Last Saturday, Texas A&M took a giant step toward overcoming an embarrassing loss at home to Appalachian State. A 17-9 victory against No. 13 Miami set the Aggies back on course.

“I love the competitiveness, love the togetherness, love the guys pulling together,” head coach Jimbo Fisher said on Monday. “Coming off a tough loss, guys bonded together, blocked out the noise, went and played.

“Had distraction before the game, blocked that out. Had injuries during the game, young guys stepped up, played critical minutes and made big plays and did really good things on both sides of the ball in different places.”

I said it last week and will reiterate here, if the Aggies can bounce back and beat Miami and Arkansas, they can figuratively erase that loss to App. State. They can’t expunge it from their record. It’s there to stay. But psychologically back-to-back victories against highly ranked teams could put the Aggies back on the path they mapped out at the beginning of the season.

That’s why Saturday’s game with 10th-ranked Arkansas – a.k.a. the Southwest Classic – is must-win for No. 23 Texas A&M.

The Aggies cannot afford to take a step backward. They’ve had their stumble, now it’s time to open SEC play on the right foot. Starting conference play at 0-1 would be devastating for a program looking to become competitive in the sport’s strongest conference.

It really is a defining game for the Aggies. Win it and the App. State debacle is a distant memory, a bump in the road, nothing more. However, lose on Saturday to Arkansas, and Texas A&M becomes an also-ran in the SEC, an afterthought, a 2-2, 0-1 middle-of-the-pack flounderer. Their role would shift to that of a spoiler rather than a contender.

Irrelevancy is what is at stake for Texas A&M on Saturday at 6 p.m. (Central) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Fortunately, the Aggies haven’t lost confidence. That was evident on Saturday when they took down Miami at Kyle Field. It was on display in all 3 phases of the game.

“Our confidence is high because we trust in each other,” said defensive lineman Albert Regis, who blocked a Canes field goal attempt. “Like coach Fisher always tells us, when you take a test and you study for it, you’ll be confident because you’ll know the answers. But when you don’t study for a test, you’re going to the test nervous because you don’t know what to expect.

“And it’s just the same thing, we study our opponents day in and day out and we come up with the perfect game plan – from the coaching staff to the players – and then when it’s time to play, we execute it. That is why our confidence is high, because we trust ourselves and, most importantly, we trust the coaches and what they tell us to do.”

That confidence most assuredly will be tested this Saturday when a much more seasoned Arkansas team takes the field. As Regis pointed out, there are no shortcuts. The time and effort must be put in. And even then, positive results are no guarantee.

But if the Aggies are to climb back up the SEC ladder and become a factor, it is essential that they walk away from “Jerry World” – named for Dallas Cowboys owner and former Arkansas player Jerry Jones – with a victory. Otherwise, the season will be all but over before it has a chance to really crank up.

In the world of college football, it’s as critical a game as there can be to a season. A loss likely would force Fisher to reevaluate everything, from player personnel to scheme to the very direction of the program.

But a win? A win on Saturday in the conference opener against their SEC West neighbors, coupled with the bounce-back against Miami, would prove that the Aggies are for real and their preseason goals are still in play. That the loss to App. State was a stumble and not a defining moment.

Yes, for Texas A&M, the game on Saturday is huge.