What if this is Texas A&M's ceiling? (And it seems like it is)
This isn’t going to go over well with Aggie Nation, but the possibility is very real — and history will back it up — that Aggies football is at or near its ceiling. It may be uncomfortable for Aggies fans to see it laid out in black and white, but Texas A&M is not and never has been an elite football program.
Moving to the SEC brought heightened expectations. Playing in the nation’s best conference was a move that most perceived would elevate the program, perhaps through osmosis, to new levels.
But that bump lasted one season. Texas A&M has finished in the top 5 only five times in program history, and the most recent time was that first year in the SEC under current head coach Kevin Sumlin with a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback named Johnny Manziel. It’s been a steady downhill slide since, with many people anticipating the end of the Sumlin era at season’s end.
“It’s anticipated Sumlin will be relieved at the end of the season, with an interim coach named for the Aggies Bowl”https://t.co/5w4m09y6UB
— Tim England (@tengland150) November 5, 2017
Texas A&M has reached the mountain top, just not in modern times. The Aggies finished No. 1 in 1919, 1927 and the last time in 1939. In between those three magical seasons, the Aggies did not win more than eight games in any one season, and accomplished eight wins just twice during that span.
Sustained excellence is the primary gauge for hanging elite status on a program. But only once in their history have the Aggies maintained a final ranking — of any kind — in more than three consecutive seasons.
Under R.C. Slocum, the Aggies were ranked at the end of the season in seven consecutive years (1989-95). It’s the closest the program has come to earning the tag “elite.”
It happened on the heels of a three-year stretch in which Jackie Sherrill won three consecutive Southwest Conference championships before resigning after the Aggies were put on probation.
Slocum had the Aggies ranked at the end of 10 seasons, but never higher than No. 7. It was the zenith of Texas A&M football in terms of sustained respect. His final ranked team was the 1999 squad (No. 20). The Aggies have earned a final ranking in just three seasons since, and went 11 years before the next one, closing the 2010 season at 9-4 and ranked No. 18 under head coach Mike Sherman.
The current streak of eight (will be nine) consecutive bowl appearances is the best such run in program history. Sumlin’s teams have qualified for bowls in all six of his seasons. No other coach in program history put together such a string, and his three-game bowl win streak is also the most by any head coach in Texas A&M history. That could perhaps help explain why Sumlin is still around.
Christian Kirk on Kevin Sumlin: I’ll personally say that there’s not another college football coach that I’d rather play for in the entire country (Kirk added he was so glad to be a part of Sumlin’s 50th win at Texas A&M – Sumlin is now 50-25 in six seasons).
— Brent Zwerneman (@BrentZwerneman) November 12, 2017
The facilities may be top notch, but the program historically simply hasn’t been. Even in four seasons under the legendary Bear Bryant, the Aggies never won a bowl game, losing 3-0 to Tennessee in the 1957 Gator Bowl, his only postseason appearance at Texas A&M.
Yes, while there won’t be many who will admit it, the Texas A&M football program is at its ceiling, at least historically speaking. Sure, the Aggies could catch lightning in a bottle and win a national championship. But only two coaches (Dana Bible and Homer Norton) have accomplished it at A&M, a school that first fielded a football team in 1894.
Texas A&M AD Scott Woodward set the expectations for Sumlin, Aggies football, and the future of both, when he stated before the season that more than eight wins is the acceptable bar. Perhaps he is being more realistic than most.
The Aggies (6-4, 3-3) would need to win out to reach nine wins, with games at Mississippi, at LSU and at whatever bowl they make. Otherwise, the best they can hope for is a fourth straight 8-5 season. Perhaps Sumlin will be gone regardless. But it’s hard to see a new guy doing a whole lot better.