Winning is the closest thing to a cure-all in sports, and heading into the 2016 season, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin could certainly use a cure-all. Winning a game or two simply won’t do, though. The Aggies may need to stay in the SEC title hunt into November to have any shot of saving Sumlin’s job.
It’s been a rough offseason for Sumlin and the Aggies. Whether it was the transfer of two former five-star quarterbacks and starters (Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray), an assistant coach behaving in a way which directly led to a decommitment, or a sexist and inappropriate chalk talk — Texas A&M has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Moreover, Sumlin has clearly cooled off as a head coach since the Johnny Manziel era — he’s had two 8-5 seasons in a row after starting off 11-2 and 9-4 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Those who say that he’s on the hot seat this year couldn’t be more correct.
It very well may be on fire.
Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN, a Texas A&M insider, classified Sumlin’s “seat” as being “warm, if not hot” in a recent article, so he’s obviously not as bullish as this writer about the prospect of Sumlin facing a do-or-die season in 2016. That said, Khan did lay out a handful of reasons why the negativity surrounding Sumlin and the Aggies is becoming not just a talking point but a real “thing.”
Some of the issues above definitely play into it, but Khan also noted the high expectations that came with the investments into Texas A&M’s facilities and coaching staff, plus Sumlin’s hot start in year one. The Aggies’ brass is expecting championships, not mediocrity, and that’s the one thing Sumlin needs to keep in mind as he navigates the ins and outs of the 2016 season.
“All that said, if Texas A&M goes 9-3 this season, much of that chatter will diminish and I think Sumlin will be safe,” Khan wrote. “Anything fewer than eight wins probably means that A&M will look to make a change.”
So let’s say nine wins is the “safe” mark for Sumlin. That can be easy to reach in theory, but the SEC is a beast of a conference, and it’s not as though the Aggies’ non-conference slate is a cakewalk either.
The season kicks off in earnest for Texas A&M in Week 1 against a very good UCLA team. Jim Mora is one of the steadier coaches in college football, and he’s been slowly but surely building a competitive team — if not a contender — in Los Angeles. Quarterback Josh Rosen is entering his sophomore season. He has the potential to be a future NFL first-round pick, not to mention one of the best quarterbacks in college football.
It’s a big matchup for the Aggies — it could set the tone for the rest of the season. Perhaps the one saving grace is that the game is at home.
Texas A&M will get a small respite against Prairie View A&M in week two before jumping head-on into the conference season. Auburn, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama are all up next on the schedule. Out of those games, South Carolina seems like the only one in which it would be easy to pick the Aggies to win.
Auburn is always dangerous with Gus Malzahn at the helm. He’ll be desperate to win as well, so that’s a tough game. Bret Bielema boasts a tough and physical Arkansas squad, and many consider Tennessee to be a College Football Playoff dark horse.
Alabama is… well… Alabama. That’s a tough game for even the best programs in college football to win.
One look at the first two months of the season for Texas A&M makes the situation even more dire for Sumlin. He could head into a home game against New Mexico State with five losses on the schedule, and games against Mississippi State, Ole Miss and LSU still looming.
Of course, with new quarterback Trevor Knight and a traditionally explosive offense, Sumlin and the Aggies could turn a few heads early in the year and enter the second half of the schedule with legitimate SEC title aspirations.
That’s the only scenario that Sumlin and Texas A&M should be shooting for.
Anything less, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Texas A&M back on the market for a new head coach by the time 2017 rolls around.