As we approach the 2016 A&M football season, there’s an undeniable feeling that this is a critical year for Kevin Sumlin. We are now headed into Year 5 of his regime, and after historical success in 2012, it’s been followed by 3 straight years of declining production, wins, and "momentum". I’ll say right off the top I’m a fan of Coach Sumlin and still believe as of right now he’s the best man to lead the A&M football program going forward. But despite the myriad reasons that have contributed to the team’s successes and failures the last four years, there’s no arguing this is a pivotal year for the team.
One of the biggest "knocks" on the Sumlin Era is the lack of high quality wins at Kyle Field. Through four seasons, which have included 10 wins against Top 25 teams, only one of them has come at Kyle Field. The 2015 victory versus #21 Mississippi State. In our first four years in the SEC, we are now 0-7 at Kyle Field against Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, and Auburn. Yes, we’ve actually had some tremendous success on the road, and at neutral sites and bowl games. And Sumlin deserves credit for that success away from home. And I don’t necessarily think anyone could definitively point to any reason(s) for the home-away results vs ranked opponents.
Winning big games at home is critical for any football program for several reasons. Your fan base is much more willing to support you if they are treated to some nice wins at home. They feel better about purchasing season tickets, because the high expenses that come with that are also paired with the mind-numbing fun of sending a ranked team away from Kyle Field with a loss. It’s important for recruiting as well. Its great to bring in 15-20 big time recruits to show off your facilities, the atmosphere of Kyle Field, the Spirit of the 12th Man, and SEC football. But its not so great when those games keep ending with A&M walking off the field with a loss in a spotlight game.
So for 2016, let’s throw away the three crappy non-conference games at Kyle Field and focus on the ones that could make or break this season, and possibly the future of Kevin Sumlin at A&M. Aggie fans will be treated to 4 huge games at Kyle Field versus ranked opponents heading into the season.
- #24 UCLA - Saturday September 3rd. This is the season opener for the Aggies. Another prime matchup on CBS with a Pac-12 opponent that could once again try and set the tone for the season. Win this game, and you’ve already bought some goodwill with the fan base to start the year. Lose this one and the "hot seat" talk, unwarranted or not, begins to ramp up early.
- #10 Tennessee - Saturday October 8th. Tennessee enters the season with the hype train rolling full steam. They are considered the early favorites to win the SEC East. This would also be a huge win for A&M to quiet the talk of the prior two years' collapses in October. A loss, and it's "same song, third verse".
- #12 Ole Miss - Saturday November 12th. As A&M continues to try and move up the pecking order in the SEC West, Ole Miss currently stands in the way ahead of us. This would give the Ags a much needed boost against Ole Miss for recruiting purposes as well. A loss here could potentially sink the Ags back down into the lower half of the position standings in the West.
- #6 LSU - Thursday November 24th. Quite possibly the most important game at Kyle Field this year. The only team we've yet to defeat in the SEC West. End the season on a high note at Kyle Field. Want to get a real rivalry started up again with the Tigers? Win this damn game. Depending on how the other home games above have gone, a loss here could be a catastrophe.
I'm confident A&M finally turns the corner vs ranked teams at Kyle Field this year. I trust in Sumlin. Let me know in the comments how you think A&M will fare against these ranked foes at home.