Rivals of Texas A&M laughed off the idea that the Aggies would ever be allowed into the premier college athletic conference in the country. National media blowhards posited as to why the SEC would ever want a Texas A&M football program that had been mostly disappointing and mediocre over the past decade. The rumors being spread by the minute over that summer made the modern political news cycle seem sluggish. Reporters were constantly trying to get out in front of the storylines only to find that whatever they just published was often comically wrong and inaccurate. It was a summer of madness that nearly made Twitter shutter its doors for good.
All the meanwhile, even the rational, even-keeled Aggies (I believe there are four of us) couldn't help but dream of life in the Southeastern Conference. There was the opportunity to renew our rivalry with the crazy Cajuns to our east. We would get to go to the Grove every two years. We'd replace Ames, Manhattan, Waco, and Lubbock with Knoxville, Auburn, Gainesville, Nashville, Athens, etc.
And Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide were the reigning BCS National Champions after a resounding victory over the Texas Longhorns. Joining a division with Nick Saban and his machine was wildly exciting and, admittedly, horrifying.
Prior to the Good Bull Hunting Empire, I was a contributor at Barking Carnival, and I had discourse with the guys over at Burnt Orange Nation on occasion. In August 2011, after another hectic summer of realignment and rumors, I participated in this exchange with the incredibly smart, amicable Peter Bean, founder of Burnt Orange Nation. At the time, so much was still unknown. The takeaways from that exchange continue to be interesting in hindsight.
Why, then, make this move now? Why now, when you have a chance to keep building up the strength of your program in a weaker, temporarily beneficial Big 12? You make money, you win games, you bolster your recruiting profile, you don't compete with the SEC. And you don't sacrifice your leverage later in the realignment game. What the hell are y'all thinking? How is this in your best interests? I honestly don't get it. All it does is divorce you from Texas. That doesn't help you, and doesn't hurt us.
let's start to wind this down with a different question: what do you think will happen? Is A&M maneuvering to strengthen its present position? Or is A&M out the door the first chance it gets? If the former, I may have to reconsider my disdain for the move. If the latter, well... heaven help y'all.
The Aggies are 1-6 in their last 7 bowl games against the SEC, and 0-4 in the previous two years, losing to Arkansas (twice), LSU, and Georgia by an average score of 39-20. (Hat Tip: SAS) A move to the SEC would require an awful lot of adapting.
In any event, as a bluff to keep things interesting until the next round of realignment begins, the ruckus of the last few weeks is defensible, possibly even wise. It's hard to tell what's really going on, given how utterly insane the most vocal members of Aggieland are. It was good to chat with a thoughtful Aggie on the topic.
As for Texas, the timing of realignment's next act probably has a big influence on how we play our hand. I think you're right: independence is definitely an option, but I don't think we're locked into that as the only way this can play out for us. I think Texas would prefer to stay paired with Oklahoma for the time being (perhaps ideally in the Super Pac 16), and the one scenario that's a little bit frightening for Texas is A&M and OU bolting for the SEC together on a shortened timetable. That forces us to make a decision before I think we'd ideally like to do so.
Less than two weeks after the exchange, Texas A&M University applied for membership in the Southeastern Conference.
Texas A&M was granted unanimous approval from the 12 university members' presidents and scheduled to join the league in July 2012.
In predictable fashion, the same people who said that Texas A&M would never become a member of the SEC changed their message to a tune that Texas A&M will never be able to compete in the SEC. The joke of A&M playing for last place in the SEC West never seemed to die.
The 2011 football season only exacerbated the noise. Texas A&M was a dark horse to compete for the BCS Title to start the year. Instead, the Aggies lost six games - five of which they held a double digit second half lead. Excruiating. The aforementioned even-keeled Aggie couldn't help but wonder what lie ahead in the almighty SEC.
Ultimately, the long string of gut-wrenching losses cost Coach Mike Sherman his job. A new face was going to lead a then-fragile program into the jaws of the SEC. Of course, that new face would be Kevin Sumlin out of the University of Houston.
The Aggies-to-the-SEC naysayers grew louder.
"Sumlin's offense cannot work in the SEC."
"The SEC is a defense-first league."
"Texas A&M needs a coach that focuses primarily on defense."
"It is going to be a rough adjustment for the Aggies in the SEC."
And those were the rational voices.
The skeptics were relentless. The cynicism reached its crescendo at SEC Media Days when Coach Sumlin had to weather a barrage of questions centered on the cynicism outlined above. The tone of the event was almost designed to make Aggies feel just "lucky to be here" as if a hotel ballroom in Birmingham is akin to Augusta National.
Earlier that spring, the SEC 2012 football schedule was released. If held in a stadium, I'm convinced the SEC schedule release would sell more tickets than the ACC Championship game. I remember the schedule release well. I was nervous. I was excited. Like most junkies, I was trying to anticipate what our record would look like in Year 1 in this brave new world. Then the schedule dropped.
Home against Florida in our inaugural game. Awesome. Home against LSU? Well, that'll be insane.
One date in particular stuck out. November 10 at Alabama. I think I stopped breathing for a few seconds. I knew we were going to play the Crimson Tide, but seeing it on a schedule made it feel so... real.
At long last, Alabama week is here. In a 2012 season of plenty of ups and a couple downs, I can say that I have never watched a more fun Aggie football team than this year's bunch. They've been told for months that they'd get killed in the SEC. They've heard the same tired jokes. They even heard the doubt from within Aggie circles.
How have they responded? It's November and Texas A&M matters. A lot. Kevin Sumlin carried a quiet confidence in that Birmingham ballroom and it has resonated in this team. Does Texas A&M belong in the SEC? Hell yes. Out of TCU, West Virginia, Mizzou, and A&M, the Aggies are the lone program with a winning conference record. Kevin Sumlin already has as many SEC West wins as Dan Mullen and as many total SEC wins as Derek Dooley. There is a surge of momentum that continues to mount in this program and people are noticing. Recruits are noticing.
The Aggies are wildly young in some crucial positions. The defense has all the depth of a Kardashian. And yet, they're fearless. The Aggies are led by a freshman phenom quarterback that almost no one has heard speak. Subjectively speaking, he is one of the most fun players to watch in recent memory in all of football. The receivers sacrifice and block as well as anyone in the country. The offensive line has made SEC defenses look pedestrian. That Air Raid offense that wouldn't work in the SEC is leading the league. In rushing. They're breaking records that have stood for decades. They've emptied out two stadiums by half time in the last two weeks.
The Aggie defense plays active and aggressive with a high motor for four quarters. They don't have the luxury of depth like the elites of the league, but their commitment to conditioning and sound tackling has been a treat to witness.
The time is now. It's Alabama week. Apologize for nothing.
Do I think we'll win on Saturday afternoon? I don't know. Vegas certainly doesn't think so. The Ags are going on the road to take on Number 1 and one of history's most storied programs. Johnny Football and the offense are going to get all they can handle from a defense littered with future NFL starters and a coach who will go down as one of the greatest ever. The defense is going to have to play their best game of the season.
Texas A&M, the nation's eyes will be on you. You finally get the prime CBS slot. Get ready for Gary Danielson to poopoo the Sumlin/Kingsbury offense. Danielson has gone as far as to say it isn't real football. The entirety of our old conference will be hoping for our slaughter. They might feign disinterest, but rest assured, they'll be watching. Most of them don't get the Longhorn Network anyway.
However the game unfolds, Alabama best pack a lunch. The new kids from Texas aren't just happy to be here. We're coming for a fight and a win. Let the fun begin.
Beat the ever living Hell Outta Alabama.