Editor's note: The spectacle that is SEC media days ended earlier this week. But with the newly-expanded four-day media event over, we're at a bit of a loss. Fall camp is still weeks away; the regular season is even further, with the 2014 campaign kicking off at the end of August. So what better time to roll out the preseason power rankings among teams in the SEC?
With that in mind, we'll count down the teams from worst to first. The format will involve a "best-case/worst-case" scenario for each team, taking our a page out of former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter's playbook from 2010. (One final note: Please, as Bitter said four years ago, remember all scenarios "are meant to be hyperbolic.")
No. 9: Texas A&M
The only topic anyone (seemingly) wants to talk about in regards to Texas A&M is "Life after Johnny Football". Everybody, that is, except for coach Kevin Sumlin. When asked multiple times at SEC media days about his former quarterback, Sumlin took to eviscerating reporter's queries.
Never miss a local story.
"Is this the SEC media days?" the coach retorted. "No, that's a great question ... about the Cleveland Browns. Anybody else got something?"
Whether he likes it or not, how the Aggies fare without one of the most electrifying college athletes of all-time will be one of the top storylines in the conference this fall.
Best-case scenario: The Aggies come close to matching last year's nine-win total, falling just short by ending with an 8-5 mark. Sure, they lose the season opener (on the first game televised by the SEC Network) to South Carolina, but there are multiple positives to take from the loss. In his first career start, true freshman Kyle Allen shows no signs of being overwhelmed, throwing for 276 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another. It's not enough to top the Gamecocks, however, who use a strong fourth quarter from running back Mike Davis (who scores twice) to emerge with the 38-31 victory.
In the next three games, the Aggies dominate, as they easily run past the in-state trio of Lamar, Rice and Southern Methodist. Texas A&M then runs its win streak to four by topping Arkansas at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. In a tough road contest the following week, Texas A&M engages in an entertaining, back-and-forth affair with Mississippi State. In the end, Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs do just enough to hang on for the 34-30 win. But the Aggies don't stay down for long, as they post a bounce-back victory versus a top-20 Ole Miss outfit coming off a tight loss to Alabama.
In a tough five-game stretch to end the regular season, the Aggies go 2-3, beating Louisiana-Monroe and Missouri and losing to Western Division titans Alabama, Auburn and LSU.
Their eight-win regular season gets them to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., where they draw the Virginia Tech Hokies. It's close for three quarters, but in the final period, the Aggies' speed is too much for their ACC opponent to keep up with, as they pull out a 42-30 win. Sure, eight wins is the fewest in Sumlin's three seasons in College Station, but in in the first year transitioning into the "post-Johnny Football" era, it's far from worrisome. The Aggies go on to ink one of the top five recruiting classes in the country for 2015, making the future appear bright as ever.
Texas A&M's fan base takes even more delight out of the struggles of Texas, which goes 4-8 in the first season of Charlie Strong's tenure.
Worst-case scenario: The Aggies hit rock-bottom, winning less than half as many games as last year's 9-4 campaign (four W's in 2014) and going winless in conference play.
Things get off on the wrong foot, as Allen, making his first career start, gets rocked by South Carolina's defense, getting hit nearly every play and earning a tough introduction to the college game. Defensively, Texas A&M's unit looks every bit as bad as it did in 2013, when it ranked last in the SEC in yards and points allowed per game. The Gamecocks drive the ball at will and breeze to a 52-10 victory.
Texas A&M gets in the win column with a glorified exhibition versus Lamar the following week, but it's far more difficult in Game 3 against Rice. A 10-game winner and the champions of Conference USA in 2013, the Owls give the Aggies all they can handle. It takes until Speedy Noil turns a bubble screen into a jaw-dropping 74-yard touchdown with three minutes remaining for Texas A&M to hold off its in-state foe 49-42. It's less interesting the following week as the Aggies toy with another in-state opponent, this time the overmatched SMU Mustangs.
But then SEC play kicks in.
At a neutral site in Arlington against an Arkansas squad that has lost 12 straight games against SEC foes, Texas A&M lays an egg. Whoever the Razorbacks put in the backfield, be it Alex Collins or Jonathan Williams, and the Aggies have no answer. And the offense that looked so potent since the South Carolina contest gets gummed up as Arkansas' unit puts forth a spirited effort in a 31-14 triumph. Giving up 31 points to the Razorbacks is only the beginning of a terrible stretch for the Aggies.
They fall in six of their next seven games, with the only win coming against Louisiana-Monroe. At 4-8, it's the worst season for Texas A&M since it posted the same mark in 2008. What's more, it's the first time the Aggies didn't win a league game in the season since it went 0-7 in the Southwest Conference in 1970, under Gene Stallings, no less.
The saving grace is that the Aggies continue to recruit at a high level, bringing in another top-10 class for the 2015 cycle. Making $5 million a year, Sumlin isn't going anywhere. Undoubtedly, the toughest thing for Aggies' backers to watch is the success of Strong, who guides the Longhorns to a 10-3 record in his debut season.
When SEC media days arrive in 2015, Sumlin is once again asked about Manziel. This time, with no hint of sarcasm, he admits that he "misses" the former Heisman Trophy winner.