The 2018 football season is now officially underway, and your Texas A&M Aggies did what they were supposed to do on Thursday night, dispatching of the Northwestern State Demons with relative ease, 59-7. One game in, the season is certainly off to a great start, and there is a certain comfort in blowing out an FCS opponent the way everyone expected you to. Aggies have learned the hard way that those results are not always guaranteed. But make no mistake, games like last night are not why Jimbo Fisher was brought to College Station. When you sign a 10-year, $75 million contract (plus incentive bonuses), you are brought in to compete at the very highest level of college football. As it so happens, that highest level is walking into Kyle Field next Saturday night.
The Clemson Tigers will assumedly come to Aggieland 1-0 after facing Furman on Saturday, and with three consecutive conference titles, three consecutive College Football Playoff appearances and a national title in 2016, they represent the type of dominant program A&M longs to be under Fisher. They’re skilled from top to bottom, have the best defensive line in college football and will be a heavy favorite by all metrics when these two teams take the field on Sept. 8. It’s a game the Aggies will very likely lose, but it is still very much a measuring stick. And the progress of this team may not be determined by a win or a loss...at least not yet.
Competing against the best
It would be inaccurate to say that A&M has never competed in big games. You need only go back one season to see the Aggies battle the eventual national champion Alabama Crimson Tide down to the wire and lose by only eight points. But for every game where Kevin Sumlin’s Aggies seemed to play above their level, there were games where the team was seemingly outmatched from the first snap. Over the past five years, the Aggies have lost by two touchdowns or more 12 times. Aggie fans may be able to stomach a loss, but they’ll have less tolerance for being completely dominated. It may only be game two, but if you’re looking for data points to indicate progress, a respectable showing against Clemson would be a big early success.
Run the ball effectively on offense, and stop the run on defense, and you have the makings of a team that can hang with anybody. Texas A&M did both of those exceptionally well against inferior competition, now let’s see if they can carry that success over when they take on the big boys.
Reclaiming Kyle Field
Kyle Field has a reputation for being a difficult place to play. With more than 100,000 fans in the stands – including 30,000-plus students – you would certainly hope it would be.
But unfortunately, that reputation has not carried over into wins and losses in recent years. During the Kevin Sumlin tenure, A&M was a paltry 10-16 against Power 5 teams at Kyle Field, and when Ole Miss comes to town on Nov. 10, it will have been 1,134 days since the Aggies last defeated an SEC West opponent on their home turf. That’s not just mediocre, that’s bad, even if you are playing an SEC schedule. Aggie fans are desperate for a winner, and maybe just as much, are desperate for a team that elevates its play at home and gives fans reason to be raucous. A stout defense and a consistent offense could go a long way toward re-establishing Kyle Field as a place opponents do not want to visit.
Sustaining his success
It’s no secret that A&M has gained a reputation for fading late in the season. Whether it was due to poor conditioning, lack of depth or a problem with team culture, the Aggies seemed to wilt when it mattered most, and even though “every win counts the same,” victories in November will always leave a more lasting impression, whether that’s on fans or on the playoff committee. So while performance against Clemson is important, the more critical measure is whether we see that same effort, execution and results in a couple of months. Aggie fans have grown too accustomed to seeing flashes in September, only to be left wondering where that team went by season’s end.
Bring the hammer next Saturday, just make sure to clean it and put in back in the toolbox so you can use it the rest of the season as well.
What will you be looking for most when A&M takes on Clemson?
This poll is closed
Discipline in assignments
The final score
Reveille on the sidelines