Now we know: Texas A&M is the fifth-best team in the country. And the third-best team in the SEC.
Or rather, that’s what both the polls say. Personally, I’d put them at least third nationally (fourth if you include Ohio State). Finishing 11-2 with a win over Alabama is obviously more impressive than Notre Dame’s 12-1 finish given last night’s BCS game, and so was beating Oklahoma compared to Georgia’s bowl win. The case for #2 is also pretty strong. (Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, to name just one voter, chose A&M over Oregon for that spot.)
But either way, it’s a far cry from the pre-season, when the Aggies were 30th in the coach’s poll, and unranked by the AP.
Which only makes you ask: what did the coaches know?! Because anybody (including many Aggies) who says they expected Texas A&M’s first season in the Southeastern Conference to go so well, or even end with eight-nine wins, is probably lying.
This tweet from Sports Illustrated‘s Pete Thamel before the school announced its exit from the Big 12 was, at the time, totally fair.
Entire college landscape could shift thanks to a program that hasn’t won a league title since 1998 and has one bowl win since 1995. #Gigem
— Pete Thamel(@SIPeteThamel) August 12, 2011
Instead, we saw A&M’s first 11-win season since 1998, its first undefeated road season since 1939, and its second straight bowl victory since Thamel wrote that tweet.
Oh yeah, and quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, and the Aggies were the only team to beat up on eventual national champion Alabama . . . in Alabama. That’s why you can say they should be #2–or look at those final rankings and realize that the four-team college football playoff slated to begin in 2014 still won’t be enough.
In any case, while most sportwriters have already made their mea culpas, hindsight’s still hilarious! Here’s some of the things people originally said about the Aggies in the SEC, both at the time the realignment happened, and prior to the 2012 season.
TO BE FAIR, NO ONE KNEW HOW DREADFUL ARKANSAS AND AUBURN WOULD BE
Athlon slotted the Aggies at 5th place in the SEC West, behind LSU, Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn.
Texas A&M has the resources necessary to eventually compete in the SEC West. Could this move help the Aggies on the recruiting trail versus Texas? Only time will tell, but for 2012, Texas A&M has a lot of work to do in order to reach the postseason.
The Aggies run the risk of getting their heads bashed in for the next few falls. A&M; hasn’t exactly blazed a football trail in the Big 12—with 12 straight seasons of fewer than 10 wins and a five-game bowl losing streak. (And remember: Three of those five bowl losses have come to SEC teams, by an average score of 41-17.). . .
Why leave now? Mike Sherman’s just starting to get a solid foothold in this conference.
NO. THOUGH THEY ALSO DID IT FOR EIGHTH-PLACE MISSOURI.
It hardly seems worth diluting the best on-field product in college football today for a few extra millions, which is exactly what the SEC would be doing in welcoming A&M, a program that last won a national title in 1939 (five different SEC schools have won one just in the BCS era) and has rarely even contended for a Big 12 title (winning its sole crown 13 years ago). Since the Big 12 began in 1996, the Aggies have won 106 games, which would tie them for seventh-best in the SEC over the same time period. Would the SEC reconfigure for a seventh-place team?
So Texas beat the Aggies to the punch with an ESPN partnership and the Aggies’ feelings are so hurt they will make a move that could be a worse financial deal and will be a more difficult academic situation for athletes?
Need I even get into it being much tougher for them to win conference and national championships in the SEC?
THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN BASEBALL WRITERS MAKE PREDICTIONS
It’s not in A&M’s best interests to leave. Suddenly, A&M’s road to a BCS bowl got much tougher. A&M had just pulled even with Texas in the Big 12. Now it may fall into second-tier status in the SEC.
(In truth, Justice’s subsequent coverage before he left the Chronicle for MLB.com–and on Twitter since–was almost shamelessly, sarcastically, pro-Aggies.)
THE DIFFERENCE IS, ARKANSAS IS IN ARKANSAS
Be careful what you wish for. It could happen.
Before the Aggies surrender the opportunity to be Big 12 title contenders in football on a regular basis, regents need to weigh the danger of becoming SEC cannon fodder. That’s what happened to Arkansas, another former Southwest Conference member still seeking its first SEC football title in its 20th year in its new league.
HE WROTE IT TWICE, WE QUOTE IT TWICE
Here in the friendly confines of the Big 12, you can put together a nice nine- or 10-win season and no one’s the wiser.
Go to the SEC, like you considered last summer, and disasters like Friday’s 41-24 walloping by LSU in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic could become an all-too-frequent occurrence.
Better to keep building on what Mike Sherman accomplished this season, starting with his new defensive coordinator, Tim DeRuyter, who did an exemplary job. But there’s obviously still work to do.
In a move as seismic as this one, it’s nervy, at best [for A&M president R. Bowen Loftin] to take on so much at once. Maybe A&M football will flourish in the SEC. Maybe Eric Hyman will prove to be a better AD than Bill Byrne. Maybe Kevin Sumlin is a better head coach than Mike Sherman. Maybe Loftin can get Kyle Field remodeled before the place comes down around his ears. Maybe he goes 4-for-4.
Chances are pretty good he won’t. In fact, I’d bet on it.
TECHNICALLY, THIS PREDICTION WASN’T WRONG
The fact is, Kingsbury’s offense is pass-first, pass-second and pass-third. In three of his four seasons on the Houston staff, the Cougars finished in the lower half of FBS in rushing offense, and the only time they didn’t was in Kingsbury’s first season in 2008 when he was a quality control coach. They chimed in at No. 47 that season.
For the spread to work in the SEC, it needs to be a run-first spread. Florida finished No. 38 in rushing offense in 2006, and then followed it up with the nation’s No. 11 rushing offense in 2008. In 2010, behind Cam Newton and Michael Dyer, Auburn hoisted the crystal football thanks to the nation’s sixth-ranked rushing offense.
You have to run the football in the SEC – no matter what your system is. Kingsbury better realize this before toe meets leather this fall, otherwise it’ll be a long season in College Station.
(A&M finished with the 11th-best rushing offense in the country.)
I was dead wrong about Manziel’s scrambling abilities against the SEC. . . . One of the joys of sport is the unscripted drama of it all (once heard it described as much), and this underdog team has been a lot of fun to cover this season. Winning tends to create that. So, I’m glad to have been wrong on a couple of fronts regarding the 2012 Aggies. And, for the record, I thought 7-5 was a bit optimistic.
WHAT TIME IS THAT SHADOW ON THE LONGHORN NETWORK AGAIN?
I know A&M types want to talk about how a possible move to the SEC is all about playing in a more prestigious conference or making more money or escaping a crumbling conference, but the truth of the matter is, they want out of the Longhorns’ shadow. They’ve been trying to escape for decades. They’re fed up. They’ve decided to do something about it.
(I’ve got bad news for the Aggies—even if you go to the SEC, you’re still going to be in the Longhorns’ shadow.)