back Christine Michael. Junior left tackle Luke Joeckel, a 6-foot-6, 310-pounder, headlines a front that allowed just nine sacks last season and was flagged for holding only twice.

Michael has battled the injury bug in College Station, rushing for 899 yards last year before sustaining a season-ending knee injury in the ninth game against Oklahoma.

"I have heard a lot about SEC defenses, but it's well-deserved," Joeckel said. "We have played SEC teams before, and there is a difference. There is speed at every position in the SEC, and their defensive tackles can run with our running backs. It will be fun to compete with them every single week."

Sumlin soon will have to choose a starting quarterback among sophomore Jameill Showers, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel and sophomore Matt Joeckel, Luke's twin brother. Should Sumlin succeed and find a productive quarterback, the Aggies could surpass their fifth-place preseason projection in the SEC West.

Which could make what's being called the university's "100-Year Decision" all the more enjoyable.

"Coming in as a freshman, I was looking forward to playing in the Big 12," the 6-foot, 207-pound Swope said. "I grew up watching Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech and all their rivalry games, and to switch to the SEC as a senior is very different. I will kind of make history as being in that first senior class to play in the SEC, and it's definitely a privilege to be a part of it."

Said Luke Joeckel: "I wanted to play the best football, and this is definitely the best football."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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