The Texas A&M Football team is 6-2 overall and has ascended to the No, 16 ranking in the BCS poll. The fortuitous combination of the right coach, talent and conference at the right time has the future looking as bright as it ever has in Aggieland.
Last September, the Aggies decided to leave the comfortable confines of the Big 12 to join the Southeastern Conference in a decision that was widely derided. The Aggies were allegedly not ready for the rough and tumble world of the SEC.
Many factors have gone into it, but the bottom line is that the Aggies are competing in the SEC and appear to be on solid footing going forward. The question is, how did a program that was average in 2011 transform into the team with the brightest future in the Lone Star state?
Aggies Make Correct Choice
The Texas A&M program decided to take the road less traveled, and break away from the other public schools in Texas by joining the SEC. They left the Big 12 behind and accepted the tremendous challenge of joining the toughest conference in the country.
The Big 12 has descended into a WAC-like free-for-all featuring games where the last team with the ball wins. Defense is such an afterthought that coaches are forced to make excuses for their defenses to the media.
The Aggies got out just in time to avoid the basketball scores. When you have teams beating each other 70-63 in regulation, you know that the league is not going to produce a national champion.
Defense wins championships and few teams in the Big 12 actually bother with it. Meanwhile the SEC features the top defensive teams in the country once again. Three of the top six defenses in the country are in the SEC.
Texas A&M is now a part of the best conference in the country and that has paid off on the recruiting trail. The Aggie coaches have assembled a class that will likely be ranked in the top 10 on signing day.
The Aggies have six defensive linemen currently committed in the 2013 recruiting class. They are bringing in the kind of defensive talent needed to be successful in the league of champions.
The Right Hire
When Texas A&M athletic director Billy Byrne hired Kevin Sumlin, he brought a coach back to Aggieland who recognized the tremendous potential of the program.
Sumlin had been an assistant coach at A&M under R.C. Slocum for two years. He knew how passionate the fanbase was and the inherent advantages the program possessed.
Sumlin jumped at the chance to take over a major program located in the football recruiting hotbed that is Texas. He knew that joining the SEC would offer recruits something that no other program in the state could offer.
Sumlin knew that the 300-plus football recruits that the state produces every year would jump at the chance to test themselves against the top competition in the country on every Saturday.
In Sumlin, the Aggies hired a coach that had success at every level before he took over the A&M program. He helped get Oklahoma to the national title game during his first year as an assistant in Norman.
He got his first head coaching gig at Houston, and led the Cougars to bowl games in three of the four years he was there. Sumlin has overseen explosive offenses ever since he took over as the Aggies' offensive coordinator in 2002.
Hr brought his spread offense to A&M. He also brought the kind of confidence with him not seen from a head coach at A&M since Jackie Sherrill was running the program. The team has taken on the persona of their head coach and plays with a lot of confidence, even on the road in the SEC.
In 2012 the Aggies have achieved a 4-0 record on the road. They are 3-1 against their foes from the SEC West division with two blowout victories.
Texas A&M hired the right coach to make the team competitive immediately in the best conference in the country
Plenty Of Talent In Place
Much is made about the Aggies' talented juniors in left tackle Luke Joeckel, right tackle Jake Matthews and defensive end Damontre Moore. All three will likely be first-round picks in the NFL draft whether they decide to come out early or return for their senior years.
Many people fail to realize how much talent there is in the senior class at A&M right now. Mike Sherman may have struggled with game management, but the man knew how to identify and develop talent.
He took over as head coach of the Texas A&M program after years of poor development under Dennis Franchione had killed the talent level in College Station. Franchione's out of control ego had strained the relationship between A&M and the Texas high school coaches.
Sherman immediately set out to repair the relationships with the high school coaches. The first full year he had on campus to recruit resulted in the 2009 recruiting class.
That class of recruits make up the senior class that Sumlin inherited when he arrived on campus. All-Conference performers like Sean Porter, Ryan Swope, Christine Michael, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Patrick Lewis were signed by Sherman in that class.
