Even Kevin Sumlin knows this is a make-or-break season for him at Texas A&M. The talent is certainly there to win big, and as he told ESPN’s Travis Haney, “You’d think it would start to pay off this year.”
If it does, watch out, because the issue all along hasn’t been whether the Aggies are good enough, it’s whether they will play well enough.
That’s splitting hairs, of course, but when you begin to combine talent (four straight top-15 recruiting classes) with experience (Kyle Allen, Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones and Myles Garrett will be sophomores) and better coaching (hello, new defensive coordinator John Chavis), you have the right recipe for improvement.
Besides, just how much growth is needed for A&M to reach a New Year’s Six bowl anyway? Despite its perception as a “promising” program, it has produced, too, averaging 9.3 wins per season since 2012. Inching forward into the double-digit win territory would likely be enough to make it to one of the top six bowls.
With the most productive offense in the SEC the past three seasons (517.4 yards per game), the only thing left to do is discover what defense is and how to play it. After all, over that same period A&M had the league’s worst defense to overcome (438.9 yards per game).
Enter Chavis, whose résumé all but guarantees better numbers. During his six seasons as LSU’s defensive coordinator, the Tigers had the fifth-best defense in the country, allowing an average of 309.6 yards per game.
The defensive talent in College Station and Baton Rouge isn’t the same, granted, but they’re not miles apart necessarily. Just look at Garrett, who is already one of the league’s premiere pass-rushers. If he can get some help from five-star freshman defensive tackle Daylon Mack and No. 11-ranked defensive end James Lockhart, you could see a ripple effect on defense from the trenches back to the secondary.
Any improvement on defense, however slight, would be a welcome sight for Sumlin.
If that happens and the talent at A&M finally starts paying off on both sides of the ball, look for the Aggies to make their presence known.
What could go wrong
Texas A&M’s defense has been bad of late. Horrifically bad, in fact. So bad you might wonder whether there’s a culture of bad defense in College Station.
If that’s the case, Chavis has his work cut out for him. Because even though there is talent there to work with, he might spend his entire first year there trying to break bad habits.
It’s the thing every Texas A&M fan must hate to hear, but it could be true yet again: The Aggies might be a year away.
When you’re the 101st-ranked defense in the nation since 2012, you have a long ways to go and not a long time to get there.
And besides, even if the defense does improve, we don’t know who Sumlin will start at QB. It might be Allen, who went 2-2 as a starter after Kenny Hill was suspended. Or maybe it’s blue-chip freshman Kyler Murray, who could wind up bypassing A&M altogether if a professional baseball team throws enough money at him.
Noil is a spectacular talent and it feels like it’s only a matter of time before Seals-Jones emerges, but with a question mark at QB, an offensive line replacing two senior starters and veteran tight end Cameron Clear off to the NFL, spring practice could be very interesting.
Everything could very well come together in 2015, but there are a lot of dominos that must fall before A&M is considered a New Year’s Six team just yet.