As crazy as it might seem now, it was only about a year ago that Texas A&M was a washed-up, has-been, shell of a former college football power. The Aggies were coming off a 6-6 regular season- another one, in a perpetually never-ending cycle of them- as they entered the SEC. They also appeared to be entering an era of college football irrelevance.
Then Kevin Sumlin arrived, and just about everything you thought you knew about the Texas A&M Aggies disappeared. One 11-win season later and it seems like all those disappointing seasons under Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman never happened. Or at the very least that they’re ancient history.
So what went right in Sumlin’s first year in College Station? More importantly, did anything go wrong?
Let’s evaluate year one of the Kevin Sumlin Era at Texas A&M.
What Went Right: In the simplest terms, the short answer is “just about everything.” Outside of Urban Meyer at Ohio State, it’s hard to think of a first-year coach who had a more impactful first season at his new school than Sumlin did in College Station. There were those 11 wins (the most by an A&M team since 1998), a Heisman Trophy winner (ever heard of this kid named Johnny Manziel? He’s a good one!) and an emphatic Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma to close the year.
Beyond just the on-the-field success though, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Sumlin’s impact off the field as well. Every new coach talks about changing the “culture” at a school, only in a few short months Sumlin put his money where his mouth was and did exactly that. All of a sudden, Texas A&M is the “it” school in Texas, and the one that many of the top high school players in the state want to play for. In the process it has also left the Texas Longhorns (and the entire SEC, really) looking over their shoulders and wondering how soon the Aggies will be perennial title contenders.
That is, if it hasn’t happened already. As good as things were in 2012, conceivably, they should only get better going forward.
What Went Wrong: As exciting as the first year of the Sumlin era was, it also taught the Aggies (and their coaching staff) that in the SEC, you can never have too many big bodies up front. Both Florida and LSU used physical defensive line play to slow A&M’s offense in the second half of each of their games, both of which ended with A&M’s only losses of the season.
That also leads to the question of whether Sumlin is capable of recruiting the bodies needed to beat those teams (not to mention Alabama) on a week-in, week-out and year-in, year-out basis. The simple truth is that for all the success that Sumlin had in 2011, his best players up front (Damontre Moore on defense, Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel on offense) were recruited by the previous staff, and only time will tell whether the new coaching staff can identify and develop the interior lineman needed to compete in this league.
In his first full recruiting class this February, most of Sumlin’s best recruits (Ricky Seals-Jones, JaQuay Williams) were skill position guys. That will need to change (or at least become more evenly balanced) going forward.
Where Do Things Go From Here: As well as things went in Sumlin’s first season on the job, they should only get better in 2013. The Aggies return the vast majority of last year’s 11-2 team, with Manziel back at quarterback, Jake Matthews protecting Manziel’s blind side and a slew of skill position players around to help light up the scoreboard. The defense took some hits to graduation and early entry to the NFL Draft (you’ll be missed, DaMontre Moore), but the offense should score so many points that what the defense does likely won’t matter in all but a couple games next season.
Simply put, Texas A&M will enter the 2013 season in everyone’s Top 5. And to be blunt, it isn’t impossible to see them playing for a BCS National Championship in 2014.
But regardless of whether they get there or not, one thing is clear when it comes to the Aggies: They have arrived as a college football super-power.
And it’s thanks to first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin.
Kevin Sumlin’s First-Year Coaching Grade: A
Tim Beckham, Illinois
Charlie Weis, Kansas
Bill O'Brien, Penn State
Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Jim Mora, UCLA
For all his opinion, analysis and insight on college football, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.
Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun.