There’s an Aggie joke about doing something twice in a row and calling it a tradition. Three times running is practically carved in stone. 8-5 is the newest Aggie Tradition.
8-5 every year is not bad. It gets you a bowl game and a month of extra practice. It keeps a steady supply of decent recruits coming in and it allows you to balance out the stupefying losses with the occasional surprising upset. It’s a safe, reliable family vehicle to get you through the maelstrom conditions of driving through the SEC West each year. You’ll arrive at the end of each journey a bit battered and harrowed, but more or less intact, ready for a long rest before packing up, piling everyone back in the car, and setting out on the next leg the following August. It’s fine for as long as you can endure safety and relative comfort without being enticed by that shiny piece of space-age metal that is equal parts likely to get you there twice as fast or send you careening off a precipitous cliff.
A $5 million coach, state-of-the-art facilities, a brand-new stadium, and all the various trappings that are attached to this garish football machine do not make us special. These things do not automatically buy us the rights to championships. They are the simple cost of doing business in the SEC West. There is only one Nick Saban, and the rest of the field is so many hapless chickens pecking around for scraps. 8-5 is never going to win this division. But it won’t finish last, either.
8-5 is actually fine if you can punctuate it every third or fourth year with an 11-2 or a 10-3 season. The problem in recent history is that the trajectory is facing the wrong way. Sumlin is a victim of his own early success. 11-2 became the expectation instead of the exception for many because this is college football, where reason is bludgeoned by emotion.
But he has not helped his case in recent years either. He’s shown all the signs of being extremely capable of building a program: he’s had the Aggies ranked in the top ten at some point in each of the past five seasons. It’s the building of a cohesive team that has eluded him thus far. And now with his hand-picked coordinators in place, fresh out of personnel moves to make, and another good recruiting class on the way to give our expectations a jolt, we hit reset again for 2017. But this time it doesn’t feel like 8-5 is going to cut it. 8-5 in 2017 is probably going to be too much for this fanbase to endure. We get it: we need to hit that double-digit win mark occasionally to justify all of this. Uncertainty with the prospect of success will eventually outweigh the certainty of being slightly above average.
Be careful what you wish for. There have been times in the past where 8-5 looked pretty damn good. It’s just not good enough for Sumlin anymore.