Aggies Up, Longhorns Down?
UT may still have the better team, but Texas A&M is doing better than expected in the SEC.
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This SEC thing’s going pretty good, huh?
Texas A&M didn’t just win its second Southeast Conference game–a 30-27 comeback on the road against the University of Mississippi–but it also got a better loss in retrospect, as its season-opening opponent, Florida, took down fourth-ranked LSU.
Ranked just twenty-fourth at the time of their September 8 visit to Kyle Field, the Gators are now themselves fourth in the Associated Press poll, where the 4-1 Aggies also made their season debut at number 22.
Looking at the schedule, A&M now has a legitimate chance to go 8-4 or even 9-3, with LSU and Alabama looming as the toughest games. And even a worst-case 6-6 would disprove those who said the school was guaranteed to do worse in the SEC than it had done in the Big 12 (faint praise though that may be).
Much of the credit—certainly for the offense, and the performance of quarterback Johnny Manziel, the three-time SEC “rookie of the week”—has to go to head coach Kevin Sumlin, who not only brought the fireworks from his old University of Houston attack, but is also just a bit more fun than A&M’s last coach, the older, NFL-pedigreed and yes, whiter, Mike Sherman. Here’s video of Sumlin and the team after the win on Saturday:
Next up for the Aggies is Louisiana Tech, an unexpectedly important contest. The game was originally scheduled to be played on August 30, when it was seen as a mere warm-up for Florida. Instead, Louisiana Tech is now a 5-0 Western Athletic Conference contender.
“So much for the remnants of Hurricane Isaac killing the hype and importance of the Tech-A&M matchup,” wrote Roy Lang of the Shreveport Times. “The six-week wait produced a once-in-a-generation opportunity for this community.”
As Lang explained, the game marks the first time Shreveport has seen two ranked teams play each other in almost two decades, including all its years hosting a bowl game (the Aggies snowstorm game against Mississippi State in the 2000’s Independence Bowl remains a minor classic).
Ironically, in September, the Austin American-Statesman‘s Kirk Bohls ripped Sumlin for deciding that suspended players Steven Jenkins and Howard Matthews would face Florida, then sit out the Louisiana Tech game that they were originally suspended (and missed practice) for some six weeks down the road.
Bohls was right, but it turns out Jenkins and Matthews will now miss an even bigger game. The Bulldogs are ranked number 23 in the AP poll, one behind the Aggies, and one spot higher than Florida was when A&M played them.
Meanwhile, as an Associated Press story noted, the Big 12 is looking good, with two teams in the Top 10.
Only problem is, the University of Texas isn’t one of them. And neither is the University of Oklahoma.
As David Ubben of ESPN wrote, UT’s loss last week to West Virginia, coupled with OU’s earlier defeat at the hands of Kansas State, means this is the first year since 1999 that the Red River Rivalry hasn’t featured at least one Top 10 team.
As Ubben wrote:
It has all the corn dogs you can eat, and then some. It’s got the atmosphere and the Ferris wheel.
Ever since 2008, though? It hasn’t had the Big 12’s two best teams going head to head. It’s the Big 12’s best rivalry in name only, and certainly not its best game of 2012. And it hasn’t been for awhile now…
Texas and Oklahoma have already suffered home losses to teams that were, quite simply, better. Kansas State and West Virginia both pulled narrow escapes in Norman and Austin, respectively. The Big 12 title race runs through Morgantown this year, not Dallas, the host of the Red River Rivalry and the home of the league offices.
The real Big 12 title game? It just might be next week in Morgantown when Kansas State makes its maiden Big 12 voyage to West Virginia.
This being college football, you just never know, however. If UT beats Oklahoma and Kansas State beats West Virgina, for example, the West Virginia could take another loss along the way, making UT’s December 1 finale against Kansas State one for all the marbles.
But again, you never know. The Horns could also lose to Baylor before then.
Another possibility? West Virginia and Kansas State both get to the BCS, which is what ESPN is currently predicting, an outcome that would put the winner of the UT-Oklahoma game in the Cotton Bowl against . . . wait for it . . . an SEC team.
ESPN currently has LSU in that spot, with Florida and Georgia (along with presumed BCS picks Alabama and South Carolina) also higher in the pecking order than the Aggies. Yep, you just never know.