What encore do Sumlin and Manziel have in store for us?
The Texas A&M football program entered the 2012 season under a period of unprecedented transition. The year was set to be the team's first in the nation's predominant football conference, the SEC. Not only were the Aggies headed into the unknown, but they were doing so with a newly hired coach, Kevin Sumlin, the offensive mastermind behind Case Keenum's record-setting days with the Houston Cougars.
And Sumlin had himself a brand new quarterback in redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel.
A season that began with so many unknowns ended with nothing but smiles, Trophies and lots and lots of confetti.
Oh yeah, and wins, we cannot forget that.
Thus, after piling up 11 wins for the first time since 1998 and turning a first-year gunslinger into a record-setting legend, what can Sumlin and Johnny Football put together for an encore?
The only people who even knew who Johnny Manziel was when the 2012 season kicked off were his family and the young men with him in that Aggies' locker room.
However, by the time Johnny Football was done carving up the Oklahoma defense - with a touch as expert as any sushi chef's - in the Cotton Bowl, all eyes were on the record-setting redshirt.
With his 5,116 total yards, Manziel surpassed the single-season totals of such conference legends as Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and everyone else to have ever stepped foot on a playing field as a member of the SEC. With one of the most gracefully explosive playing styles the world had ever seen, Manziel swept up the imagination of the nation.
He rode that wave of enthusiasm all the way to New York, where he became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
Obviously, the media scrutiny was intense by the time he was collecting hardware, but the blinding light of his fame will only become more intense as the 2013 season draws ever closer. How this young man handles such unbelievable attention will go a long way towards the performance of the team as a whole in 2013.
Many outside observers expected him to falter or fall at various points throughout the season, but it simply never happened. If he continues to impress on a weekly basis next year, so will the rest of the team, and their national rankings will reflect that.
Manziel may have more weapons than he knows what to do with
Yes, Manziel and the Aggies must overcome the loss of three wide receivers to graduation, including the school's all-time leader in receptions, Ryan Swope.
However, the team's leading receiver, Mike Evans, has the exact same amount of eligibility remaining as Johnny Football. the two freshmen hooked up 82 times for 1,105 yards and five scores. The two are expected to continue to build towards dominance in 2013.
Derel Walker was a junior and he only caught eight passes for 85 yards as a backup. However, he is expected to compete for a starting role next season along with Thomas Johnson, who will be a sophomore, and Malcome Kennedy, who is going to be a junior. Johnson and Kennedy caught 30 and 26 passes in 2012, respectively.
Sumlin will have his choice of four running backs for Manziel to hand the ball off to. Christine Michael was supposed to have been a star, but never quite showed it and was only given 88 carries for 417 yards. Ben Malena, on the other hand, took 138 carries for 808 yards, a great 5.9 yards per carry average. He will be a senior and should have a goal of 1,000 yards, provided Manziel does not do all the rushing himself.
Backing up Malena will be Trey Williams, who rushed for 376 yards and accounted for more than 1,000 all-purpose yards as a freshman. Two transfers are also set to make their Aggies' debuts. Brandon Williams is the fastest player on the team, but he had to sit out 2012 after transferring from Oklahoma. He is primed to take his new team and conference by storm.
Tra Carson also sat out after making the switch from Oregon. At 6-foot and 227-pounds, he was not the prototypical Ducks' speedster, however his body is made for barreling through the SEC.
But SEC and national titles are won in the trenches
Most programs would take at least a year or two to recover after losing a left tackle to the top five of the NFL Draft. However, despite the loss of Luke Joeckel, Sumlin should remain all smiles in 2013. Why?
Entirely because Jake Matthews decided to stick around for his senior year.
Matthews is a Joeckel clone. Joeckel is 6-foot-6, 310; Matthews measures in at 6-foot-5 and 305. Matthews will slide over from the right side of the line to the left in order to protect Manziel's blind side.
Next to him will be Jarvis Harrison, who started all 13 games a season ago and will hopefully do the same again in 2013.
The team loses four-year starting center Patrick Lewis as well, but Mike Matthews practiced behind him and is expected to start. If not, Ben Compton, who played defense in 2011 and learned the o-line last year, may see the field as well.
The right side of the line is simply immensely talented as well. Right guard Kimo Tipoti redshirted to get in shape in 2012 after arriving as one of the most hyped prep-linemen in Texas. Right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi will pull a Jake Matthews and slide to left tackle eventually. For now though, he will dominate the weak side of the line.
Basically, there is talent all over this line, and all over this offense. The 12th Man is going to be treated to a show in 2013.
Defensively, the line could use some work
The team loses another potential top five draft pick in defensive end Damontre Moore, as well as Spencer Nealy, who graduated.
Coaches are hoping Julien Obioha, who started 12 games a season ago, can step up and be a premier player in 2013. However, a back injury sustained in the Cotton Bowl may wind up derailing even his best-laid plans. If Obioha cannot go, Alonzo Williams will be asked to be the man at strong-side. He performed successfully in the Cotton Bowl.
If Obioha is greenlit, Williams will be the Aggies' starter at defensive tackle. He only played in four games as a freshman, but he is primed for a big career in College Station.
The entire defense will be looking towards Deshazor
As a sophomore in 2012, Deshazor Everett, at 6-foot and 181 pounds, collected 56 tackles while intercepting two passes and breaking up seven more. On a defense that loses linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, lacks major experience in the defensive backfield and gave up 21.8 points per game in 2012, Everett will be asked to step up in a big way.
It has been proven that an elite defense is necessary to win it all, and right now the Aggies do not quite have one.
Donnie Baggs was used in nickle defensive formations in 2012 and Kenny Flowers and Tommy Sanders are two junior college recruits who will be get a look at linebacker in the spring. One student-athlete to also keep an eye on will be Reggie Chevis. The true frosh is already on campus and at 245 pounds, he may already be able to take on SEC offensive linemen and running backs.
Coach Sumlin has not been afraid to play his freshmen when they have proven themselves up to the task. Besides Chevis, Darian Claiborne and Ed Williams are two others that will receive significant attention moving forward.
Lest we forget, special teams are one-third of every football game
Remember how Sumlin loves to play his freshmen and he loves doing so with confidence?
Well, perhaps he should have tried out another kicker or two before handing the job over to freshman Taylor Bertolet.
Bertolet made only 13 of his 22 field goal attempts, a paltry 59-percent success rate. Further, he missed seven extra point attempts, going 68-fot-75 on the year.
Manziel and Co. are going to score a lot of touchdowns in 2013, so while Bertolet may not be asked to kick as many field goals next year, the misses from the two-yard line are simply unacceptable.
That is harsh, but at least one game will come down to kicking next year. If Sumlin is trotting out a kid the entire team and the entire 12th Man knows has barely better than a 50-percent chance of making it, all of College Station is going to groan -- loudly -- in unison. How will that be for the young man's mindset?