Back in July, at SEC media days, the common opinion seemed to be that Texas A&M would struggle mightily in their first year while Missouri was given a chance to compete for their division title. The Aggies were breaking in a completely new coaching staff and being led by an unknown, redshirt freshman quarterback. The Tigers were changing very little. Coach Gary Pinkel was bringing a successful Big 12 program and returned a talented quarterback in James Franklin. It seemed an easy choice as to who, if any, would make waves in their first season in the Southeastern Conference.
As things turned out, it has Texas A&M setting their new league on fire in year one. Barring another shocking weekend of upsets, the Aggies will miss out on the conference championship game. However, there is still an outside chance to make a BCS bowl game. Head coach Kevin Sumlin has his team on the verge of their first ten win season since taking home the Big 12 title in 1998.
Leading the charge, and what no one could have predicted back in July, is Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football continues to assault SEC defenses as well as the record book. He has broken the record for total yards in a game twice this season and is 166 yards from breaking Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton’s 2010 record for total offense. Manziel is the first freshman, and fifth player ever, to have 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 yards rushing in a season. For his accomplishments, he has been named a finalist for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award as well as the Maxwell Award. Manziel is also arguably the front runner for the school’s first Heisman Trophy since John David Crow won it in 1957.
Missouri, on the other hand, has been the newcomer to struggle this year. The Tigers have won only two conference games, both against winless teams in conference play -- Kentucky and a four OT victory over Tennessee.
On the line for the 5-6 Tigers this week in College Station will be bowl eligibility. A loss will end a very impressive streak for Pinkel's ball club:
"We've been to eight bowls in nine years. Seven years in a row we've gone to a bowl, so this has been tough for everybody but our kids keep battling and fighting."
Despite their struggles this season, the Aggies won’t take the Tigers lightly. It's not just a BCS bowl game and a Heisman Trophy on the line; this entire A&M team should have a little payback on the mind. Missouri has beaten the Aggies the past two years on Kyle Field, including overcoming a double-digit deficit in the second half that Aggie fans grew accustomed to last year. When asked if he was worried about his team overlooking this week’s game, Kevin Sumlin answer was painfully easy:
“No. We’re playing a team that no one on this football team has ever beaten.”
A large part of the Tigers struggles this year has been due to Franklin battling injuries. He remains questionable for Saturday. Sumlin, though, knows that the Tigers are still dangerous:
“They’re a team, with James Franklin being in and out of the lineup, which has hurt them a little bit from a continuity standpoint, but they’re talented. They have got big guys on the outside. They always have excellent receivers.” Sumlin went on to say, “They lead the league in kick-off return and punt return. They have an excellent return game.”
Standing in the way of the most memorable season in recent history is one final hurdle from an old conference foe that has brought plenty of misery to the Aggie faithful recently. With a win, the Aggies will be headed to a prestigious bowl game, possibly the second BCS game in school history, as one of the top teams in the country’s premier conference. A second Heisman Trophy should also be on its way to College Station, along with several other individual accolades for numerous members of this team and coaching staff.
Could you think of a better ending to such a spectacular story?
Well maybe beating that hated in-state rival, but that’s not out of the realm of possibility at this point either. That is however, another story for another day.