One of the more inevitable and unfortunate traditions in college sports is the need to overplay one game or one performance, good or bad, until hype morphs into stupidity. That’s when things get said like Steve Spurrier’s comment that the Alabama Crimson Tide “looks like they could beat a couple of those NFL teams I’ve watched on Sunday.”
That and other nonsense — like the parade of pundits ready to claim that this year’s Tide squad was better than the previous national champions — seems silly now.
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So, the same temptation should be avoided when analyzing Texas A&M. Even though the Aggies’ upset win over Alabama was, without question, their biggest win since capturing the national title in 1940, one game alone is not enough for any grand proclamations other than to say it was a darn good game, the kind A&M fans will be talking about for decades.
For sober predictions to have meaning, the season as a whole must be examined through the lens of history and expectations.
On both those fronts, it is not hyperbole to say that A&M’s Kevin Sumlin is the SEC Coach of the Year. Hands down. Bar none.
Granted, Sumlin is coaching almost none of his own players. Mike Sherman recruited them, including quarterback Johnny Manziel. But that only enhances Sumlin’s case. The team could have mailed it in. The players could have rejected their new coach — not their guy; not their style; not somebody who understands them — or they could have transferred.
Plus, in years past, most notably last season, the Aggies were notorious for letting leads slip away and blowing games late. With a new man at the helm, it would have been easy for that trend to continue.
Throw in an inaugural SEC schedule which included LSU, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas and Mississippi State, it was no wonder most experts predicted a four-, five-, at the outside six-win A&M season. Even the most ardent Aggie fans hoped this squad could make it to a bowl.
Now they’re a top-10 team, eighth in the BCS standings and looking to climb higher. More importantly, the way they lost last year, blowing leads and playing soft down the stretch, has vanished like the Texas dew. Not only can their offense score quickly, every Aggie is playing more physical than anyone can remember.
Case in point is receiver Ryan Swope, who had 11 catches for 111 yards in the win at ‘Bama. A senior who has struggled with concussions throughout his career, Swope laid out for a critical grab in the fourth quarter, holding onto the ball despite almost being decapitated by Alabama defensive backs.
That catch was illustrative of the way the Aggies have played under Sumlin, getting better with each game, and getting tougher where others might have wilted. Nobody has seen this sort of hard-nosed, leatherneck grit in College Station, Texas, since Bear Bryant’s Junction Boys.
Forget Johnny Football for a moment — although Manziel is making the best freshman case for the Heisman trophy in decades — this team is eight points away from being undefeated in a year when most people hoped it would win one conference game. The Aggies lost to Florida 20-17 on Sept. 8 and to LSU 24-19 on Oct. 20.
There is one primary reason for the success.
“Kevin Sumlin’s our football coach,” A&M linebacker Sean Porter said after the Alabama win. “(Coach Sumlin) won’t accept second-half letdowns. He does a great job leading us.”
Indeed he does, and not just for one game. The Coach of the Year award should go to the man who has elevated his team and exceeded expectations for an entire season.