Aggies look to get defensive in building off last season's success

Texas A&M Athletics photo / Texas A&M junior defensive end DeMarvin Leal celebrates a stop last year for the Aggies, who completed a 9-1 season with a win over North Carolina in the Orange Bowl.

When Texas A&M surfaced last season as a contender for the College Football Playoff, the Aggies were not lacking for detractors.

After making a tremendous Southeastern Conference splash in 2012, when quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy and guided the program to memorable wins over Alabama and Oklahoma, the Aggies had become annual letdowns. Summer optimism would typically give way to 8-5 seasons, but last year's defense wouldn't allow for more of the same.

Yielding an average of just 10.8 points per game in its final four regular-season contests, Texas A&M posted an 8-1 record and a No. 5 playoff ranking that just missed the four-team field. The Aggies instead went to the Orange Bowl and rallied past North Carolina, and the return of nine defenders has Texas A&M fans believing their team has emerged - and not Auburn or LSU - as Alabama's chief challenger in the SEC West.