Texas A&M Football’s Potential Crossroads
By Chris Mahr
Worst-case scenario, Texas A&M’s 51-41 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday could be the last time that the Kyle Field faithful see the Aggies as they’ve come to know them.
It was only last year that A&M returned to the near-top of college football for the first time since the late 1990s - its most recent season with double digit wins had been 1998 - with a “basketball on grass”-style of play that head coach Kevin Sumlin had cultivated at Houston and which QB Johnny Manziel executed to perfection en route to a historic Heisman Trophy win. After just their first season in a new conference, the Aggies had the makings of a potential SEC power.
The question on many pundits’ and A&M fans’ minds (one that the latter desperately hopes won’t be answered) is what effect the potential departures of both Manziel and Sumlin will have on the program. Is the Aggies’ return to the college football elite over before it can even begin in earnest?
Manziel is a redshirt sophomore, giving him the option of spending two more seasons in College Station. Yet it almost feels like a forgone conclusion that he’ll declare for the 2014 NFL Draft after this season, as evidenced by how many outlets recapped Saturday’s contest as his “possible final game at Kyle Field.”
It’s not as if we didn’t see this coming. It’s hard to find much more to conquer on the college level when you upset the top-ranked team on the road and become the first freshman ever to win college football’s most hallowed individual honor. Manziel hinted as much this past offseason, by which point it sounded like he was over being college football’s biggest star.
And after widespread fears that Johnny Football’s highly publicized off-the-field life would torpedo his performance on the field, he’s more than avoided the dreaded sophomore slump, having already exceeded his TD pass total from a season ago in addition to being within striking distance of the 4,000-yard mark. Moreover, A&M is 7-2 and ranked No. 11, with shootout losses to top-ranked Alabama and No. 7 Auburn - whom Manziel torched for a combined 918 passing yards and nine TDs - being its only setbacks.
In short, Manziel has nothing left to prove in College Station. He’s proven himself worthy of a first-round selection in next spring’s NFL draft. If you ask me, the player that Johnny Football projects to be most like at the next level is Brett Favre - a smaller-than-average QB (Favre was only an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than Manziel) with a penchant for making big plays out of nothing and an impressive willingness to play hurt.
Johnny Football’s departure is something that the Texas A&M faithful have already been preparing for. Kevin Sumlin’s hypothetical one, however, has to have caught them by surprise.
After it was long thought that Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was the frontrunner for the USC head coaching job, Sumlin has since emerged as the Trojans’ top target. On the surface, the notion that Sumlin would leave a gig in college football’s most complete and football-mad conference is laughable. Yet if A&M started taking Sumlin’s devotion to them for granted, they might get burned.
Sumlin’s $3.1 million salary (by school pay) with the Aggies is definitely a generous one, yet USC has the type of coffers that would allow them to make him a Godfather offer in the $5 million range (i.e. what Alabama’s Nick Saban and Texas’ Mack Brown make). Granted, A&M will do everything it can to match any offer for Sumlin - but how high can the Aggies go? The Trojans also happen to play in a conference where the type of offense Sumlin champions is the norm; the attacks at Oregon, Cal, Washington, Arizona State and Arizona are all very similar to Sumlin’s.
Finally, USC can offer a Southern California lifestyle to Sumlin, his wife and their four children that (with all due respect to the Bryan-College Station area) trumps anything and everything in East Texas by a landslide. It’d take a lot for Sumlin to spurn the Aggies after just two seasons with them, yet if any school can offer such a package, it’d be USC.
Such is the nightmare scenario that could be developing at Texas A&M. In one fell swoop, they could lose the school’s most iconic player since John David Crow to the NFL and the man who coached him to another school. There’s no telling what effect that could have on their standing in an ultra-competitive SEC West. Or in the recruiting game (the Aggies currently have the nation’s fifth-best class for 2014). Or several other areas.
Just when the 12th Man had something to scream about again, it could be silenced just as it started getting warmed up.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.