Aside from an electric inaugural campaign in 2012, the Texas A&M Aggies have remained largely irrelevant since joining the SEC four years ago. In 2016, their moment may have finally arrived.
A turbulent start to SEC play has sent shockwaves through the conference, particularly in the West. The Aggies stand to reap the benefits more than anyone else.
By the time Texas A&M and Arkansas kicked off their prime-time matchup on Saturday night, it was already decided that the winner of the game would stand alongside Alabama and Tennessee as the only remaining SEC teams with a flawless conference record. Following a 45-24 thrashing of the No. 17 Razorbacks, the Aggies serve as the only present threat to Alabama’s throne atop the division.
They could remain the only threat for the rest of the season.
The early-season misfortune of division foes has been a driving force in Texas A&M’s ascent this year.
As the Aggies have emerged unscathed from their first four games of 2016, with a pair of victories over Top 25 opponents, their top competitors have faltered. Ole Miss blew three-touchdown leads in two of its first three games, including a conference-opening loss to Alabama that planted the Rebels on an uphill climb for the rest of the season. LSU, another preseason favorite to endure a September melt, has looked so bad during a 2-2 start that it fired longtime head coach Les Miles following a troubling loss to Auburn over the weekend.
As helpful as the momentary demise of Ole Miss and LSU has been, though, the thought of Texas A&M realistically challenging the Crimson Tide was born with a thorough beatdown of a dangerous Arkansas team.
The Aggies initially struggled to find footing against the Razorbacks, but made up for a slow start by taking advantage of the opportunities that came their way. Trailing 7-0 with the end of the first quarter approaching, the Aggies cashed in a big break: An Arkansas wide receiver fumbled a handoff on a jet sweep. Defensive end Myles Garrett pounced on the loose ball. Three plays later, quarterback Trevor Knight split the defense for a 42-yard touchdown scamper.
Clutch sequences like this from the graduate transfer remained a theme throughout the evening. With seconds remaining before halftime and his team down by seven once again, Knight broke another long touchdown run to tie the game at 17-all. Then, following a goal line stand by A&M that caused a 19-play, 89-yard Razorback drive to result in a turnover on downs, Knight struck again — this time putting in motion a rout that launched Texas A&M into the heart of the College Football Playoff race.
The present is an exciting time for Texas A&M, though the enthusiasm is much tamer than it was during the 11-2 season that marked the beginning of the program’s tenure in the SEC. That is just what the Aggies need heading into the most treacherous stretch of their schedule.
Immediately ahead for Texas A&M is a should-be victory over South Carolina before back-to-back matchups with Tennessee and Alabama, currently the runaway favorites to clash in Atlanta for the SEC title game.
The next month will shape the outcome of the Aggies’ 2016 season. With their second-half dismantling of Arkansas, they could not enter this stretch on better terms.