The three top Texas A&M quarterbacks — scholarship and walk-ons — announced their ticket for the upcoming election. Walk-on Conner McQueen was tabbed as the presidential nominee, starting QB Trevor Knight as vice president and backup Jake Hubenak as Speaker of the House.
Granted, the Aggies seem to fundamentally misunderstand how the speaker is selected, but that’s beside the point. McQueen/Knight is set to be the hottest ticket in all of Aggieland. More importantly, the quarterback room is fun again.
— AggieFBLife (@aggiefblife) November 2, 2016
Although this is the most minor of statements, if it could even be called that, it’s hard to comprehend just how much things have changed in College Station. This time last year, true freshman Kyler Murray and sophomore Kyle Allen had a battle of personalities that left the program in almost complete disrepair.
Both Murray and Allen transferred in a matter of weeks. If that wasn’t enough, elite 2017 recruit Tate Martell flipped to Ohio State. There was only one scholarship left on the entire roster — former junior college transfer Jake Hubenak.
Texas A&M had to scramble just to add QB Nick Starkel to its 2016 recruiting class and added a grad transfer in Knight, who lost his job to former walk-on Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma. The uncertainty itself brought coach Kevin Sumlin’s job into question, especially with Tom Herman making waves just down the road at the University of Houston.
But three games into the season, including a win on the road against Auburn that keeps looking more impressive, the narrative started to shift. The game against No. 17 Arkansas was Knight’s reintroduction to the college football world. The senior threw for a pair of touchdowns and added two breakaway rushing scores to help the Aggies pull away in perhaps the most impressive performance by a Texas A&M quarterback since Johnny Football. Later, Texas A&M beat No. 9 Tennessee and earned No. 4 in the first College Football Playoff ranking.
It’s hard to quantify how far above expectations Texas A&M has played this season. The Aggies were picked to finish fourth in the SEC West and received only three votes to win the conference. Even though that still likely won’t happen, the Aggies are as healthy a program as they’ve ever been.
While losing three 5-star quarterbacks in a matter of months would tank most coaches, it actually was the greatest blessing of Sumlin’s career. I detailed in a previous article for SEC Country how Knight’s mediocre passing forced Sumlin to adapt his offense, but Knight’s arrival should completely change the way he handles quarterbacks.
It’s natural to try and stockpile talent, but quarterback is one of the most unique positions in sports. Teams can play only one quarterback at a time, which means that any player who loses the job could be out of luck for several years. Just look at Alabama, where Jalen Hurts has effectively ended the Alabama careers of Blake Barnett (who already has transferred), David Cornwell and Cooper Bateman.
However, Knight brought something more than dynamic play to Texas A&M: He brought stability. Sumlin named the senior Knight the starter before the season and never faltered, even through inconsistent play. Then it was clear that Hubenak, a junior, was the primary backup, and Starkel was third-string.
Compare that to last year, when Sumlin jerked around Murray and Allen to the point that they no longer trusted the coaching staff. Allen transferred to Group of 5 Houston, while Murray is lined up to be Mayfield’s backup at Oklahoma next season. It didn’t even matter that both are arguably in worse positions for the immediate future. Players would rather know where they stand than be jerked around.
Sumlin has a chance to get this right again next season. Hubenak is the obvious starter at quarterback and there will be a battle between redshirt freshman Starkel and incoming recruits Kellen Mond and Connor Blumrick. Sumlin needs to have a fair competition and a clear pecking order — off-the-field promises to parents and politics only breed disrespect.
Not many coaches are given a complete do-over with a program, but Sumlin has that chance now after earning cache among Texas A&M brass this season. He’d be wise to learn from it.