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Why 2020 is the year to target for Aggie Football’s ‘arrival’

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When will it be unlike what it used to be? Soon...

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - North Carolina State v Texas A&M Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

With only one football game left before the 2018 college football season is over, it’s a natural time to look at what lies ahead for your program. Normally this involves projecting your team’s prospects for the coming season, but most Aggies have a bigger question regarding the future of the program: When will Texas A&M Aggies football truly “arrive?”

Just as Longhorns constantly analyze whether Texas is “back,” Aggie fans long to see “sleeping” removed from the “sleeping giant” label that the program has worn for the past 20 years. They want to see A&M competing for SEC titles and – in the process – national titles. This desire to arrive is why A&M brass pushed all of their chips to the center of the table last offsesason when they signed Jimbo Fisher to a fully guaranteed 10-year, $75 million contract.

The all-important question is: When? And I’m here to tell you, 2020 may just be it. Here’s three reasons why.

Roster-building

NCAA Football: Alabama at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

While the Aggies do stand to return a lot of talent in 2019, they’re also losing some major pieces from this season’s team. This includes senior defensive linemen Landis Durham, Kingsley Keke and Daylon Mack, linebacker Otaro Alaka and safety Donovan Wilson. In addition, juniors Erik McCoy (C), Jace Sternberger (TE), Trayveon Williams (RB) and Tyrel Dodson (LB) have declared for the NFL Draft. Especially on the defensive front seven, the Aggies have a lot of holes to fill, not all of which may be able to be plugged immediately.

It’s cliché to say that a coach needs time to build a roster with “his guys,” but just like all clichés, there is a nugget of truth in that statement. Jimbo has a group of 2018 recruits who, with a few exceptions, didn’t see the field this past season, and is just putting the finishing touches on the first recruiting class that he didn’t inherit from the previous regime (currently ranked third in the country). Developing those players, along with the young talent above them, and making them fit within your system, takes time.

SB Nation’s Bud Elliott puts together an annual list of teams who have the requisite talent to win a national championship known as the Blue Chip Ratio. Put simply:

Teams who win the title sign more four- and five-star recruits than two- and three-stars over the previous four signing classes. This has been true for about as far back as modern recruiting rankings can be tracked.

It’s easy to think of the stat as the percentage of four- and five-stars signed by a team, out of total signees. Generally, teams whose signees are less than 50 percent blue-chips over the previous four years can’t be considered national title contenders.

The Aggies did not make this 50 percent benchmark in 2018, coming in at 44 percent. Their strong 2019 class likely means they’ll be on the list in 2019, but it’s important to note that Alabama is sitting pretty at 77 percent. Georgia is at 69 percent. LSU 63, Auburn 62, Clemson 61 percent blue chip recruits. The point is, 50 percent gets you on the list, but it may take more than that to start truly competing with the big boys.

But looking to 2020, there are reasons for optimism, even with the current roster. If none of them leave early, A&M could return QB Kellen Mond along with his entire wide receiver group from this season. Add in a bevy of upperclassman running backs led by Jashaun Corbin, Charles Strong Jr. and Vernon Jackson, and two years to fill the two open starting spots on the offensive line, and the offense could be the most experienced unit we’ve seen in College Station in quite some time.

Things are less certain on defense, but in 2020 A&M could theoretically still have Justin Madubuike to go along with Bobby Brown and 2019 five-star defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal to form a formidable front line. On the back end, a host of talented secondary players A&M just signed would join senior cornerbacks Myles Jones and Debione Renfro, junior safety Leon O’Neal and senior safety Derrick Tucker. Just don’t ask about linebackers.

Schedule relief

NCAA Football: Utah at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

If you thought Texas A&M’s 2018 schedule was a bear, just wait for 2019. In addition to their normal SEC West slate, the Aggies will make the return trip to Clemson in the second week of the season, and swap out 2018’s home game with Kentucky for a November road game against the Georgia Bulldogs. They’ll attempt to be the first team to win in both Death Valleys (Clemson and LSU) since the South Carolina Gamecocks did it in 1994. 2020, however is a different story.

