Emerging Aggies look to stay the course
If the season ended today, Texas A&M and head coach Kevin Sumlin would be preparing for the College Football Playoff as the No. 4 team in the initial rankings released this past Tuesday.
The Aggies are No. 7 in the AP Poll, the 11th time in the program’s history to be ranked in the top 10 heading into November.
But the season doesn’t end today. In fact, there’s still a lot of football left to be played, and that’s where Sumlin and the Aggies are focused, beginning with Saturday’s game in Starkville against SEC West opponent Mississippi State.
“This team has done a really good job of blocking out the noise all year,” Sumlin said in the weekly SEC coaches teleconference. “The same noise that said we weren’t going to be any good. They blocked that out, and I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t continue down that same road.”
6️⃣ times a conference has had two teams ranked in the @CFBPlayoff Top 4.
All 6️⃣ times those were SEC teams. pic.twitter.com/sC8Y6V1vAM
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 2, 2016
Sure, it’s nice to garner the kind of respect his team has gotten from the polls and others as hard work and great effort have been put forth, but the focus must remain on the task at hand.
“We don’t have any control over (the rankings),” said Sumlin, who nevertheless acknowledged the unexpected loftiness in the poll as a good thing overall. “I think it’s great for our fans and for our university to have that kind of recognition.”
It also says that there are meaningful games still to be played as the Aggies head into the homestretch of the 2016 season.
“The biggest thing that you take from it is to be relevant in November,” Sumlin said. “That’s where we are. That’s where you want to be as a program.”
Relevant certainly, but the last time the Aggies were this highly ranked this late in the season was 1975. That squad, like the current one, started the month of November ranked No. 4 in the country. They rose to No. 2 that year before falling to Arkansas in the regular-season finale.
Finishing is paramount in the minds of Sumlin, his coaching staff and the Aggies’ football team; and that starts with the game on Saturday at noon eastern and televised by the SEC Network. They certainly don’t want a repeat of the last time an Aggies team, ranked in the top 10, visited Starkville. Many will remember that 2014 stinger, a 48-31 loss to the Bulldogs.
The Aggies already have SEC road wins over No. 9 Auburn and South Carolina as well as a neutral-site victory over Arkansas. They are 3-1 away from Kyle Field this season. Still, playing on the road in the SEC — especially against the SEC West — is a big challenge.
“They’ve got good players, they’ve got fans that are passionate, they make a lot of noise and care. That’s what makes this league the best league in the country,” Sumlin said.
Since Tuesday’s unveiling by the College Football Playoff committee, the Aggies have an even bigger target on their backs, but Sumlin said he believes the team is mature enough to handle it.
“All we can do is win the game in front of us,” Sumlin said. “We have to worry about winning Saturday, going to Starkville and getting a win. If we do that and keep focused on that every week, there will be something good at the end. Something real good. Our guys understand that.”