The biggest college football draw on television in 2013 was Alabama. Are you surprised?
The second biggest college football draw on television in 2013 was Texas A&M. Are you surprised?
If 2013 was almost any other year in the past century, you would be. But 2013 in AggieLand was not like any other thanks to the overwhelming presence of Johnny Football. It is no stretch to say that Manziel was the most discussed college football player in a generation – even surpassing Tim Tebow.
The Johnny Football phenomenon could not have come at a better time for Texas A&M. When the rumors started percolating about the potential move to the SEC, it was viewed through a similar prism as the Rutgers move to the Big Ten. Simply put, A&M was perceived to being added for the millions of people and millions of dollars the state of Texas could bring to the SEC.
Instead of a doormat collecting a paycheck, Texas A&M quickly became a national story as Manziel scrambled his way to a Heisman Trophy and danced into the hearts of millions. In 2013, every A&M game was appointment television, culminating the week before Thanksgiving when a largely meaningless A&M/LSU game drew a ridiculous 7.5 million viewers to CBS.
The accompanying hype reinvented Texas A&M as a football program. The stadium went through a massive upgrade. The coaching salaries skyrocketed. Coach Kevin Sumlin travels to high schools on a “swagcopter.” The painful end to the Mack Brown era at Texas left a power vacuum that A&M exploited to the nth degree.
What did Texas A&M actually accomplish in the past two seasons? They won a Cotton Bowl and a Peach Bowl. They lost four games last year. Their defense in 2013 was one of the worst ever fielded in the modern SEC. I mean, seriously, how do you lose four games with Johnny Football at the helm?
Here’s where I bury the lede – Texas A&M is going to be really bad in 2014.
The average college football player was in preschool the last time that Texas A&M won its conference. That average player was not alive the last time – the early 1990s – that Texas A&M was a true national title contender when November rolled around.
It’s called regression to the mean. It’s especially true in college football, where programs have shown the ability to make momentary leaps to the forefront due to star players and quickly regress.
Do you remember Purdue in the Rose Bowl thanks to Drew Brees? Maryland in the Orange Bowl? Arizona State playing for a National Title behind Jake Plummer?
In a decade, we’ll view the Johnny Football era the same way. The descent back to mediocrity begins this year as Texas A&M enters the cruel reality of a post-Manziel world.
If it were just Manziel leaving, the Aggies might be okay. But they also lost Mike Evans and Jake Matthews – two Top 10 picks in this year’s NFL Draft.
When Alabama or Ohio State loses three first round picks, they reload. When Texas A&M does, it is cause for serious concern. Yet it is not as concerning as the Aggies’ schedule.
With the possible exception of Notre Dame, I believe A&M has the toughest schedule in the country. They lost at home last year to Alabama and Auburn. This year, they play both potential Top 5 teams on the roads. Those are two guaranteed losses.
They open the season – and the SEC Network – with a road trip to South Carolina with a new quarterback. Yikes. That’s another loss.
Mississippi State is a trendy darkhorse for a program ready to make a big leap, in part due to QB Dak Prescott. Yep, A&M visits them too.
The home slate features visits from Ole Miss, Missouri and LSU – three more teams that feature in preseason Top 25 polls.
How many games is A&M going to lose this year? I’ll tell you right now that if they go 8-4 again, it’ll be a miracle.
Thus the descent commences.
On its best day, Texas A&M is the fourth-best team in its division behind Alabama, Auburn and LSU. It can’t even claim Texas thanks to Baylor. What happens for the next recruiting cycle when Sumlin is out there on his swagcopter following a 7-6 season that ended with a loss in the Birmingham Bowl?
This is arguably the most important season in Texas A&M history because they need to capitalize on the Johnny Football momentum now. In today’s media landscape, those Johnny Football highlights will look like relics from a different era come fall 2015.
The problem is that Texas A&M is not that good. Truth be told, they weren’t that good last year but the magic of Johnny Football kept the ship afloat. Without Manizel – to say nothing of Evans and Matthews – the Aggies were a five-win football team in 2013.
Instead, the Aggies will be a five-win football team in 2014.
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