Texas A&M is expected to enter 2013 as one of the favorites in the national title race, and augmented its talent base with a whopping 32 new players in its incoming class.
Nine of those are early enrollees, and all of them are needed. Because as Kevin Sumlin noted on Signing Day, a top 10 class merely allows the Aggies to keep pace with the rest of the SEC.
That's the cost of last year's move from the Big 12 to the premier conference in college football, and as it showed on the field in 2012 it's not something that intimidates folks in College Station. But it did ratchet up the pressure on the staff to seal the deal with top targets and avoid the late decommits that seem to be more and more common in the college game.
Mission accomplished. Sumlin replenished his roster with the bodies that he'll need for his Aggies to meet those oversized expectations in 2013.
Six of the newcomers are wideouts. Among them is Ricky Seals-Jones, an especially sweet get for some of the fans because he was originally a Texas commit.
Much of the focus of the class came on the defensive side of the ball, however. Six members of the incoming class are defensive linemen, and six are linebackers. That should help the Aggies avoid wearing down in SEC play, where depth can be critical in determining which of the league's elite teams emerges as a title contender.
TOP OF THE CLASS
DE Daeshon Hall (Lancaster, Texas, High) -- Hall was the last to join the Aggies on Signing Day, flipping at the last minute from his Washington commitment. He was the icing on the cake for the Aggies, and an indication of the commitment Texas A&M made this recruiting season to its defensive front.
WR Ricky Seals-Jones (Sealy, Texas, High) -- It's no shock that top wideouts wanted to play for Texas A&M and catch passes for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and Seals-Jones is one of six who elected to do so on Signing Day. But with his size and speed, Seals-Jones may be the best of the bunch, and should contend for immediate playing time on a unit hit hard by graduation.
DT Justin Manning (Kimball High, Dallas, Texas) -- One of the top prep defensive tackles in the country, Manning should immediately shore up an area of need for the Aggies.
Practice priorities: The big thing for Kevin Sumlin and his coaching staff this spring will be developing a strong two-deep, or even a three-deep if it can. The Aggies showed they could compete in the SEC in 2012, but the emphasis this recruiting cycle was in making sure the team has the number of bodies it needs to stay fresh throughout the rigors of the SEC season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013:
--QB Johnny Manziel burst onto the scene with a vengeance in his redshirt freshman season, setting an NCAA freshman record and an SEC mark with 5,116 total yards. He led the country in yards per game and in total offense. Oh, and Johnny Football also has three more years of eligibility remaining. The main concern here is how he handles the increased expectations coming in 2013 -- he's not sneaking up on anyone this time around.
--OT Jake Matthews would have likely been a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, but elected to come back for his senior season. Matthews, who will likely move to left tackle to replace the departed Luke Joeckel, cited the chance to play with his younger brother as a key factor. Mike Matthews will be a sophomore offensive lineman for the Aggies in 2013.
--WR Mike Evans was a freshman in 2013, but led the team with 82 catches for 1,105 yards. He and Johnny Manziel have some excellent chemistry already, a scary thought for the rest of the SEC.
--LB Steven Jenkins is the leading returning tackler for the Aggies. He's been excellent both at the point of attack and in pass coverage.