HOOVER - They admitted their eyes got big. It was like nothing they'd seen.
Texas A&M WR Ryan Swope
Texas A&M offensive lineman Luke Joeckel and wide receiver Ryan Swope have played plenty of big-time games against plenty of big-time teams in three seasons in the Big 12. But this was different.
The Aggies officially joined the Southeastern Conference on July 1. Swope and Joeckel traveled from College Station with first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin for their first SEC Media Days.
“I had no idea it was going to be this big," Joeckel said. "This is crazier than I expected. It's a lot of fun."
Both Swope and Joeckel were first-team selections preseason All-SEC team chosen by those covering Media Days.
Swope had a spectacular junior season, catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“It’s very different,” Swope said. “To come up to SEC Media Days and see thousands of guys tells you how big of a deal the SEC really is. It’s very awesome to see it. They already know how big this season is. As a senior I want to go out in a good way at Texas A&M. I’ll go back and tell the guys how big of a deal it is, and make it an even bigger deal because I’m hungry to win football games.”
Auburn will play the Aggies on Oct. 27 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Sumlin moved from Houston, where his offenses put up video game numbers, at the end of last season. He said he won't change his offensive approach.
"People say we throw the ball all the time," Sumlin said. "That's fine. I'd like for people to think that, but that's not necessarily the truth. If you look at the statistics, you look at our ratio, it's a lot closer to 55-45 than 70-30."
Sumlin believes in playing at a frantic pace, even more frantic than the offense Gus Malzahn used for three seasons at Auburn.
"We took a little team from Houston over to Starkville and won once," Sumlin said. "We played some teams in the SC and have a lot of respect for the talent level. We'll see where we are offensively, but we certainly are comfortable with how we do things and the system we have in place."
His players agree. Joeckel said he welcomes the opportunity to play at what he considers the highest level of college football.
“It’s the best conference in all of college football,” Joeckel said. “It’s the best competition. That’s what I came to a school like A&M for. I wanted to play the best football. This is definitely the best football."
Sumlin said he might not name a starting quarterback until two weeks before the season-opener against Louisiana Tech, but he third-year sophomore Jameill Showers is favored to win the job. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel and sophomore Matt Joeckel are also contenders for the starting job.
On defense, the Aggies will switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3.
Middle linebacker Jonathan Stewart, last season's leading tackler, returns. Outside linebacker Jonathan Stewart could be the bellcow. He was in on 79 tackles last season, including 17 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
Sumlin admitted there are concerns on that side of the ball, particularly up front.
"You look at our defense last year, and we led the country in sacks," Sumlin sad. But we were 106th in pass defense. That's a feast or famine type of defense. We've got to be more consistent across the board as a football team. We've got to take some chances, but we can't have that big of a chasm.
"The other thing we have to do is develop some depth in our front, which we did not do in the spring."
The Aggies open SEC play on Sept. 8 against Florida in College Station.
AGGIES AT A GLANCE
Last season's record: 7-6 overall, 4-5 Big 12.
Returning starters: 18 overall, 9 on offense, 9 on defense.
Offensive statistical leaders: RB Christine Michael 149 carries for 899 yards and 8 TD. QB Jameill Showers 4-5, 80 yards, 0 TD. WR Ryan Swope 89 catches, 1207 yards, 13 TD.
Defensive statistical leaders: MLB Jonathan Stewart 98 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks; OLB Sean Porter 79 tackles, 17 TFL, 9.5 sacks.