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Senior College Football Columnist

Texas A&M may seem in over its head, but new coach Sumlin takes it all in stride

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Sumlin and the Aggies have plenty of reason for optimism entering their first year in the SEC. (AP)  
Sumlin and the Aggies have plenty of reason for optimism entering their first year in the SEC. (AP)  

HOOVER, Ala. -- Kevin Sumlin literally couldn't go five minutes or five feet without someone reminding him that he's not in Conference USA any more or that his team doesn't play in the Big 12. Nope. No sirree. The Aggies have stepped up into Big Boy Football, as many around these parts love to tell you.

Sumlin, the first-year Texas A&M head coach, didn't wilt in the spotlight of over 1,000 media members, which is almost 1,000 more than he probably had to deal with while at Houston when he took part in the C-USA preseason festivities. The 47-year old also didn't lose his patience with question after question, packaged in slightly different ways to ask, 'Does Sumlin have any idea what he's gotten himself into?'

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Question: Coach, what is your assessment of playing in the SEC West this year, especially with this division producing the last three BCS national champs?

Sumlin: What's my assessment? It's a pretty damn hard league. How is that? That is my assessment.

Sumlin laughed, like he was in on the joke, which truth be told, he is. You won't find many head coaches who wouldn't grow weary with this line of thinking and eventually sniped back at the questions. After all, it's not like Sumlin has gone from coaching flag football to the NFL. But that's not Sumlin. He's probably as media savvy as any head coach who will pass through the Wynfrey over this bizarre 72-hour window. He gets it.

Sumlin has coached in every league in major college football, but the SEC. He has perspective and a sense of self-awareness. He's been shrewd enough to take the best attributes from all of his mentors, including Bob Stoops and R.C. Slocum. Like any coach worth a damn, Sumlin also believes he can -- and will -- win anywhere. He also knows he inherits a proud program with a very passionate fan base, but one that has underachieved for years. The Aggies record in Big 12 play over the past decade: 37-44.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Tuesday's media session was the juxtaposition of Texas A&M football as it took its turn under the SEC's microscope. Aggie fans -- and there are many -- feel like they have a heavyweight program. Like the Aggies were closer in heft to Texas than they were to the other major college football programs in the Lone Star State (Even though A&M only won 31 percent of the 100-plus meetings).

Underachieving? Yes, but still a heavyweight, thanks in part to some storied football traditions and a raucous game-day atmosphere, that, as Sumlin pointed out, is second to none in college football, according to ESPN's College GameDay. SEC fans and media roll their eyes at A&M and fellow newcomer Missouri, like they were just delivered two more programs akin to Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Harsh? No doubt.

The reality is, for all of the talk about how underachieving the A&M program has been of late, it's worth mentioning the Aggies have never finished higher than No. 5 in the Coaches Poll and have only been above No. 10 six times in that 60-plus year stretch.

This is what Kevin Sumlin has taken over. There is some talent there already in College Station. The Aggies will have one of the better O-lines in the country. They also have a promising but inexperienced QBs trying to grasp a new system. Recruiting, by all accounts, is going great. There is a lot of reason for optimism.

The trick here is to balance that enthusiasm while maintaining some sense of perspective.

At one point Sumlin was asked what his 'realistic expectations' are for this season.

"... I'm not a weatherman," he said. "I've been on really good teams. I've been on some bad teams. I'm not a guy that goes out and circles games on the schedule before the year happens, whether we've won every game or lost one game or lost them all. It changes.

"It will depend on how quickly the 85 guys buy into what we're doing. The quicker we get that, the quicker we'll have a chance to be successful in playing some of these games.

"We talk to our team all the time about two things: We don't need to worry about our SEC schedule the teams we're playing -- Florida, LSU, Alabama -- yet. We need to worry about us first. We've got enough things in our own program right now that we have got to get fixed before we start worrying about playing those football games."


Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for CBSSports.com and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.
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