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Is Saturday the defining game in Kevin Sumlin’s tenure at Texas A&M?

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Saturday could be the biggest opportunity Sumlin will have to change the story.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at South Carolina
Could Saturday be the most defining game of Sumlin’s career at A&M?
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The backdrop

Each season following Coach Kevin Sumlin’s 11-2 debut has been marked by a missed opportunity to change the image of Aggie Football. We have experienced hot starts and big games, but fans have not seen a consistent ability to close out a season and win under the national spotlight. Marquee SEC matchups at Kyle Field have been kryptonite for Kevin Sumlin.

The stage

Opening the season with a big win over a highly ranked (at the time) opponent and starting the season 5-0, we meet again my old friend. The Aggies knocked off UCLA and Heisman hopeful Josh Rosen to start 2016, and rolled to a 3-0 start in SEC play. The Tennessee Volunteers carry their own 5-0 record and Top 10 ranking to Kyle Field on Saturday. College GameDay will be broadcasting live from Spence Park for every college football fan in the country to see the beautiful backdrop of Kyle Field’s east side. For just a bit more added excitement, Coach Sumlin and his staff have one of the most impressive groups of recruits lined up to take in the show.

To say there’s just a little bit riding on the outcome of this game would be an understatement. Sure the Aggies would still control their own destiny on the path to an SEC West title and an appearance in Atlanta, but this one just has a different feel.

College GameDay

The Aggies and College GameDay go together like peanut butter and gasoline. The Ags have never won a game when the ESPN college football roadshow has hosted from College Station. They’ve also never won a game as the visiting team in a city hosting College GameDay. The show and their crew being in town brings a ton of extra eyeballs to the stadium and the team which is always great for recruiting. Some Aggies will call it the GameDay curse, some say it may be too much of a distraction, and others will point to the fact that GameDay is only going to be in town if you’re playing a damn solid opponent. Any way you look at it, the Aggies need to capitalize on the big stage to have a lasting impact on the image of the program. How this one is different: This will be the first time the Aggies have been the host team for GameDay as the higher ranked team.

Top 25 SEC opponent at home

Home games against Top 25 SEC opponents was something that had Aggie fans salivating at the thought of joining the SEC. The games are definitely met with plenty of excitement and build up. Unfortunately, Sumlin and the Aggies are 1-6 when hosting Top 25 SEC teams at Kyle Field. These kind of results are why writers like Barrett Sallee will say Kyle Field is not an intimidating place to play. Over 102,000 will be chanting the intro to Power by Kanye during the team entrance. The 12th Man will be yelling and waving their 12th Man towels and ready to explode if the defense gets a three and out on the first drive. A big win, hell any kind of win, will keep the 12th Man on fire and help take back Kyle Field. How this one is different: Saturday will be the first ever matchup between Top 10 teams at Kyle Field in the month of October. Trayveon Williams is carrying the ball with some crazy momentum right now, and the Volunteers will be without two starting linebackers.

Maroon Out Game

I don’t understand why the Maroon Out game is still a thing. It comes across as a marketing effort to sell a poorly designed t-shirt that wouldn’t sell otherwise. For clarity, proceeds from the Maroon Out shirts benefit some great programs like the Aggie Ring for Veterans Fund (which you can also donate to and other great veteran resource programs at A&M). With all that said, the Aggies are 8-10 in Maroon Out games, with no wins during their tenure in the SEC. This game is selected before the season starts, and targets what is expected to be a big game. With criteria like that an almost .500 record isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it certainly serves as further proof that a big win on Saturday can be a big step in the right direction to take back Kyle Field. How this one is different: This Aggie defense looks like something else out there this season. Something Aggie fans haven’t seen in far too long. First in the nation in tackles for loss and 12th nationally in scoring defense. Chief will have his men ready.

So let’s review the cards that have been dealt:

  • The Aggies have never won a game when College Gameday is on site.
  • The Aggies have lost their 6th game the last two seasons after starting 5-0
  • The Aggies have a losing record in Maroon Out games

For so many things to seem like they are the same, tomorrow’s game can have a gigantic impact on the legacy Sumlin has been building at A&M. Cementing the Aggies as a threat in the SEC, taking advantage of a rowdy 12th Man to shine on one of the biggest recruiting weekends in program history, and a chance to change the perception of fans across the country. Kevin Sumlin may be coaching the most defining game of his career at Texas A&M on Saturday.

...unless the Aggies beat Tennessee. Then the most defining game will be the next game against Alabama. BTHO everyone.