Although many believe otherwise, the Big 12 has been one of the best conferences in college football since it came into existence back in the 1996 season. Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will take a back seat to no one.
But, there's little argument that the style of play in the Big 12 has leaned more toward that of the offensive variety. Outside of the Texas Longhorns, there hasn't been a team playing top notch defense consistently over the past five years at a minimum.
I only bring up the Big 12 because Texas A&M is about to encounter a style of play that it's unaccustomed to seeing on a weekly basis. Texas A&M's offensive line had little trouble moving defenders in the Big 12, but now moving into the SEC, the quality and explosiveness of defensive front threes/fours will be exponentially different.
Most people think speed in the SEC and that could be the biggest problem for the Luke Joeckel/Jake Matthews-led Aggie offensive line in this conference, but Florida's defensive line is a mish mash of bigger, more powerful players. Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Omar Hunter all top the scales at 280+. In fact, the Gators smallest defensive lineman on the two deep is Easley at 280, but he's arguably the Gators' most disruptive player when he's fully healthy.
It's not the speed off the edge that could disrupt the Aggie offensive blocking schemes this week, it's the power and explosiveness these Gators possess up front. The Aggies must be able to get the running game rolling, whether that's with QB or any of a handful of running backs in the Aggie's stable. Easley, Floyd et. al will not allow that to happen easily and it might take the Aggies offensive linemen a quarter or even a half to adjust to the difference in Big 12 linemen, which the Aggies are going to face each and every week. The quicker they adjust, the more success the Ags will have against Florida.
Let's get on the same page before we go any further…it's pronounced Chris-tin, not Chris-TINE. If there's something people in this area of the country do know, it's that Christine Michael may spell his name like a woman, but he runs like a man. But, Aggie fans need to have him on the field for Texas A&M to have success. No Aggie may be more important in 2012 than Michael, as he's the type of back who can not only absorb the punishment, but dish it out to SEC defenses.
What makes Michael that much more important in a game of this magnitude is that he's a load to tackle. Typically in week two, the tackling suffers for some reason worse than in week one and if the Gators defense doesn't wrap up on contact, Michael could pile up big yards after first contact.
The Aggies have a number of different weapons in the arsenal that will play a role in this and nearly every other game in this inaugural season in the SEC, but in this matchup, Michael is the answer. The Aggies will spread Florida sideline to sideline with four wides more than the Aggies did under Mike Sherman, which makes Michael an even more dangerous threat because of his quicks in space and his power to run through arm tackles.
A lot has been made of the Aggies use of a redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel who only won the starting job a week before what was supposed to be the opening game of the season. Suffice to say, he'll not only be playing his first SEC game, he'll be starting his first college game period.
Well, his opposite number Florida QB Jeff Driskel doesn't have all that much more playing experience, starting for the first time in his career, on the road, in a raucous environment in College Station. As a Florida QB with dual threat skills, the immediate comparison is going to be to Tim Tebow, but Driskel is a more accomplished thrower than Tebow. Or, better put, he looks more like a traditional throwing quarterback than Tebow.
But what Tebow had were targets -- lots of them. He had Percy Harvin and Aaron Hernandez, among others, to open things up for him and Urban Meyer's game plan to execute. Tebow had no chance to NOT succeed. Driskel, however, has RB Mike Gillislee, who was stellar in the opener against Bowling Green, but questions remain whether he's got the perimeter receiving options to excel throwing the football in new offensive coordinator Brent Pease's scheme.
Regardless, Driskel is not set up for failure in his first start of his career, even though it's on the road. The Aggies defensive front is young and the secondary is talented but with holes, so Driskel can have success both on the ground and through the air which could spell the difference in this year's Florida offensive output.
I said this earlier this week on my national radio show, and I believe it to be true the closer we get to the game: It's not going to be the prettiest game of the season. I smell desperation. Both teams have so much to prove -- the Aggies playing game one of the season and game one as a member of the SEC, while Florida is out to prove it's not a 7-5 team and that it can beat an adequate football team on the road in a hostile environment.
When the game reeks of desperation, it becomes a bare knuckled brawl that is sloppy, ugly and often times turnover prone. I've been a Manziel fan since his days at Kerrville Tivy HS and think that he'll eventually be a more polished Bucky Richardson type of QB. However, his mentality playing the position could hurt him against an athletic Gators defense. Florida will turn A&M over a handful of times, creating short field scoring opportunities for Driskel and the Gators. That will be the difference.