HOOVER, Ala. — The Texas A&M Aggies spoke about similar themes during their first SEC media days.
They talked about how excited they were to join the best conference in the country. They weren’t worried about playing on the road and they were ready for the competition.
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Perhaps, they don’t fear what they don’t understand.
It was an underlying theme surrounding Day 1 of the media scrum in Hoover, Alabama, which everyone except the Aggies seemed to know. Even SEC commissioner Mike Slive alluded to the difficult time these teams will face in the upcoming season.
“It isn’t about this year or next year or the year after that. It’s really looking at a much longer horizon,” Slive said.
Of course, the commissioner is correct: This move isn’t about how the Aggies and Missouri Tigers fit in during the first season, because they probably won’t.
They’ll play all new teams, have to get used to new coaching styles, players, fans and the biggest difference, team speed.
“Just watching film on different SEC teams this past week, there’s speed at every position,” Aggie offensive lineman Luke Joeckel said. “Their defensive tackles are fast, everywhere is fast, everywhere hits hard and they’re all strong.”
Yes they are, and it’s the reason the SEC put a massive number “5” on their media guide a year ago and the reason they added another number to the tally in 2012. The question is, how will the Aggies be able to contend against the speed when their heads are already spinning with everything else that’s going on?
“We’re just excited to experience all the new traditions that they have for us. We’re not real familiar with going and seeing what these other schools have to offer,” wide receiver Ryan Swope said.
Those traditions include — and are certainly not limited to — fans throwing things at the team buses, over 100,000 fans in Knoxville singing Rocky Top and low fences at Auburn and South Carolina for fans to say things you wouldn’t want your mother to hear in a million years.
Other SEC players at media days joked about how they were used to those things and laughed at the insanity of some of the fans. The Aggies will experience that for the first time.
Still, the games are played on the field and atmosphere can be blocked out by a team with mental strength and unity. The problem is, the Aggies don’t have that either.
Not only are the Aggies joining a new conference, but they have a new coaching staff as well.
Kevin Sumlin took over for the Aggies in the spring and then had to recruit his starting wide receiver to return, find new players and coaches, and install a new strength and conditioning program. In the meantime, the Aggies hired a new athletic director. To put it mildly, that hasn’t been easy.
“Transition’s very, very difficult on everybody,” Sumlin said. “It’s hard on players but it’s hardest on seniors because they’re guys who didn’t sign up for it, quite frankly. There’s gonna be some resentment, some guys that may have felt that they let the last coach down or that don’t wanna be there.”
And on top of all that, the Aggies have to improve on their 7-6 record from a season ago.
Haunted by inconsistent play, failure to close out games, questions
surrounding their conditioning and far too many penalties caused the
Aggies to give wins away.
“There are some physical issues that we have to address, but there are some emotional issues that we’re addressing as a staff too,” Sumlin said.
Sounds like a lot of work. And while there’s a ton of excitement in College Station — every home game has already sold out — those guys aren’t on the field.
“The fans are probably more excited than I am because for them it’s a gameday experience, but we actually have to play the games,” Sumlin said.
So yes, Texas A&M faces an uphill battle in their first season. They’ll learn a lot and probably get hit more. But one day, like Arkansas and South Carolina before them, they too will be competing for SEC titles.