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Three ways the Aggies have changed SEC football

Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel carves up Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, a signature moment for the SEC.
Published Jul. 1, 2017

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was in Texas after the 2012 season when he saw a giant photo in the Dallas Morning News.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was tiptoeing down the sideline in the Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma players from the Aggies' former conference were chasing but couldn't catch the Heisman Trophy winner.

And there, in maroon and white on the top left of his jersey, was a giant patch with three letters.

S-E-C.

"Of any moments that cemented in my mind that we all made the right decision," Sankey said, "it was that moment."

Today marks the fifth anniversary of A&M and Missouri formally joining the SEC, and their new league has experienced plenty of other moments that reaffirmed the decision to expand to 14 teams by plucking both schools from the Big 12.

The Aggies haven't yet won a division title, as the Tigers have (twice), but A&M has made three lasting imprints on its new home since its SEC debut against Florida in 2012:

Visibility

Not that the SEC needed it, but A&M's initial success — an 11-2 record and No. 5 national ranking — helped grow the brand even more.

"They really burst on the scene," said Chris Doering, an SEC Network analyst and all-conference receiver for the Gators in the '90s.

Manziel's Heisman was the SEC's fourth in six years, all by different schools. His Aggies are one of only six teams to beat mighty Alabama since 2012.

A&M hasn't continued that success, but it did produce this year's No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, defensive end Myles Garrett — another boost to the league's image, especially in his home state, Texas.

"They have offered an awful lot to our league in visibility in the state of Texas," South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said.

And that leads to …

Recruiting

By adding the Aggies, the SEC expanded into a talent-rich state with the nation's second-largest population. Trips to play in College Station have become selling points to recruits and their families. Prospects can easily watch league games on the SEC Network, which helps increase awareness of the conference and its teams.

"That area is seeing day in and day out what the Southeastern Conference is," Florida coach Jim McElwain said. "Now you're seeing Texas guys on everybody's roster more and more and more, and that's because of that recognition with A&M being in."

The year before the Aggies and Mizzou joined, the SEC's 12 teams had 48 players from Texas. Last season, they had 74.

SEC teams aren't just adding more Lone Star State recruits. They're adding some of the state's best talents.

Four teams could start quarterbacks with Texas ties in the fall: Mississippi (Shea Patterson), Alabama (Jalen Hurts), Auburn (Jarrett Stidham) and A&M (Kellen Mond). Two Texans — receiver Tyrie Cleveland and linebacker Kylan Johnson — could play key roles for the Gators when the Aggies make their first SEC visit to Gainesville on Oct. 14. Ole Miss poached the state's top 2016 recruit, offensive tackle Greg Little.

While A&M's move has been great for its new league, its old one has suffered the consequences.

"It's ruined the Big 12," said Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals. "Recruiting in the state of Texas has become much more wide open. Now for the SEC, it's also allowed some of those schools to come in and land some guys."

From 2007-11, the Big 12 landed 74 percent of Texas' blue-chip recruits (excluding the ones who signed with A&M). But over the past five classes, the Big 12's share has fallen to 55 percent.

The SEC, meanwhile, has signed 34 blue-chip recruits from Texas over the past five years. That's 14 more than the five years before realignment.

Offensive style

Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin sums up the evolution in one word: open.

"I think if you watched the SEC championship game last year, you saw both teams do a lot more one-back and empty (formations) than maybe you saw five years ago," Sumlin said. "I know that."

The A&M-influenced philosophical shift away from power runs and pro-style passers can be hard to quantify, but it shows up in passing and quarterback rushes.

In 2011, only three SEC teams (Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia) threw the ball more than 29 times a game. Last season, 10 teams did.

That list doesn't include Alabama, but even coach Nick Saban has opened up his offense since Manziel passed for 717 yards and rushed for 190 in two games against the Crimson Tide.

Hurts won the SEC's offensive player of the year award by putting up 3,700 total yards as a true freshman. He was one of four SEC quarterbacks who rushed for more than 600 yards last season.

The year before the Aggies joined and Manziel sliced up the SEC? None did.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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