Does Texas A&M have an eye-test problem with Playoff selection committee?
Let’s be clear.
Texas A&M has a really good football team.
The Aggies are 6-1, Mike Elko’s defense is very good, and Isaiah Spiller is a force of nature. There’s plenty to like about the Aggies — and we’ll get to that.
Isaiah Spiller to the HOUSE for the A&M TD 💨 pic.twitter.com/KgJy5PdNfF
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 29, 2020
The question, as it relates to high-level football programs, isn’t whether Texas A&M is really good. They are, and the debate about that is over, or ought to be. The question is whether Texas A&M is “College Football Playoff” good?
Put differently, start from the assumption that Florida and Alabama take care of business in their final 2 games and advance to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. In that scenario, pick any “what if” scenario you want, and the question is would Texas A&M deserve a spot in the College Football Playoff?
That’s where things get tricky for Aggies fans.
I think the College Football Playoff Selection Committee got it right last week when they ranked Texas A&M No. 5, ahead of both an undefeated Cincinnati with a sneaky good resume and ahead of the Florida team it beat by a field goal in College Station on Oct. 10. Head-to-head matters, and while both teams have résumé opportunities ahead, you have to give strong weight to what happens when you stare across from each other on the football field. It doesn’t matter to me that Florida was missing a few key starters, either. Unanticipated absences and adversity is part of life in this strange COVID-19 shortened football season.
The problem Texas A&M has is Florida has the chance to win a championship, and then what? The Selection Committee isn’t going to leave the SEC champion out of the Playoff in favor of the Aggies. The precedent that would set — especially given the fact Texas A&M beat Florida on a last-second field goal in a terrific football game — would be terrible.
That leaves 2 paths for the Aggies: one viable, the other mostly the stuff of fan fiction.
The fantastical path involves a 1-loss Texas A&M being selected as the 2nd team from the SEC in a world where Florida wins the SEC championship. This is not particularly realistic: the Selection Committee will respect the Aggies’ win over Florida, but they aren’t likely to ignore a 28-point loss to Alabama if picking between the Aggies and Crimson Tide.
The viable path involves a world where Alabama wins the SEC championship and a 1-loss Aggies team is taken as the 4th team in the field. Assume in this scenario that the SEC champion and ACC champion are in without a doubt. For Texas A&M to be a Playoff team in this situation, the Selection Committee will need to feel the Aggies’ entire body of work is superior to that of all but one of this group: Cincinnati, BYU, Ohio State, the Pac-12 champion, the Big 12 champion and the ACC runner-up.
Is that possible? Yes. Likely? Well, that’s where it gets dicey.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in football, it’s often in the eye of the last to behold.
The Aggies’ 20-7 win Saturday over a very average LSU team wasn’t pretty, but it was a victory. It just didn’t boost the Aggies’ beauty quotient or eye test credentials much.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, save a great win over the Gators and a dominant win over a bad South Carolina team that ended Will Muschamp’s tenure, this isn’t an Aggies team with very many pretty wins. They aren’t really an “eye test” group.
It’s not just Saturday, a win that featured senior quarterback Kellen Mond completing 11-of-34 (not a typo!) passes for 105 yards, a total that amounts to 3.3 yards per attempt
The Aggies’ passing success rate, factoring in LSU sacks on passing plays, was 29%, one of the worst success rates in an SEC football game in 2020. The run game wasn’t much better; it averaged 2.8 yards an attempt if you take away the huge runs by Spiller early.
Spiller was hit routinely in the backfield and suffered a season-high number of tackles for loss. Normally, that wouldn’t be a big deal against LSU. This year, facing an LSU team that arrived in College Station 3-3 and ranked 12th overall in total defense and defensive efficiency in the SEC, these numbers are alarming.
This version of Kellen Mond playing tonight is the reason why Texas A&M still has people to win over as a playoff contender.
— Pat Forde (@ByPatForde) November 29, 2020
Yes, it’s tough for a program that has eclipsed 8 wins in a season just once since 2014 to complain much about double-digit wins over LSU. But Playoff seasons are determined at the margins, and if Texas A&M hopes to be a part of national conversations on a regular basis, they better get used to microanalysis and style-point criticisms because they come with the territory.
It wasn’t just the LSU game that captured this A&M team’s “win ugly” mantra.
The Aggies nearly lost to winless Vanderbilt, surviving a handful of turnovers and an 8-minute deficit in time of possession to win at home by 5 points. It was a win, but it was also the closest the Commodores have come to winning a football game in 2020.
A 42-31 victory over Arkansas feels like a quality win, especially given how good the Razorbacks have been defensively and the fact that Feleipe Franks is a very good quarterback. The problem is that the Hogs are now 3-5 and with Alabama still on the schedule, that leaves the Aggies with a nice, but not dominant, win over a team likely to finish with a losing record. In fact, at present, remove Florida and the record of teams the Aggies have beaten is an abysmal 10-29. The Aggies will have a chance to improve on that when they face 5-3 Auburn this Saturday and 4-4 Ole Miss down the stretch, but the body of work right now is basically “Florida” and a whole lot of mediocre to miserable.
That would be fine if the Aggies were pummeling people constantly, the way they did South Carolina, for example. It might not be enough if the Selection Committee faces the hard choice between a conference champion and a 1-loss Aggies team that didn’t even win its division.
None of this is to say Jimbo Fisher hasn’t done a marvelous job this season. The Florida win is as good a win as anyone has in the country, including Notre Dame’s win over Clemson, which of course came without Trevor Lawrence.
Further, while the Aggies’ defense hasn’t been very good against elite offenses (Alabama, Florida), it seems to be putting it all together now. Saturday, despite the absence of magnificent Michael Clemons, the Aggies harassed LSU’s quarterbacks all night and held a very good LSU run game to 1.4 yards per carry. DeMarvin Leal is a monster. Buddy Johnson is one of the SEC’s best linebackers. The secondary is big and athletic. Offensively, Spiller is a force, a guy who seems to bust a big one every game and who is difficult to bring down even when he doesn’t have much space. And Mond has been, well, Mond. There are some Saturdays he’s confident and elite, like the Florida game or against an elite Arkansas secondary. Then there are the games where he lays a massive egg, like last night against LSU. How does the committee evaluate that? It’s hard to know, but this team is certainly good enough around Mond to make that evaluation matter.
Right now, though, while the Aggies may hold on to the No. 5 ranking for another week, they may find it difficult to crack the top 4 long-term. In the end, that won’t be about what happened against Florida or Alabama. It will be about the body of work, a body that shows that this is a very good football team — just maybe not one worthy of the College Football Playoff.