1. Are you surprised by how well Texas A&M did in its first SEC season?
I would say that surprised is an understatement. I thought the team was a 7-5 squad, at best. I also thought Jameill Showers would be the starting quarterback for the opener and that the defense would get trounced with regularity. So, in a nutshell, I was wrong on just about everything. The fanbase went into 2012 with some definite tempered expectations. They seemed to like the hire of Kevin Sumlin, however, they understood that competing in the SEC was a process. Just the surprise, in and of itself, has made it such a special season. That, coupled with the Heisman, the ‘Bama win and the Cotton Bowl has taken it to another level entirely.
2. Everyone can see the impact Johnny Manziel had on the Aggies, but what — if anything — else changed in Kevin Sumlin’s first year as coach that allowed A&M to make this leap?
The first thing that had to change was the mindset of the program as a whole. Under Mike Sherman — and Dennis Franchione for that matter — A&M was weak-minded, lacking in confidence. It really put a low ceiling on the program. But Sumlin came in, in year one, and completely overhauled things. The Aggies realized in week one that they were, in fact, a good football team. And they played with that sort of confidence every time they stepped on the field, believing they could beat anybody in the nation — see the ‘Bama game.
3. When did you start to sense that Manziel was this kind of impact player?
For me, it was during the 58-10 trouncing of Arkansas. Sure, Manziel had put up solid numbers in the first three games, but to watch a freshman demoralize an SEC team like he did that day was beyond impressive. It wasn’t just that he broke Archie Manning’s record for total offense, it was the way in which he did it. It was almost like he was playing a video game. He was at a different speed, just toying with the Arkansas defenders.
4. What is the pulse of Texas A&M regarding this Cotton Bowl matchup? Are folks down there excited to face Oklahoma again?
I think a good majority of the fans had their sights set on the Capital One Bowl, hoping to cap off the season with a new experience. However, I do believe they’re excited for the matchup, itself. Aside from the BCS National Championship, this is the best game on the docket, in my opinion. There are just so many storylines involved and both teams can put points up in a hurry. Those who haven’t warmed up to the matchup yet, assuredly will once the ball is kicked off on Jan. 4.
5. Texas A&M has always been known for its great fans, but did you sense any added enthusiasm this season because of the conference change?
It’s unlike anything I’ve seen since I got to College Station, five years ago as a student. The anticipation of that Florida game was insane. And that kind of unbridled enthusiasm continued every week, reaching a fever pitch — as you can imagine — when the Aggies shocked the world in Tuscaloosa. There were thousands of fans that got together last week just to welcome Manziel and the Heisman Trophy, home. It truly is football fever, down here.