ATLANTA — It’s time for Texas A&M to be what we think it should be.
The Aggies will be selected second in the Southeastern Conference West behind Alabama when the SEC Football Media Days poll is released on Friday. This will be the third time A&M is expected to finish second in its division since joining the league. Aggie fans are hoping Three finally gets lucky, because those weren’t the other two times A&M finished three games behind champion West Alabama in 2013 and again in 2021.
The optimism for A&M to be as good as advertised or even better is not because A&M is older and wiser. The Aggies have a mix of talented young and older players with a strong emphasis on the “talented” part.
“We’ve been in a better position for the future of the organization since I’ve been here from afar,” A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said Thursday at SEC Media Days.
People also read…
Four consecutive top-10 recruiting classes have convinced A&M that he can replace 12 starters and move forward, not backward this season.
“We have a lot of young people in this football team with only 11 seniors, but it’s a very talented group of guys, which makes it exciting,” Fisher said.
A&M has the talent and the depth to handle the grind of an unforgiving SEC schedule, which was not the case last year. The Aggies were good enough to beat defending and top-ranked national champion Alabama, ending an eight-game losing streak against the league’s gold standard. But A&M lost to four teams beaten by the Crimson Tide.
“We won eight games. This is not enough for us. We knew that,” Fisher said.
Depth was an issue a year ago, as A&M lost about a quarter of its planned starting lineup heading into fall camp.
“At the same time, it will benefit you this year,” Fisher said, adding that A&M probably should have won two or three of those lost games last season.
Make a tiebreak in every loss to Mississippi State (26-22), Ole Miss (29-19) and LSU (27-24) and 2021 would have been a breakthrough season, not a disappointment.
“Were [then] sitting there at 10, 11 wins,” Fisher said. “But it’s this league every year. You must learn to finish.
This also describes recent A&M history.
The sky was the limit after A&M ended 2012 with six straight wins, capped by a 41-13 crush of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, this team was as good as any team in the country at the end of the season.
The following season, A&M was picked second in the SEC West but finished fourth at 4-4, three games behind Auburn and Alabama, who shared the title. The defenseless 2013 squad were lucky to finish 9-4, needing all the magic of Manziel to rally from a 21-point deficit for a 52-48 victory over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to avoid a three-game season ending. losing streak.
That didn’t stop the decline as the program stalled for four more years under former head coach Kevin Sumlin. Expectations changed when the Aggies signed Fisher, who from day one has talked about winning championships.
Fisher went 9-4 in his first season, finishing in a tie for second place making the most of the talent Sumlin left behind. Fisher followed that with another feared 8-5 season, then bounced back with a strong 9-1 season in the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.
A&M rebounded in 2020 from a 52-24 loss to Alabama with seven straight wins to end the regular season, but the Aggies didn’t get much national respect because only one of those seven wins came against a ranked team. Notre Dame defeated A&M for the final berth in the College Football Playoffs. The Aggies settled for beating a depleted 14th-place North Carolina that lacked three key players who pulled out of the Orange Bowl, which drew just 13,737 fans due to the pandemic. A&M thought it deserved another shot against eventual national champion Alabama, but most outside of Aggieland weren’t surprised Notre Dame got the nod.
Many believed that last year would be A&M’s time to shine and at least make it into the top 10 in a row. The Aggies had 15 returning starters, including nine on defense, as well as the punter and kicker. A&M also had a favorable schedule, playing Auburn and Alabama at home. But back-to-back losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State derailed a potential top-five game in early October with the Crimson Tide. A&M pulled off the 41-38 upset of Alabama, much like 99% of Aggie fans thought it would happen in July. It brought the season back to life, but November losses to Ole Miss and LSU put a fork in it for good.
“This game doesn’t really matter, really,” A&M senior defensive back Demani Richardson said of the win over Alabama. “We beat a good team, but without beating the other teams, this win doesn’t matter.”
No one knows better than Aggie players themselves that to win the biggest prizes, they must find ways to complete games and seasons.
“I think we have to focus on the little things,” A&M junior offensive guard Layden Robinson said. “Anything people can think of is minor, it means something in the season. The attitude, going to class, stuff like that, the important things, representing your family well… those little things matter for the season, how you behave.
Robinson and Richardson were supposed to be joined at SEC Media Days by wide receiver/lead kicker Ainias Smith, who was suspended indefinitely on Wednesday after being arrested for three misdemeanors. Smith is innocent until proven guilty and the school is gathering information on his arrest, but having a crew chief just able to get arrested isn’t much of a start to the 2022 season.
If you were to rate A&M’s 85 scholarship players for possible arrest, Smith would be No. 85 or No. 86. By all accounts, he’s a good boy. Maybe he is innocent or will learn from the incident along with the rest of the team. A&M was the only SEC team not to bring three of its executives to an event created to publicize what’s going well with the program. It was the worst possible time for Smith’s arrest.
Aggie fans are hoping this isn’t a sign of things to come.
Robert Cessna’s email address is [email protected]