Thursday, November 21, 2013
Plenty at stake for Aggies in final two weeks
By Sam Khan Jr.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- With two weeks to go and two tough opponents on the road, there's still a lot left out there for Texas A&M.
The Aggies' postseason destination will hinge on the results of the next two weeks. So could Johnny Manziel's Heisman Trophy candidacy and the chances of several other individuals, such as receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews, to snag other awards.
If those things are to be attained, the Aggies have a simple task: Win.
Johnny Manziel and the Aggies have a chance at a BCS bowl berth if they can win out.
"We've got a couple big stages here for our football team," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "LSU is a prideful program with a great tradition and history. To go over there and play and to be successful there, we're going to have to play well as a team and [Manziel's] going to have to play well. And same thing the following week with Missouri, which will have implications for our league and who represents the [SEC] East. Performances by our complete team and by [Manziel] will have a lot to say about awards for everyone and where we'll be in the bowl conversation."
Two wins and who knows? The No. 12 Aggies (8-2) could find themselves sneaking into the Allstate Sugar Bowl. A loss either week certainly knocks them out of the BCS conversation. Getting to a game of that caliber would be significant for the Aggies, who haven't been to a BCS bowl since 1998.
"We've got to handle them one at a time but everybody understands where we are," Sumlin said. "We're going to have to play well against both these teams and we'll have to play well this week to go into Tiger Stadium and win."
Where the Aggies are is a good place, considering what has led up to this point. They had hopes of contending for the SEC West title and possibly getting to Atlanta, but losses to Alabama and Auburn derailed those. A struggling defense that allowed a combined 1,183 yards to those two teams made it a question if the Aggies would be able to finish how they wanted to -- by winning out.
That still remains a question, as the unit allowed 299 rushing yards to Mississippi State. The defense has shown some improvement since facing Auburn, but is still not to the level it was playing at a year ago, when the Aggies closed out the season with six straight victories.
LSU will be a test, as it is a revamped team offensively. And it's good at running the ball, an area the Aggies struggle to defend.
"They have a very big offensive line and four really good tailbacks," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "Obviously Jeremy [Hill] is the lead dog. He's a very hard runner and you see that on film. We told the kids that he will try to concuss you the best he can. He's that kind of runner. So we've got a challenge in front of us with their running game, no doubt."
At this point last season, the Aggies were all the rage, coming off the road upset of No. 1 Alabama and in the homestretch of Manziel's magical year. This year, the record is the same as it was 10 games into last fall, but having not defeated a ranked team yet this season, the dynamic is different. Part of that is last year's finish, which raised outside expectations coming into this season.
But if the Aggies can finish strong, beat two ranked teams on the road and snag some individual hardware in the process, it would be another step forward for a program trying to establish a presence long term in its new league.