Mississippi State destroys initial CFP rankings with upset of Texas A&M
Most fans outside College Station didn’t feel Texas A&M deserved to be No. 4 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings.
They don’t have to worry about that anymore, as the Aggies were taken down Saturday in convincing fashion 35-28 by Mississippi State. A&M falls to 7-2 and surely has been eliminated from Final Four discussion.
Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald finally had a good game against a quality opponent — his 2 interceptions notwithstanding — with 209 yards through the air, another 182 on the ground and 4 total touchdowns. Texas A&M was shredded defensively from start to finish to the tune of 365 yards rushing by MSU.
Fitzgerald (below) set the tone early with a 74-yard TD run on his first play from scrimmage. The Aggies never recovered.
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A&M quarterback Trevor Knight didn’t enjoy near the same level of success. Just 5-of-14 passing for 43 yards, he eventually left the game with a shoulder injury and had to be replaced by backup Jake Hubenak.
While he did a commendable job keeping the game close in the final minutes, Texas A&M’s dreams were dashed once Mississippi State recovered an onside kick with less than two minutes to play. Hubenak completed 11-of-17 passes for 222 yards with 2 scores — including a fourth-down fade to Josh Reynolds — off the bench.
However, his desperation heave over the middle with 14 seconds left was tipped and intercepted by Mark McLaurin to seal it.
The Bulldogs improved to 4-5 and still have an outside chance of attaining bowl eligibility. That being said, they’ll need two victories in their final three contests against Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss.
But this game was less about MSU’s triumph and more about the Aggies’ failure. Given the benefit of the doubt in the first CFP rankings — many people, including me, didn’t understand why they were ranked ahead of undefeated Washington — A&M was dominated by a program projected by many to finish in the West cellar.
Texas A&M looked to be playing a better brand of football in 2016 based on its ability to both run the ball and stop the run.
Instead, the Aggies weren’t able to do either at Davis Wade Stadium. In addition to Fitzgerald’s big day on the ground, Mississippi State’s Aeris Williams ran for 140 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
Knight actually led A&M in rushing before his injury with 54 yards and a touchdown on 5 attempts. Hubenak, conversely, is not a legitimate threat to scramble — he posted just 2 yards on 7 carries. Tailbacks Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford combined for only 61 yards on 19 rushes.
Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin had cooled his seat considerably this season. Back at Media Days in July, it was quite warm.
It’s definitely warmer now. This is arguably his most inexplicable loss since taking the reigns in 2012. Make no mistake about it: Division foe or not, the Bulldogs haven’t played well most of the year post-Dak Prescott.
This is the same team that was upset at home in the season opener by South Alabama. This is the same team that surrendered 35 points to FBS punching bag Massachusetts and 41 more to FCS cupcake Samford — the latter was just last week, mind you. Its offense was average, and its defense was below average.
The loss can’t be blamed on Knight’s (below) injury, either. He was rather ineffective before taking off his pads unable to continue.
Texas A&M owns wins over UCLA, Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee. While Auburn is 7-2 and entered the weekend No. 9 in the CFP rankings, UCLA, Arkansas and Tennessee have all fallen apart since playing the Aggies.
UCLA, No. 16 at the time of its matchup with A&M, is now 3-6 and probably won’t make a bowl game. Arkansas, No. 17 at the time, is 1-3 in league play and out of the polls. Tennessee, No. 9 at the time, is on a three-game losing streak and unranked. Texas A&M defeated Auburn before the Tigers hit their stride.
Looking back, the Aggies really don’t have a signature win at this point. What exactly impressed the committee is a bit of a mystery.
It appears as if Texas A&M was being given a lot of credit for leading Alabama 14-13 in Tuscaloosa in the beginning stages of the third quarter, despite the fact that the Crimson Tide ultimately won convincingly 33-14.
Admittedly, A&M wasn’t at full strength in Starkville. Knight already had a brace on one shoulder coming into the game and then injured the other one. All-American pass rusher Myles Garrett has been less than 100 percent for a while now — he was seen limping on his bum ankle repeatedly — and wasn’t much of a factor.
Nevertheless, the Aggies are considerably more talented than Mississippi State and never should’ve lost this game.
The 11:00 a.m. kickoff clearly did the visiting team no favors. Texas A&M was asleep at the wheel in the early stages and didn’t wake up in time. The Bulldogs gave every impression that they simply wanted it more.
The irony is that the Aggies were the ones that truly had something to play for in this one. This MSU club is going nowhere. It’s a rebuilding year for coach Dan Mullen and Co. Texas A&M, on the other hand, was in the running for a playoff berth — even as second-best in SEC — and a shot at the national title.
And now it’s all over. A&M had a rather respectable one-loss résumé when the day began. Its second loss was a stinker, though.