Sherman wasted little time in getting that talent on the field. He played a school record 18 members of the 2009 class as true freshmen. Sumlin is benefiting from the talent and experience that Sherman helped build the program with.
Sumlin deserves a lot of credit for getting that group of seniors to buy into his program. He also gets credit for continuing to develop the talent that is currently on campus.
Aggie fans need to remember that when Mike Evans, Moore, Johnny Manziel or Ben Malena make a big play, that Mike Sherman was the man who brought those players to Aggieland.
Sumlin gets credit for installing the system and giving them the confidence to play great football in it.
The "Johnny Football" Effect
It is impossible to discuss the success of the Texas A&M football program without recognizing the impact that Manziel has had on A&M.
Mike Sherman convinced the former three-star prospect from the San Antonio area to decommit from Oregon and sign with the Aggies. While some programs viewed Manziel as a safety, Sherman thought he could be a successful quarterback.
Sumlin inserted Manziel as the triggerman of his spread offense and a star was born. The combination of an offense that spreads defenses out, and a quarterback who can throw the ball who has sub-4.4 speed is too much for most defensive coordinators to handle.
The result has been an assault on school and conference offensive records. Manziel has twice broken the total offense record for the SEC. He has set school records for passing yardage and total yardage.
Manziel ranks in the top five in the nation for total yardage per game. He also has a flair for the dramatic.
The redshirt freshman quarterback makes big plays when the Aggies need them the most. He led the Aggies on two touchdown drives in the last eight minutes of a game against Ole Miss in Oxford to steal an SEC game on the road.
Manziel had a 72-yard touchdown run against Louisiana Tech with two minutes left in the game and the Aggies facing a 3rd-and-24 from their own 28-yard line.
Manziel's elusiveness and playmaking ability make him the most exciting player in the nation. What should really excite Aggie fans is that Manziel is only executing the offense properly about 50 percent of the time.
He still regularly misses open receivers while going through his reads. When he receives starters reps for an entire offseason and masters the system, the Aggie offense will truly be a sight to behold.
Former Rivals Are Down
While the Aggies have been exceeding expectations in the SEC, their former in-state brethren in the Big 12 have been struggling.
Texas got blown out for the second year in a row by Oklahoma, and have the worst defense in the history of their program. Not exactly the "SEC-like" squad that Mack Brown planned to put on the field this season.
Baylor as an 0-4 conference record and an even worse defense than Texas. TCU is 2-3 in the conference after losing their starting quarterback to substance abuse problems.
Texas Tech is doing the best of a Texas team in the Big 12 with a 3-2 conference record. They were just blown out of the water in Manhattan by Kansas State 55-24.
The struggles of all the teams the Aggies left behind in the Big 12, has only increased the spotlight on the Ags' successes in the SEC.
The diverging paths of the Aggies and the rest of the programs in the Big 12 has helped A&M on the recruiting trail. The Aggies are viewed by recruits as an exciting program on the rise in the best conference in the land.
The other Texas schools in the Big 12 can only offer mid-tier bowl games from a conference that is quickly losing its luster.
A Little Bit Of Luck
College football is cyclical and the Aggies have benefited from that. Entering the season many wondered how the Aggies would handle the murderers row that makes up the schedule of a team in the SEC West.
The SEC West has been down this year with disappointing performances by Arkansas and Auburn. Both programs will be looking for new head coaches when the season ends.
The Aggies did have to face Florida, but avoided very strong Georgia and South Carolina squads in their conference schedule. Missouri was thought to be better prepared to compete in the SEC right away than A&M, but their schedule against the teams in the SEC East has left them with a 1-4 conference record and fighting for their bowl lives.
A lot of factors have gone into the Aggies' success this season, but the bottom line is that the Texas A&M program is in the best position it has been in since the mid-1980s. Texas A&M fans need to relax and enjoy the ride as Sumlin and Manziel start a new era of Aggie football.