COLUMBIA - There will be no tune-up game this fall, nothing to whet the appetite before moving on with the main course.
It's become a routine for South Carolina. The Gamecocks don't open their seasons against cream puffs. Since Steve Spurrier became coach in 2005, they've opened against BCS opponents six times. This season will be the second time in three years they've opened against an SEC opponent.
Still, as first opponents go, Texas A&M is an especially intriguing matchup. No, the Aggies don't have Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel. In fact, they've lost a lot of talent in recent years. Texas A&M has played two seasons in the SEC. They've produced three top-10 NFL Draft picks in that time.
Texas A&M enters 2014 at a potential crossroads. Even with Manziel - and top-10 picks Jake Matthews (left tackle) and Mike Evans (receiver) - the Aggies digressed in their second SEC season after setting the conference on fire in 2012. Kevin Sumlin, one of college football's bright, young coaches, should offer the stability to keep Texas A&M among the nation's - and, by extension, SEC's - elite. Still, the program must continue to move forward.
Here's what to expect from Texas A&M when it visits Williams-Brice Stadium on Aug. 28.
Team: Texas A&M
Coach: Kevin Sumlin (20-6, third season)
Returning starters: 15 (six offense, nine defense)
2013 record: 9-4, 4-4 SEC; fourth place SEC West
Scoring offense: 44.2 points per game (5th in country)
Scoring defense: 32.2 points against per game (96th)
Series: The two teams have never played previously
Last meeting: N/A
5Dimes line: South Carolina 9-point favorite
Three things to know about Texas A&M
1. Open for competition: To most on the outside, it was a shock when senior quarterback Matt Joeckel transferred to TCU in April. Joeckel was the heir apparent to Johnny Manziel. His twin, Luke Joeckel, was a star left tackle for the Aggies and No. 2 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Joeckel was Texas A&M, and Texas A&M was made for him, or so it was thought. Instead, Texas A&M's quarterback battle will come down to sophomore Kenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen. The final decision won't be made until August, which may represent the biggest different between Texas A&M and South Carolina this offseason. Both programs are replacing legendary quarterbacks. Unlike the Aggies, the Gamecocks have known Dylan Thompson will line up behind center since Connor Shaw took his final college snap in January.
2. Familiar faces: Nine starters return from a defense that couldn't stop a nose bleed last season. The returning experience is a positive. The negative? Texas A&M's defense seriously couldn't stop anybody last season. The Aggies allowed at least 30 points seven times last season. The finished dead last in the SEC in scoring defense. They finished 5-2 when allowing at least 30 points, simply outscoring opponents. They'll have to be better - and then some - without much of its offensive firepower this fall.
3. Receivers wanted: Texas A&M has bigger problems than its open quarterback competition. Between Evans, Derel Walker and Travis Labhart, Manziel had a plethora of weapons at his disposal last fall. Now, Evans is with the Tampa Bay Bucs, Walker is with the Tennessee Titans and Labhart is with the Houston Texans, leaving a lot of pressure on Malcome Kennedy. The junior caught 60 passes for 658 yards and seven touchdowns last season and should be primed for a big fall, but he was able to blend into the fold in 2013. Kennedy won't have that luxury this season, and it'll be interesting to see how he adjusts.
Week before: None
Next week: Eastern Carolina
On the horizon: Georgia
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