OPINION: No cause for concern
A&M faced internal challenges Saturday, but none compare to what's next
Published: Sunday, September 1, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 1, 2013 23:09
We have to be worried about something because that’s what we do. So a sometimes-rocky, suspension-sapped opener — with rusty play, sure, but a never-in-doubt win — became a national story. This is the new Texas A&M.
Or is it? Are we so different? Some fans have taken up arms against a perceived new football culture, one that has Johnny Manziel and Kevin Sumlin written all over it. After all, the old A&M never seemed to have eight suspended players at one time or quarterbacks who mime autograph gestures (after, you know, almost losing a season for that same signature).
The old A&M never won many games, but that’s of little account. Winning isn’t everything. Traditions matter. Those things are still true.
So what happened Saturday, when two players were ejected, four were suspended hours prior to kickoff and Manziel was benched and flagged for taunting?
I don’t buy into the thinking that because Manziel can get away with doing whatever it is he does, his teammates now follow that example. I don’t think Kirby Ennis reportedly flashed a gun at a driver because of Johnny. I don’t believe Floyd Raven and Deshazor Everett got mixed up in assault charges because Johnny signed autographs and may or may not have been paid for them.
And I don’t think it’s a “team culture” thing. Running onto the field to Kanye West’s “Power” does not create a suspension-prone team culture.
Here’s what happened: the best recruiting class in recent program history took the field for the first time. Fifteen of them played along with the first sophomore to open a season having already won a Heisman.
And after an offseason spent pegging A&M as a trendy pick for the national championship, the nation waffled on its opinion of A&M as Manziel’s status came into question.
We had similar preseason expectations for the 2011 team, with Cyrus Gray, Von Miller and Ryan Tannehill returning. So why didn’t that team act out, get pitched from the game for fighting and draw unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for scoreboard pointing?
Because that team was cowed in the Cotton Bowl by LSU after six straight wins. The talent returned but the confidence didn’t. They left that 2010 season muttering things like, “wait until next year,” under their breath.
In contrast, the 2012 Cotton Bowl team ripped through the Oklahoma defense like tissue paper. Each player in that locker room knew they would have done to Notre Dame in the national championship game what Alabama did. No team in the country had more confidence at season’s end.
That confidence didn’t leave. Sumlin is that confidence.
Well-behaved teams are capable of winning. Off-the-field antics don’t make a team more competitive in the SEC, and by no means do I condone the actions of the suspended players.
But this isn’t 1990’s Miami. This isn’t the Isaiah Thomas Pistons. This is a young wad of football players who think they’re unbeatable and who are talented enough to make it so.
The Aggie Honor Code still exists, even on the football team, and no one — not Manziel, Sumlin or, at this point, Daeshon Hall — thinks it’s okay to fight during a game.
As a fan base, haven’t we seen the “aw shucks” brand of good-guy football? Sherman’s players behaved. They also blew six second-half leads in 2011.
We’ve tried it the squeaky-clean way. And then we allowed the Sumlin “yessir” swagger to take hold last year and won 11 games. Slow down before you condescend to it, because this fan base seemed perfectly fine with Sumlin’s control of his team at the Cotton Bowl after-parties.
Last season, A&M was a freshman kicker and a hurricane away from the national championship. So goes the popular thinking: Had Taylor Bertolet (a confident, perfect 8-of-8 Saturday) made the seven points in kicking opportunities he left on the field against LSU and had a hurricane not delayed the scheduled opener against Louisiana Tech (and forced a team under a new scheme and quarterback to open against Florida, a game it almost won), A&M would have played Georgia for the SEC championship.
Regardless, A&M came close last year. When you’re close enough to running the table that you can (overly) simplify it like that, it’s a good season.
So couldn’t the absence of eight suspended players (including six defensive starters) for parts or all of the first two games be this year’s Bertolet-and-hurricane? This defense is big, quick and inexperienced. It had two tune-ups before Alabama and it trashed them both. The first time the defense plays together, it will face the best offensive team Nick Saban has ever had at Alabama.
I don’t judge the character of our players based on an unspecified violation that docked four guys a couple games, a passionate freshman taking a swing, a garbage targeting flag and a quarterback (whose cockiness has never been in doubt) acting cocky.
That doesn’t overly concern me. I’m too busy looking ahead — to Saban and beyond. Because whether this team is a mob of thugs or a troop of Boy Scouts, Alabama will bring the same grudge to town.