The 2016 season is fast approaching for Texas A&M, and its arrival couldn’t come sooner. Battles have included those on the recruiting front as well as in general public perception. For coach Kevin Sumlin, it presents the chance for his staff and roster to retake control of the narrative of which direction the Aggies are trending as a program.
Ater 36 wins through his first four seasons in College Station, a solid 2016 campaign will show that despite quarterback and transfer drama, Sumlin is still in the driver’s seat.
Best matchup: Nov. 24 vs. LSU
A&M has yet to take down LSU in the Sumlin era. In 2014, an offsides flag that was never thrown on the game’s deciding drive led to an interception and 23-17 loss. Last season, an emotionally charged crowd in Baton Rouge witnessed the Tigers not only beat the Aggies 19-7, but likely save LSU coach Les Miles’ job in the process.
This year, November 24 in College Station likely will have much more riding on the result than simply Turkey Day bragging rights. A matchup between two SEC West opponents always runs the chance for having postseason implications. Depending on the path taken, the regular season finale could carry plenty of weight in regard to job security for coaches as well.
Toughest matchup: Oct. 22 at Alabama
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Since Johnny Manziel and the Aggies defeated the Tide 29-24, A&M has struggled against its conference foe. Last season Alabama returned three interceptions for touchdowns in a 41-23 win, including two from Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The defensive back will be patrolling the Alabama secondary once again, attempting to give the A&M offense fits. What the Aggies do have in their arsenal that hasn’t been around since the Manziel days is a quarterback with a win over Saban and the Tide. Graduate transfer Trevor Knight, who led Oklahoma to a 45-31 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl as a freshman, will work to get the Aggies back in the win column against one of college football’s biggest powerhouses.
Toughest stretch: Oct. 8 – Oct. 22
For the last two seasons, A&M has began the season 5-0 before tumbling from the top of the standings. If the team once again reels off five straight victories to start the season, it will be a challenge to keep the ball rolling.
The Aggies, returning back to College Station after a game the previous week with South Carolina, will face off with the Tennessee Volunteers on Oct. 8 in Kyle Field. A big favorite in the SEC East, Joshua Dobbs and the Vols will be a stiff test for the A&M defense. After a bye week, the Aggies then travel to Tuscaloosa for their matchup with the Tide.
Biggest trap game: Sept. 3 vs. UCLA
The team has all offseason to prepare for their 2016 opener against the Bruins, but the “trap” can run even longer than the 60-minute game clock.
A&M added former Bruins offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to the staff in the same position, and defeating his former employer will be the first test. Additionally, the Aggies added a pair of Turners in the trenches with Jim Turner coaching the offensive line and David Turner handling defensive tackles.
A loss could set a tone or feeling of ‘not doing enough,’ which could be viewed as unfair given the vast amount of moving pieces since the conclusion of 2015. Additionally, it makes the public perception battle that much more of a headache by beginning the season at home with a loss.