By Ryan Decker
The Southeaster Conference isn’t made for realistic expectations about its football teams, and that’s true even for one of the newest teams to the conference.
Heading into the 2016 college football season, if there was a coach in the SEC – maybe even the whole nation – with a seat nearly as hot as Les Miles’ was at LSU (which got so hot it boiled over this weekend) it was the seat that Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin was uncomfortably setting on.
Sumlin led the Aggies into their new conference, the SEC – the conference with the most-highly analyzed and scrutinized head coaches –, in 2012.
That season, Sumlin and company rode the Johnny “Football” Manziel rodeo and media frenzy to an 11-2 record, including a dominating 41-13 victory over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
Eleven wins that season were the most for the program in over a decade, having not been done since R.C. Slocum won 11 contests in 1998.
In between 1998 and 2012, the Aggies won nine games twice, eight games two other times, but also had four seasons of losing records.
Zero times, however, did Texas A&M win double-digit games, nor were they in the running for a national championship. In fact, the Aggies only won two bowl games during that time period.
After Slocum, Aggie fans watched as two head coaches, and two one-game interim head coaches, roamed the sidelines in College Station.
Dennis Franchione coached at A&M for five seasons. One nine-win season, a pair of seven-win campaigns, along with two below-.500 years and zero bowl wins were the tale of Franchione’s tenure.
Following Franchione’s resignation, Mike Sherman became the head coach for four seasons, two of which ended with his team having more losses than victories. Even Sherman’s best year, 2010, in which the Aggies finished the regular season 9-3 and tied for first place in the Big 12, was at least slightly disappointing.
The Aggies suffered three-straight losses after the non-conference portion of their schedule, two coming at home and two coming against Big 12 opponents. Despite beating in-state opponents Texas Tech, Baylor and Texas during a stretch of six consecutive conference victories, the season ended on a sour note due to a 41-21 loss to LSU in the Cotton Bowl.
It was a year later, under defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, that Texas A&M’s bowl game losing streak was snapped. Three weeks prior, it was announced that Sumlin would be the team’s next head coach, leading them from the Big 12 to the SEC.
Two new chapters in A&M history starting simultaneously.
The reason for the history lesson is this: Texas A&M is not Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas or USC.
Texas A&M isn’t even Clemson, Georgia or LSU.
Texas A&M isn’t the top-tier program it mascaraed as in 2012, when the Aggies downed Alabama, Oklahoma, and other notable programs.
A&M is a football program with a winning tradition, but not one that is consistently at the forefront of national championship runs late in the season. The Aggies haven’t won a national title since 1939.
Twenty-twelve was more of a blip on the radar than a statement, “We’re here to stay!” type season. Texas A&M did finish tied for fifth place in the SEC that year.
Albeit, that was an unusually stacked year in the conference (even for the SEC), but still, the Aggies were fifth best.
Sumlin’s subsequent three seasons following that incredible 2012 run were par for the course for A&M. 9-4. 8-5. 8-5.
Sumlin, although one of the top coaches in college football, isn’t the magic man that he appeared in his first season in charge. He’s not going to completely turn the program around and make it something it’s not.
Expectations in College Station should be tempered.
Alabama isn’t going anywhere as long as Saban is in charge. Tennessee appears to be back. Ole Miss has returned to its winning ways under Hugh Freeze. Florida is winning again, and Georgia seems to be good for at least seven wins a year.
That’s just the SEC.
Texas A&M still has games against No. 11 Tennessee and No. 16 Ole Miss in College Station, as well a game on the road in Tuscaloosa against the No. 1 team in the country, Alabama.
Despite being ranked ninth in the FBS, those are all potential losses for the Aggies.
Sumlin’s seat may not be as hot as it once was due to his team’s 4-0 start, but there is certainly potential for it to heat up again.
Unless a complete train wreck ensues, though, it likely won’t be warranted.
It’s unlikely Sumlin win’s a championship while at Texas A&M, and it’s not entirely realistic to think he will. However, he’s the best chance Aggie fans have at seeing their team hoist the big trophy, and it’s equally as unrealistic to think there’s truly a better available option.
So no matter what happens this season in College Station, remember that no good will come from overreacting to the Aggies being what they are.
Sumlin gives this team the best chance to win.