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         === Rice visits No. 7 Texas A&M to kick off 2013 campaign ===
 College Station, TX (Sports Network) - The seventh-ranked Texas A&M Aggies are
 anxious to put the recent controversy surrounding their Heisman Trophy-winning
 quarterback behind them and finally shift their focus to the field, as they
 open the 2013 season with a matchup against the Rice Owls in a Lone Star State
 showdown at Kyle Field.
 Although Rice began last season as an afterthought in Conference USA, opening
 up at 2-6, it finished the year on a high note, ripping off four straight wins
 to close out the regular season to gain bowl eligibility for the first time
 since 2008. It saved one of its best performances for the Armed Forces Bowl,
 where it made easy work of Air Force, 33-14, making head coach David Balliff
 2-0 in bowl games since taking over the head coaching duties in 2007.
 The 2012 season was Texas A&M's first as a member of the SEC, and its
 inaugural campaign in the nation's most difficult conference managed to exceed
 even the most ambitious expectations. Under first-year head coach Kevin
 Sumlin, the squad went 10-2 in the regular season and won six conference
 matchups, with the highlight coming in a Nov. 10 road win over eventual-
 national champion Alabama, 29-24. Its regular season efforts allowed it to
 earn a bid to the Cotton Bowl, where it dismantled former Big 12 rival and
 12th-ranked Oklahoma, 41-13.
 The Aggies' No. 7 placement in the preseason Top-25 is their highest since
 1999, and Sumlin is excited for his team's prospects moving forward.
 "It's a great time to be at Texas A&M," Sumlin said. "People ask me all the
 time what about expectations. There's a lot of expectations on our program.
 For us, that's a good thing. I think you want to be a part of a situation
 where you have some relevancy in your own league. We work very, very hard at
 that. The excitement level is really, really high."
 With regard to the all-time series, Texas A&M holds a 50-27-3 advantage over
 Rice. The Aggies have won 15 straight matchups, but the programs have not
 faced each other since 1995.
 Offensively, Rice was highly effective a season ago, ranking fourth in C-USA
 both in terms of scoring (31.8 ppg) and yardage (421.1 ypg), and with the
 return of nine starters on that side of the ball, a repeat performance is
 While perhaps not as explosive as his counterpart on Saturday, senior signal-
 caller Taylor McHargue is nonetheless one of the nation's top dual-threat
 quarterbacks, fresh off a season where he threw for 2,209 yards, ran for 667
 yards and accounted for 23 total touchdowns. He was also efficient with the
 ball, completing nearly 60 percent of his passes while throwing just five
 interceptions, but he missed time with injuries and is cognizant that he needs
 to adjust his reckless style of play.
 "I know I take unnecessary hits and I'm going to try and cut down on that this
 season," McHargue said. "Running the ball is part of our position at Rice. I'm
 going to try and change my style."
 Running back Charles Ross is a strong complement to McHargue, gaining 800
 yards a season ago on an impressive 5.4 yards per carry. Turner Peterson (607
 rushing yards, 166 receiving yards, six TDs) will also be heavily involved.
 Jordan Taylor (57 rec, 826 yards) is the top option in the passing game.
 Despite his productive campaign, he was actually held out of the end zone all
 season until his breakout game in the Armed Forces Bowl, logging nine
 receptions for 153 yards and three scores.
 The Owls ranked in the middle of the pack defensively in C-USA, allowing 31.3
 ppg, and their total defense (444.0 ypg) placed them in the bottom-third. The
 good news for the unit is that the return of 10 starters almost guarantees a
 better showing in 2013.
 The squad has the luxury of having the conference's Preseason Defensive Player
 of the Year in shutdown corner Phillip Gaines, but he will sit out this
 contest for having violated a team rule. The Owls will also be without
 linebacker Cameron Nwosu, who suffered a knee injury in camp.
 Even down a few playmakers, Rice still has some talent on the defensive side
 of the ball, including Paul Porras (93 tackles, two INTs), Julius White (79
 tackles, two INTs), Cody Bauer (12 TFL, 5.5 sacks), Hosam Shahin (9.5 TFL, 5.0
 sacks) and Chris Covington (8.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks).
 With Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel running the show, the Texas A&M offense
 shined in 2012, scoring 44.5 ppg behind 558.5 ypg, both of which ranked the
 team in the top-five nationally. The Aggies showed great balance between the
 run (242.1 ypg) and pass (316.5 ypg).
 Manziel's historic freshman campaign saw him break the SEC record for most
 yards of total offense in a single season (5,116). He completed 68 percent of
 his passes for 3,706 yards with 26 touchdowns against only nine interceptions.
 He was dazzling on the ground as well, rushing for 1,410 yards (an FBS
 Freshman QB record) and 21 touchdowns.
 With the fame Manziel has gained has come a slew of bad press, including some
 controversial tweets, high-profile partying and his alleged signing of
 autographs for monetary gain. While the distractions are certainly a problem,
 Sumlin is sure that with the football season in full swing, all of Manziel's
 energy will be focused on the field.
 "I think off the field, there's no question that he's made some mistakes,"
 Sumlin said. "I think he has done some things that he's not very proud of, has
 made some poor decisions. He's made some good decisions. Unfortunately, the
 poor decisions are the ones that are really publicized."
 Manziel established a strong rapport last year with fellow freshman Mike
 Evans, who hauled in 82 balls for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns. Derel
 Walker and Sabian Holmes are slated to be the other starters at receiver, and
 they combined for only 14 receptions in 2012.
 Ben Malena returns as the team's top running back after racking up 808 yards
 and eight touchdowns a year ago, and the departure of Christine Michael (417
 yards, 12 TDs) could mean more goal line work for Malena.
 Although the offense grabbed all the headlines in 2012, the defense quietly
 played very well too, holding opponents under 22 points per game while
 recording 31 sacks and 75 TFL.
 Steven Jenkins (79 tackles, 5.5 TFL, one interception, FF) is the unit's most
 experienced playmaker, and he is expected to take over a leadership role in
 the absence of Damontre Moore and Jonathan Stewart.
 The secondary remains largely intact with Howard Matthews (58 tackles),
 Deshazor Everett (56 tackles, two picks) and Dustin Harris (49 tackles, one
 pick) all putting together productive seasons a year ago.
 Julien Obioha started 12 games at defensive end but recorded just one sack,
 and he'll need to step up his production to help make up for the loss of Moore
 (21.5 TFL, 12.5 sacks).
 08/28 11:42:18 ET

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