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5 years ago this week, Florida-Texas A&M was SEC debut to remember – for both

Florida-Texas A&M Manziel
COURTESY OF FLORIDA ATHLETICS

Texas A&M’s first game as a SEC member came five years ago this week – against Florida on September 8, 2012, in College Station, Texas.

The story arc of that game at Kyle Field was straightforward. The Aggies’ offense was full of flash and surprises in the first 30 minutes and raced to a 17-10 halftime lead. But the Gators’ defense clamped down in the second half, and Florida escaped with a 20-17 victory.

The dust settled, and the teams went about the rest of their 2012 campaigns.

But looking back with five years of hindsight, some incredible things turned out to be on display.

The season was the best of the decade for both teams

Despite the low expectations for each at kickoff – Florida was ranked 24th, Texas A&M unraked – 2012 would be quite a ride.

Both schools finished 11-2; Texas A&M closed the season ranked No. 5 while Florida was No. 9 – a reminder that the college football season is never about how you start but how you finish. (And toward the end of this article, we’ll tell you what other coach got beaten down by the Gators but ended the season with a higher ranking. Hint: He’s famous for wearing a visor.)

RELATED: Week 1 SEC Power Rankings

A Cotton Bowl romp by the Aggies (41-13 over Oklahoma) and a Sugar Bowl flop by the Gators (a 33-23-but-the-game-wasn’t-that-close blowout to Louisville) meant A&M would have bragging rights over Florida in the final poll despite the head-to-head victory in Week 2.

It was the Aggies’ first 11-win season since 1998, under R.C. Slocum. And while 11 wins might have sounded like a letdown at the time to Gators fans who had seen their team win two national titles in the previous seven seasons, it’s still the most wins this decade.

Florida went 7-1 in SEC play, but a loss to Georgia left the Gators in second place in the East. Texas A&M went 6-2 in the conference, good enough for a tie for second place (and a de facto third-place finish because of a head-to-head loss to LSU) in the West.

While neither team proved good enough – or lucky enough – to make it to Atlanta, by no means were these teams afterthoughts in the national picture in November.

There was a hefty degree of talent on the field

The starting lineups featured a wealth of players who would be selected in the NFL Draft – 22 starters in all were drafted.

Florida had 13 eventual draftees, including three defenders who went in the first round (safety Matt Elam and defensive linemen Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley). Nine Aggies would be drafted, including five offensive players who went in Round 1 (wide receiver Mike Evans, linemen Jake Matthews, Cedric Ogbuehi and Luke Joeckel and quarterback Johnny Manziel).

A legend before we knew it

Can you believe that when this game started, no one had heard the phrase “Johnny Football”?

The game long had been planned as TAMU’s introduction as an SEC expansion team, but not as its first game of the 2012 season.

RELATED: More misery for Kevin Sumlin: Texas A&M may have lost 2 starters for season

The A&M campaign was supposed to start a week earlier, against Louisiana Tech. But for safety considerations, the approach of Hurricane Isaac forced that game to be postponed until their mutual bye week on October 13. (Another bizarre historical note: The 2012 Gators quarterback ended up playing for the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs come 2015.)

The Texas A&M career of Ryan Tannehill had ended in 2011, so everyone knew the Aggies would be breaking in a new quarterback. The hope was the 2012 season would start with a no-pressure test run of whoever ended up being the new guy. This became especially important once it was decided the new guy would be the first freshman to start a season-opener since 1944.

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