Texas A&M got off to a rip-roaring start in the SEC, beating Alabama and winning 11 games behind Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Almost since that moment, the program has been in turmoil.
The Aggies have been consistently inconsistent. They were ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 each of the past three years. However, the Aggies failed to finish the season ranked at all. After reaching No. 4 in the College Football Playoff ranking, their highest position since being No. 3 in 1995, it appears Texas A&M will once again finish outside the major polls.
This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Since 2013, the Aggies average the nation’s No. 10 recruiting class, including seven 5-star prospects. The talent level was never in question. But since 2013, only Arkansas has a worse record in the SEC West than the Aggies’ 15-17.
Texas A&M has one game left: against Kansas State on Dec. 28 in the Texas Bowl.
The past few offseasons were spent doling out big money to new coordinators and trying to make grand moves to salvage competitiveness in the SEC West. However, if Texas A&M brass plays 2017 the right way, it has a rare opportunity for program stability.
Many of Texas A&M’s moves have been good. Hiring John Chavis as defensive coordinator two years ago was outstanding. Chavis is considered one of the SEC’s best defensive minds and was the architect of LSU’s defense when the Tigers reached the 2012 National Championship Game. He improved the Aggies from No. 58 to No. 29 in defensive S&P+ ratings in one year.
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone was also a great hire away from UCLA in 2016. Mazzone improved the offense from No. 55 to No. 27 in 2016, especially focusing on a running game behind Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams.
But while the Aggies accumulated talent on the roster and coaching staff, the program failed to build consistency. Only two of the nine assistant coaches from coach Kevin Sumlin’s first staff in College Station remain: running backs coach Clarence McKinney and defensive line coach Terry Price.
Granted, offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech) and recruiting coordinator David Beaty (Kansas) both got promotions to head coaching jobs. Regardless, having that little consistency can kill a program.
Key returnees for 2017
Chavis and Mazzone should both be back, along with a consistent recruiting class. Quarterback Trevor Knight will graduate, but the depth chart will feature senior Jake Hubenak, redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and incoming freshmen Kellen Mond and Connor Blumrick. While competition for playing time could be fierce, there isn’t a mismatch of personalities, like with Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray.
Sumlin completed his fifth season in College Station, which makes him quite experienced in the context of the SEC. However, that brings added pressure to succeed. This will be a vital opportunity to right the ship and plan a course for the program. All the pieces are coming into place — it’s time to deliver.