COLLEGE STATION, Texas — In the moments after an emotional, 49-42 home loss to No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 14, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin told his team that nothing was out of the picture yet.
He reminded the Aggies about the time they went into the Crimson Tide's house, defeated them, and Alabama bounced back to win a BCS national championship. So from that point, A&M continued to hold on to its goals, moving forward.
With the Aggies' most recent loss, a 45-41 setback to Auburn on Saturday at Kyle Field, things have changed. The chance to get to Atlanta for the SEC championship game is virtually gone. The faint glimmer of hope of possibly finding a back door into the BCS title game is no more. So what's the motivation for the No. 16 Aggies (5-2, 2-2 SEC)?
"I just said that there's still a lot out there in front of us," Sumlin said. "What's important now is not what has just happened. On Monday, the way we approach it, we've got to be honest with ourselves, win or lose. At this time of year, teams go a couple different directions. We've got to get back in here Monday, be honest with ourselves, make sure that what we can fix, we're going to fix as coaches and players and move on.
"We're in the middle of the season. We've got a lot of football left. There's no telling what can happen. In this league there are a lot of close games, people that lost today, too. We've got to keep playing. We can't dwell on this. But we've also got to be able to look honestly at where we are and how we're going to approach things from here on out."
Basically, Sumlin's message is consistent with what it has been since he arrived in Aggieland and throughout his coaching career: "It's about us."
If the Aggies find a way to win out in the regular season, it would be difficult to find much fault with it. A 10-2 season in the SEC stands on its own. Sure, Texas A&M had higher hopes and bigger dreams, ones that included a championship. But should they finish strong, a BCS berth could still be in the mix, depending on how the rest of the league plays out.
"Obviously, in the SEC, anybody can win," junior receiver Malcome Kennedy said. "Any night, any place, home or away -- we're just going to come in here and work on the things we have to work on to get better as a team. We definitely don't underestimate anybody. So we'll just get better from that."
Talking about finishing strong and doing it are two different things, though. Vanderbilt is next on the docket, a team that is fresh off an upset of then-15th ranked Georgia. It's the second of a four-game home stretch that began Saturday, with UTEP and Mississippi State closing it out. Then the Aggies hit the road for their final two games, both on the road, and they'll be challenging: at LSU and at Missouri, which is the surprise team of the year and the leader of the SEC East.
Currently, the Aggies are fourth in the SEC West. It's not where they want to be. Sumlin's message is that there will be plenty of opportunities ahead.
"He told us that this loss will determine what type of team we are," sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha said. "A lot of teams, after a loss like this, go straight downhill. He just told us that we still have a lot of football to play and we've got to be ready to come back next week and work.
"I think we go up. We have to go up. That's how we have to react to something like this. This has to show us how we have to work harder so we never feel like this ever again."