As part of an ongoing series for the spring and summer months, SEC Country offers a point/counterpoint breakdown of some of the SEC’s biggest games on the 2016 calendar — in terms of subjectively clarifying which program needs a victory more than the other.
Today’s must-win debate: SEC Country writers Jay Clemons and Knox Bardeen tackle the Texas A&M @ Auburn clash on Sept. 17, with Clemons taking the Aggies argument and Bardeen siding with the Tigers.
For Bardeen’s pro-Auburn breakdown, click here:
WHY TEXAS A&M MUST BEAT AUBURN …
1. The Aggies’ ambitious home schedule doesn’t allow for any slip-ups on the road, excluding an October trip to Alabama
Texas A&M might have the most difficult home slate among SEC programs that includes UCLA (season opener on Sept. 3), Tennessee (Oct. 8), Ole Miss (Nov. 12) and LSU (Nov. 24).
Throw in the neutral-site clash with Arkansas (robbing A&M of an extra home tilt), and the Aggies will likely need to go 7-0 in non-road games if they harbor realistic hopes of claiming the SEC West title.
The reason for that: A&M might be loaded with NFL-caliber playmakers (defensive end Myles Garrett, receiver Christian Kirk, defensive end Daeshon Hall, receiver Josh Reynolds, quarterback Trevor Knight), but there are no grandiose expectations of knocking off Alabama (Oct. 22) after the bye –regardless of whether the defending champions are undefeated or ranked No. 1 in the nation.
With a loss to Alabama, recent history tells us Texas A&M would have to finish 7-1 in conference since the Crimson Tide would own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
2. Myles Garrett’s long-shot Heisman Trophy campaign needs to gather momentum throughout September
We all know the stat: Throughout Heisman history, dating back to 1935, a defense-only star has never captured college football’s most prestigious award (Michigan’s Charles Woodson was a cornerback/kick returner/wide receiver).
So, if Garrett holds any feasible dreams of taking home the Heisman — or even finishing among the three finalists — he’ll need to dominate the red-letter games on Texas A&M’s schedule, starting with UCLA, Auburn and Arkansas in the opening month.
For what it’s worth, we’ve tabbed Garrett for a repeat of the SEC sack title.
3. The Aggies won’t know where they stand at quarterback … until the first road victory
I was taken aback by the news of Knight, an Oklahoma graduate transfer, winning the A&M quarterback job immediately after spring camp. Junior-to-be Jake Hubenak looked great in his inaugural college start last December (Music City Bowl) and presumably warranted a shot at the coveted slot at least through the summer.
Instead, Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin quickly eliminated all doubt, pinning his 2016 hopes to an experienced senior quarterback who has the experience of defeating the likes of Tennessee, West Virginia, Texas and Alabama (2014 Sugar Bowl).
Now for the tough part: With A&M breaking in new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone (so long, Jake Spavital), the entire offense might need some adjustment time. But that only covers the spring and summer, due to the Aggies’ opening showdown with UCLA.
Two weeks later, there’s the trip to Auburn.
Speaking of which, of Knight’s last four road starts (for the Sooners), he holds averages of 261 yards passing, 2.5 total TDs and 1.5 INTs.
4. Texas A&M’s Bizarro World win-loss pattern with Auburn makes for great barstool fodder
The Aggies have only been part of the SEC since 2012, but they’ve already developed a fascinating give-and-take with the Tigers.
For 2012 and ’14, Texas A&M prevailed at Auburn; 2013 and ’15, Auburn left Kyle Field with crucial road victories.
(Fun fact: In 2014, Auburn became the first Division I/FBS program in history to lose to multiple teams which incurred 59-0 defeats that same season — Texas A&M and Wisconsin.)
So, using history as our guide, this means Texas — even as a potential Vegas underdog that day — should be considerable favorites to win at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.