COLUMN: Apocalypse later
A&M's SEC realignment has altered fans perceptions of success
Published: Sunday, October 20, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 20, 2013 21:10
After No. 24 Auburn handed No. 7 Texas A&M its second loss of the season, an unfamiliar feeling from the past swept over College Station — losing.
Our football program has evolved from the 2011 days of Mike Sherman, when no lead was ever secure. Today, we have the right head coach, we’re in the right conference and we have the right quarterback. But that doesn’t mean that we’re never going to lose another game nor are we invincible.
Manziel and the Aggie offense didn’t lose this game, the defense did, just as they did against Alabama, and will continue to do the rest of the season unless something drastic changes, and fast. We cannot expect to continue winning in a conference known for defenses without one of our own.
On the Tigers’ final drive — down three with 5:05 left in the fourth — they torched the Aggie defense on 10 plays, which lasted just over four minutes. During that 10-play drive, Auburn passed just three times while running the ball 10. The Aggie defensive-line simply could not get the Tigers off the field as Auburn owned the battle in the trenches.
Following the 45-41 defeat at the hands of the Tigers Saturday night, I saw our fans evolving just as our team had. Yes, the loss is a loss, but there is no end-of-the-world feeling like there was following the 27-25 loss to UT or the 30-29 defeat to Oklahoma State in 2011.
There is no crying in the SEC, and our fans are finally realizing that. Losing to the likes of Alabama and Auburn, who have both won championships within the past three years, is a much easier pill to swallow than losing to the likes of Kansas State and Iowa State; it just comes with the (SEC) territory.
I’m willing to bet that when Johnny Manziel was handed the ball with 1:19 left in the fourth quarter and three timeouts remaining, everyone at Kyle Field had no doubt the Aggies would win the game. It was only a matter of time, and based on previous experience, they would be correct. But that wasn’t the case on Saturday when the Auburn defense stopped the deemed “unstoppable.”
We must give credit where credit is due. I tip my hat to the Auburn players for playing in the fashion they did, and where they did it. It’s not easy to come into a rocking Kyle Field and upset the Aggies, much less hold our potent offense scoreless on a game-deciding drive. They’re a good football team, and just as we had to go to Tuscaloosa last year and steal one from the Tide to prove ourselves as contenders, this was the Tigers proving ground.
The Aggies came into the game versus Auburn having never lost to the Tigers in the three meetings between the two, including the 63-21 mauling the Aggies put on them last year. However, A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin noted the countless similarities between the 2012 Aggie squad and this year’s Auburn team.
“They’re 5-1,” said Sumlin. ”They’re ranked 24th in the country. They’re very different from the team we played last year. They’ve got a lot of energy. In some respects, it’s a lot like where we were last year. They’ve got a new coach. They’ve got new players. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. Gus [Malzahn] does a great job schematically. Ellis Johnson does a great job as the defensive coordinator. The kids believe in what they’re doing.”
Belief is something the Auburn athletes played with. I’m willing to bet that the only people among the 87,165 in attendance who believed Auburn would win the game — after giving the ball to Manziel with just over a minute remaining and three timeouts — were wearing Auburn orange and blue.
The loss to Auburn proved something to Aggies everywhere: We are not the punching bag of the Big 12 or the bottom-dwellers in the SEC like everyone predicted. We are now the team that others circle on their schedule at the beginning of season — we are now the hunted. Rather than being looked over, we now serve as a measuring stick for other SEC teams to see how they stack up — not only in the SEC, but nationally.
Although the loss diminishes the chances of a national title run, or even an SEC title run, our program is not dead. Recruits are no longer laughing at the prospect of going to A&M, they are coming, leaving us something to look forward to. The prospect of having some of the nation’s top recruits heading our way proves that our window for greatness does not close when Manziel leaves. It simply opens a new chapter.
Playing in the SEC will come with losses; it’s simply part of the landscape. Anything can happen in college football, and despite having two losses on the season, A&M’s prominence is far from diminishing.
It’s a new era in Aggieland, and you cannot deny the fact that our program is, and will remain, on the rise.