Texas A&M 2020 Football Schedule

DATE OPPONENT LOCATION
DATE OPPONENT LOCATION
Sept. 12 North Texas College Station, TX
Sept. 19 Colorado College Station, TX
Sept. 26 Arkansas Arlington, TX
Nov. 21 Fresno State College Station, TX
TBD Abilene Christian College Station, TX
TBD Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
TBD at Auburn Auburn, AL
TBD LSU College Station, TX
TBD at Mississippi State Starkville, MS
TBD Ole Miss College Station, TX
TBD at South Carolina Columbia, SC
TBD Vanderbilt College Station, TX

While games against North Texas and Fresno State may be more difficult than they appeared when they were first put on the books, A&M swaps out Clemson as their Power 5 non-conference opponent in exchange for a much more palatable home game against the Colorado Buffaloes. And that Georgia game? Subbed out for a home tilt against Vanderbilt.

There’s no such thing as an easy road when you play in the SEC West, but this schedule may be as good as it gets if the Aggies want to make a run at a title.

Coaching precedent

NCAA Football: CFP National Champions-Clemson Celebration Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Simply put, there is a lot of precedent for big time college football coaches hitting their stride in year three.

  • Les Miles, LSU (2007): Miles was no slouch in his first two seasons, going 22-4 with wins in the Peach and Sugar bowls, but his third season saw his program go 12-2, win the SEC and defeat Ohio State to win a national championship.
  • Nick Saban, Alabama (2009): Saban got the Tide to the SEC Championship in year two, but lost to Florida and then lost to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. But year three saw the Tide go 14-0, win the SEC, win a national title and single-handedly derail Colt McCoy and Garrett Gilbert’s respective careers.
  • Dabo Swinney, Clemson (2011): Clemson went a mediocre 15-12 in Dabo’s first two full seasons at the helm. But in 2011, they went 10-4, winning the ACC and earning an Orange Bowl berth, where they lost to West Virginia. This began an eight-year run of 10+ wins for the Tigers that continues to this day, including the 2016 national championship
  • Brian Kelly, Notre Dame (2012): After going 8-5 each of Kelly’s first two seasons, the Fighting Irish went 12-1 in his third season, their only blemish being the loss to Alabama in the national championship game. He’s the only coach in this list who hasn’t won a title, but Notre Dame has made it to the title game or the College Football Playoff twice, and won 10+ games four times on Kelly’s watch.
  • Urban Meyer, Ohio State (2014): OK, so this one wasn’t exactly a huge turnaround job. In the last 14 years, the only season in which the Buckeyes didn’t have 10+ wins was the transitional year between Jim Tressell and Meyer, in which Luke Fickell coaches them to a 6-7 record. And even though Ohio State went 24-2 in Meyer’s first two seasons (they went 12-0 his first season but were ineligible for a bowl due to NCAA sanctions), year three saw the Buckeyes win their first Big Ten title and their only national title in the Urban Meyer era. His teams have won at least 11 games and been in a College Football Playoff or New Year’s Six bowl every year since.

While this year three success is far from universal, there’s enough evidence to suggest that most great coaches, the kind who win you national championships, win sooner rather than later. While Jimbo Fisher’s 10-year contract likely means A&M will be giving him a long leash either way, 2020 may give Aggies a good idea of what the program’s ceiling might be, whether it’s more of the same “good but not great” we’ve seen for two decades, or if, in Jimbo’s own words, “it ain’t gonna be like it used to be.”

Poll

What’s your benchmark for a successful year three

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Nothing wrong with 8-4. Arby’s is delicious.
    (56 votes)
  • 46%
    10 wins and a New Year’s Six bowl will do it.
    (735 votes)
  • 38%
    Win the SEC, make it to the Playoff.
    (603 votes)
  • 11%
    National Championship or bust. FILL THAT PLAQUE!
    (182 votes)
1576 votes total Vote Now