Posted on June 19, 2017, by Travis Pulver
When Texas A&M announced it was going to be moving to the SEC, the college-football-loving world scoffed at the notion. The Aggies were a middle of the road team in the Big 12. How did they expect to compete in the toughest conference in the nation? The question was put to new head coach Kevin Sumlin to figure out. As luck would have it, he was able to find an answer for the first year—Johnny Manziel.
Behind the leadership and dynamic play of the previously unknown Manziel, Texas A&M beat the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide, destroyed Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, and finished as the fifth-ranked team in the nation.
Since then, Sumlin has struggled to find another player as dynamic as Manziel and has struggled just to keep quarterbacks on his roster. The last three seasons have followed the same general pattern—hot starts and ice-cold finishes resulting in an 8-5 record.
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Many teams would love to be 8-5 three years in a row. But after spending a fortune to renovate Kyle Field to make it one of the largest college football stadiums in the nation, just being ‘good’ and finishing 8-5 is not good enough for Aggie Nation.
Last year looked promising for the Aggies–for a while. They shocked the world by being named the No. 4 team by the College Football Playoff committee. But then they lost three of their last four, fell out of the top 25, and then lost to Kansas State in the Texas Bowl resulting in another 8-5 finish.
As nice as success is, it brings one problem with it—expectations. Once a head coach gets a team to play well, that becomes the new norm. That early success will result in some slack being created, but it will only last for so long. From what Texas A&M AD Scott Woodward has said, it sounds like Sumlin is all out of slack.
He must win—and win now.
“Coach knows he has to win and he has to win this year,” AD Scott Woodward said recently. “We have to do better than we’ve done in the past.”
As usual, the schedule is a soft one to open the season except for a trip to Los Angeles to start the season (with a game against UCLA). Once again, the Aggies could very well be 5-0 when they face Alabama on October 7. The only game that should be easy after that will not be until they face New Mexico on November 11—when they could very easily be 5-4.
If the season plays out that way, it may not matter if they win or lose to the Lobos. The best they can hope for is a win over the Lobos, Ole Miss, and LSU just to finish the regular season 8-4. Then they will have to beat a good team in their bowl game to avoid falling to 8-5 again.
If that happens, look for fans to be crying for the school to let him go and hire Chip Kelly.
With the possibility of Chip Kelly waiting in the wings to take over one of the nation’s larger programs, just going 9-4 may not be enough for Sumlin to save his job. He is going to lead the team to wins over the good teams.
“It doesn’t come up to objective data-reading of wins and losses. That’s not gonna be the way I look at it,” Woodward said. “It’s gonna be a lot of subjectivity brought into it. How we win, what we do, how we do it, for me to make a decision [on Sumlin’s future].”
So—how can Sumlin get it done? How can he save his job?
Vegas doesn’t think he can. Texas A&M’s win total is projected to be just seven games (-115) this season. If the Aggies only win seven games, Sumlin will be fired. But how can he avoid it? There must be a way–right?
Well—he needs another Johnny Football. Sumlin needs another player to step up, lead the team, and make the unmakeable plays. He needs someone that can get the job done when it doesn’t look like there is a chance in the world that he can.
The Aggies have some good football players on the team. But good football players will only lead a team to victory over other good football players. Sumlin needs to beat a great team or two if he is going to keep his job.
But does he have any great players?
Fans will get their first chance to find out when Texas A&M kicks off the 2017 season against UCLA on September 3.