Now that spring practice has officially started in the SEC, we figured we would take a page out of the Big Ten blog's book and look at the state of each SEC program, using recent performance, win-loss trends, coaching and current and future personnel as indicators.
Last week we looked at the SEC East Division teams, this week we look at the SEC West Division teams, concluding with Texas A&M today.
Up next: Texas A&M Aggies
2015 record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)
Three-year record: 25-14
Coaching situation: Kevin Sumlin enters his fifth season in Aggieland and his seat seems to be warming up. After winning 20 games in his first two seasons, the Aggies have won eight apiece the last two (after starting 5-0 each year) and are a combined 7-9 in SEC play in the last two seasons. Sumlin changed both coordinators in the last two years (he hired defensive coordinator John Chavis prior to 2015 and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone this offseason) to address on-field issues. The program's investment into the coaching staff is near the top nationally, with more than $9 million combined spent on the staff ($5 million for Sumlin and more than $4 million for the nine assistants). Fans are expecting that price tag to yield a finish higher than the middle of the SEC West, which is where the Aggies have finished the last two seasons. A step forward is needed for the Aggies in 2016, otherwise Sumlin's future could be uncertain.
Roster situation: The Aggies are in good shape talent-wise. Their offensive skill position talent should comprise one of the better groups in the SEC, the defensive line and secondary also figures to be in the SEC's top tier. There are still depth issues at some positions (mainly linebacker) and what direction the offensive line goes in terms of performance will be worth watching in 2016, but the roster is solid overall. Quarterback has been the hardest problem for the Aggies to solve since Johnny Manziel left the team for the NFL; it's been a revolving door from Kenny Hill to Kyle Allen to Kyler Murray to now either Trevor Knight or Jake Hubenak. Talent wasn't an issue; consistency and sometimes maturity was. The maturity part should be solved this fall with a senior and a junior competing for the starting job, but how good will Knight or Hubenak really be?
Recruiting situation: Overall the Aggies have turned in well-ranked classes but they're trending downward as of late. After delivering classes ranked eighth nationally in 2013 and fourth in 2014, they've dropped out of the top 10: 12th in 2015 and 20th in 2016. That eighth-ranked class in 2013, which had 32 signees and 10 ESPN 300 prospects, is full of busts. Only two of those 10 elite prospects are still with the program and only 11 total prospects in that class are still with the team (two others were junior college prospects who already finished out their eligibility). The 2014 class made up for a lot of those misses with hits like Myles Garrett, Donovan Wilson, Armani Watts, Otaro Alaka, Josh Reynolds and Avery Gennesy among others. But the last two classes' rankings fell further and further behind the SEC's elite (Alabama, LSU, etc.) and it's hard to expect to compete for SEC titles if they aren't going toe-to-toe in recruiting with the teams they're trying to catch. The Aggies need to start going back up in the rankings.
Trajectory: Stagnant. The last two seasons have played out almost identically, with 5-0 starts, 8-5 finishes and midseason quarterback changes (followed by a postseason quarterback transfer, or in 2015's case, two). The glory the Aggies found in their debut SEC season and the excitement that came with having college football's best player (Manziel) has been fleeting ever since he left. Competing in the SEC West is difficult, and nobody will dispute that, but after their first two seasons, the Aggies were hoping to build a consistent contender in the division. Instead, they've simply been a middle-of-the-pack team in the division; nothing special. Where their trajectory is headed in the long-term could largely be dictated by how 2016 goes. If it's a huge season with double-digit wins and at least a flirtation with a division title, they'll be on the way back up. If it's a year when they lose to all the teams that matter on their schedule again, there could be a regime change and they'll have to head back to the drawing board.