Life got a little easier for Johnny Manziel's replacement Thursday when Texas A&M offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi announced he's returning for his senior season.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder played a key role for A&M's record-setting offense over the last two seasons spearheaded Manziel, who announced he will enter the NFL draft Wednesday. Manziel's exit came on the heels of wide receiver Mike Evans also announcing he will enter the draft last Thursday.
Many speculated that Ogbuehi would follow the redshirt sophomores after receiving a first-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee, according to ESPN's Alex Scarborough. But Ogbuehi opted to return to anchor a revamped offensive line at left tackle.
"I am excited to return to College Station to continue my education and play another season with your coaches and teammates," Ogbuehi tweeted late Thursday morning.
As a three-year starter, Ogbuehi has helped the Aggies to a 27-12 record and the program's first run of three bowl victories in three years.
"Cedric is a terrific athlete and one of the top offensive linemen in the country, and I am excited that he has decided to come back for his senior season," A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said in a press release. "In addition to being a top football player, he is a great student and an even better person off of the field. He will be a great leader for our team."
Ogbuehi is expected to move from right tackle to replace Jake Matthews, who is rated the draft's top offensive tackle and projected by ESPN NFL draft expert Todd McShay to go to St. Louis with the second pick. McShay predicts Houston will draft Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with the top pick.
Matthews moved to the left side from right tackle for the 2013 season to replace Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick by Jacksonville last year after he left A&M a year early.
Ogbuehi, who started at right guard in 2012, moved to right tackle for 2013 and started 11 games. He missed the Vanderbilt and Texas-El Paso games with an injury.
The Aggies moved starting left guard Jarvis Harrison to left tackle, inserted junior Garrett Gramling at left guard and flipped Matthews back to the right side for the two games Ogbuehi missed. They joined redshirt freshman right guard Germain Ifedi and sophomore center Mike Matthews. Sumlin was pleased at the time with the revamped line, saying it gave the Aggies and line coach B.J. Anderson some flexibility as A&M rolled over Vanderbilt 56-24 and UTEP 57-7.
Harrison, though, has not announced if he'll return for his senior season. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Jan. 15.
Harrison has 31 career starts, the most on the team and one more than Ogbuehi. Matthews and Ifedi started every game this season.
Stability on the offense line has helped A&M make a successful transition from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference. The Aggies have allowed 53 sacks over the last three seasons, an average of only 1.3 per game. A&M, though, had a pair of first-round mobile quarterbacks during that time with Ryan Tannehill -- drafted eighth overall by Miami in 2012 -- and Manziel.
Ogbuehi's decision to return should help quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital, who assumed play-calling duties for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, as well as A&M's next quarterback. Junior Matt Joeckel, freshman Kenny Hill and incoming freshman Kyle Allen will begin spring drills looking to replace Manziel.
Ogbuehi said more than the NFL draft figured in his decision to return.
"I love playing in front of the 12th Man," he said. "I really enjoy being around my teammates, and I will be closer to earning my degree. I appreciated the information I received from the NFL and from Coach Sumlin and Coach Anderson, and I feel it is in my best interest to come back to school. My family has been very supportive, and I appreciate their love, input and guidance."
Ogbuehi is expected to be a preseason All-American for the 2014 season.
The SEC lost one of its top offensive tackles Thursday with Alabama junior Cyrus Kouandjio declaring for the draft. Kouandjio is the SEC's third underclassmen at offensive tackle to declare, joining Auburn redshirt sophomore Greg Robinson and Tennessee junior Antonio Richardson. Most draft experts have Robinson and Kouandjio projected to go in the first round along with Notre Dame senior Zack Martin and Matthews. Richardson is projected to go in the second round.
Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dixon, linebacker Adrian Hubbard and defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan also declared for the draft Thursday, as did Auburn junior running back Tre Mason and redshirt sophomore left tackle Greg Robinson.