Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M are entering Year 4 in the Southeastern Conference. Anyone making bold predictions for 2015 in this league may as well be a drunk spinning darts at the pub. Question marks and threats are prevalent throughout each program, so how will we measure the Ags and Sumlin in 2015?
In the spirit of transparency, I should mention that Sumlin's seat is cooler than cool in my book. What Kevin Sumlin has done for the university, the athletic department, and the football program can't be fully realized in wins and losses. He's led our football program boldly into the best league in the country. He's recruiting at an unprecedented level. We're building a new stadium with interest and financial backing that is simply staggering.
The foundation is almost complete. Barring a couple seasons of missed bowl games or NCAA sanctions, Sumlin has earned enough rope to see this through. My yardstick for the football coach at Texas A&M is pretty simple:
In November, are you playing for a trip to Atlanta?
If you're doing this regularly, the big stuff (read: championships and playoffs) will follow. I'm fully confident that Kevin Sumlin has laid the foundation for A&M to achieve this.
2016 feels like the year where everything might finally come together, but this is what I'm eyeing in 2015:
The defense needs to rank somewhere 50-75 nationally.
This is not too much to ask and fully attainable for a unit that ranked last in the SEC in 2014 and 102nd nationally. Just how bad were the Ags on D in 2014? 36.6 points per game against in league contests. Sumlin knows his legacy and his future are in jeopardy if this side of the ball isn't fixed fast. Enter one of the SEC's top defensive minds of the modern era at a meager price of $1.7 mil per year. The young studs - Garrett, Hall, Watts, Alaka, etc. - are a year older. If the defense improves simply to mediocrity, then 10+ wins is on the table for 2015. This should excite you.
No blowout losses.
Losing by 2+ touchdowns can't happen. It happened three weeks in a row in 2014. The SEC West will continue to be a gauntlet of swinging pillowcases full of billiard balls, but there ain't a team that is two touchdowns better than A&M right now. What happened in Tuscaloosa in 2014 was disgraceful. We'll see the true character of this program when the Tide come to College Station on October 17th. If the Ags are as pissed as 59-0 looked, then we'll see a program out for blood.
Enough has been said about state of the defense. Big time work-in-progress. I'd like to see some unquantifiable grit out of the offense. When things are humming in a Sumlin offense, the Ags are a turbo-charged Ferrari kill machine ripping off 20+ yard plays like they're nothing. Things get rough when the offense runs into a big speed bump or swamp (see: LSU every time). When this happens, suddenly the offense is lost when it's 3rd-and-short. A yard might as well be a mile.
I don't know if it's more technique, execution, or mindset, but our blueprints are out there. Spread offenses are often discounted as finesse gimmicks. One ought look no further than Ohio State and Oregon playing for the natty to see otherwise. The Buckeyes and the Ducks have similar personnel and formations as the Ags, but display a much MUCH more punishing attack on the ground. It really is a beautiful thing to watch.
Hopefully newly-hired Dave Christensen can develop the offensive line and running backs into a unit that can pound the tough yards and open things up through the air for Allen and the stable of race horses at wide receiver. Dare to be mean motherfuckers, men.
These are the expectation-setting turning points.
Because of the timing, the match-ups, and what is at stake, these are the games that I believe will be most-telling of what we've got for 2015:
- September 5 | vs. Arizona State (in Houston). Todd Graham and his televangelist headset make the trek to what will amount as a home game for the Ags. The Sun Devils are very dangerous and loaded with talent. Much like the road game to Columbia to start 2014, this game will re-calibrate all expectations for 2015 - for better or worse.
- September 26 | vs. Arkansas (in Arlington). The Hogs (and Vols) are the trendy darkhorse in the SEC this year. The Ags escaped Jerryworld in 2014 with a miraculous comeback. What followed that game was a month of sputtering by the Ags and the Hogs turning into a mauling tank in true Bert form. This game will clearly reveal just how much grit the Ags have.
- October 17 | vs. Alabama. 59-0 looms. It comes after a bye week. It will be on national TV in a jammed Hate Barn. If this ain't the litmus test for the state of the Texas A&M football program nothing is.