Just in time for the 80th anniversary of Texas A&M’s finest football season, the Aggies stand a fairly reasonable chance to make a run at history again.
All they have to do is survive their hardest schedule, like, ever.
The season shapes up so tough, in fact, here’s predicting A&M could lose two regular-season games and still wind up with an invitation to the College Football Playoff.
First, let’s look at the bark on that schedule: Even if you harbor a valid prejudice against preseason polls, it’s fair to say that Clemson (1), Alabama (2), Georgia (3) and LSU (6) would rank near the top of just about anyone’s take, including your bookie’s. Making matters worse, the Aggies face three of those monsters on the road.
Their only game against a top 10 team at home? Alabama. Not exactly a break, is it?
ESPN’s Power Football Index ranks the Aggies’ schedule just the 11th toughest in the nation. Makes you wonder if they mixed the AFC West in the formula. Colorado somehow got itself nominated No. 6, which probably isn’t the company the Buffaloes had in mind when they bolted the Big 12. For that matter, this schedule should tell you why the Aggies might not be as excited as all us sportswriters about rekindling a nonconference rivalry with Texas. Hard enough just weathering the SEC West week in and week out, much less spending what could have been a breather on an emotionally exhausting blood rival instead.
Anyway, as it turns out, the strength of the 12th-ranked Aggies’ schedule could work for them this year. Of the 10 teams with the toughest slates in front of them at the moment, only Georgia and Florida (8) are ranked higher in the polls. What that means, at least for now, is that few teams could be in a better position to create an argument once the committee locks the doors.
Nothing beats the last impression the Aggies could make with back-to-back games in Athens and Baton Rouge.
Win those road trips, Jimbo Fisher, and you might just live up to that fat contract after all.
Of course, with top-ranked Clemson only two weeks into the schedule, we won’t have to wait nearly so long to see just how serious A&M really is. Probably worth noting here that the PFI only projects 7.4 wins for the Aggies. That’s not even the over/under on a Kevin Sumlin season. The odds suggest the Aggies could stumble here or there. Maybe even against Arkansas at JerryWorld, now that Chad Morris has found himself a quarterback with whom he’s familiar in Ben Hicks.
For the sake of this argument, let’s say the Aggies win all the games they ought to. The beauty of such a difficult early date against Clemson is they don’t necessarily have to win. Losing to the No. 1 team on the road the week after Labor Day isn’t a CFP deal-killer. The Aggies get bonus points for playing the Tigers, though it’s not clear they knew what they were getting into at the time.
They could even lose to Alabama on Oct. 12 in College Station and their hopes wouldn’t necessarily be dashed. They simply can’t get blown out by either team. That, and they can’t do any worse than split against Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and LSU.
Never mind that they might do well to go 1-3. But if they’re going to split, better to lose early than late. The committee likes teams on the rise. Losing to Alabama probably means the Aggies wouldn’t play in the SEC championship game, and that alone could knock them out. They’d have to hope that beating Georgia and LSU knocked both out of contention and left A&M as the best 1A option from the SEC.
Naturally, all of the above is contingent upon how the rest of the nation shapes up. Only once — Georgia and Alabama after the ’17 season — has the CFP included two teams from the same conference. The committee might appear to be hard-pressed to do it again, especially if it should come at the expense of the Big Ten or Pac-12. If the committee is going to keep leaving power five conferences out of the playoffs, maybe even for the third year in a row, the clamor is only going to increase for an expanded field.
Just the same, the coaches on the committee care less about aesthetics and politics than they do tough, physical teams that have earned their way. A 10-2 record with A&M’s schedule makes for a pretty solid case.
The keys for the Aggies — so obvious that even yours truly can see them — are Jimbo and Kellen Mond. The junior quarterback is a trendy candidate for several national awards. As for the coach, Jimbo was hired to produce just the sort of season this column suggests. Might as well get on with it.