Inside College Football: The revival of Texas A&M and cooling of Kevin Sumlin's hot seat
Notes on the Aggies looking for their first 6-0 start in 22 years and more from college football
This just in: In the midst of a whirling coaching merry-go-round, Kevin Sumlin is likely to keep his job this week!
OK, that's a bit of an overstatement -- and a welcome departure from the current state of the profession. Various reports have the coaches at Texas, Oregon, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, USC -- did I leave anyone out? -- all on the hot seat entering Week 6.
Sumlin is not one of them. For the moment. However, the Aggies' coach has loads of experience on the warm couch.
Recently, the on- and off-field product was declining. It was only 10 months ago Sumlin's program was perceived to be was in shambles. Two five-star quarterbacks (Kyle Allen, Kyler Murray) transferred. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was on his way out the door.
The overarching message: Sumlin's Camelot that started with Johnny Football was falling apart. But if we can fire coaches after four games, we certainly can salute one of the biggest "turnarounds" in the country.
No. 9 Texas A&M hosts No. 8 Tennessee in the only top 10 game of the week. It's not an overstatement to suggest Sumlin has pulled off a complete makeover.
When he suggested there may be as many fans outside Kyle Field (capacity: 102,733) as inside this week, he knew the implications. "I think that's what people were looking for five or six years ago," he said.
That would be a reference to why Sumlin was hired away from Houston in 2011 in the first place. He was a young coach on the rise, seemingly with the perfect pedigree to lead A&M into the SEC. From 2012-15 the Aggies won the most games in a four-year period in 20 years. Manziel won the Heisman Trophy.
But Sumlin knows it wasn't enough after consecutive eight-win seasons. This season's 5-0 start is his third consecutive. The previous two seasons have ended with combined 6-10 finishes.
This 5-0, though, feels different.
"If we lose this week, it's not indicative of anything," Sumlin said. "Our season is not over ... When people talked about this program in disarray, talked about uncertainties, [players] blocked that out."
In the offseason, Sumlin went out and snagged Oklahoma grad transfer quarterback Trevor Knight. More importantly, he got veteran offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to rebuild Knight's confidence and game.
"Statistically, he's mediocre," Sumlin said of Knight, who is No. 3 nationally in quarterback rushing. "His best statistic is winning. He hasn't played in 19 months (since transferring). He's five games back from a 19-month vacation."
There is a running game shored up by Trayveon Williams (fifth nationally with 9.02 yards per carry).
The defense was bound to round into shape with superstar coordinator John Chavis entering his 22nd SEC season (second at A&M). The secondary features three potential pros -- safety Armani Watts and corners Justin Evans and Donovan Wilson.
Defensive ends Myles Garrett -- preseason SEC Defensive Player of the Year -- and Daeshon Hall were a given. The Aggies lead the country with 50 tackles for loss.
Perhaps the key to the whole thing is a run defense that has gone from 108th to 45th nationally shaving 89 yards per game off its average. That includes giving up a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game against South Carolina. Despite playing without the injured Garrett and with the turnover-prone Knight, the Aggies prevailed.
"After the first play of the game there wasn't panic," Sumlin said. "I've been here before when there was panic. There was screaming and yelling. The biggest compliment I can give this team is we've been behind and settled down and played football."
Beating Tennessee this week would mark the Aggies' first 6-0 start in 22 years. It might also firmly establish them as Alabama's No. 1 challenger in the SEC. Sumlin's hot seat would be a distant memory. It would also be great to talk football again instead of speculation.
Just in time for the Aggies' trip to the No. 1 Crimson Tide on Oct. 22.
The downside of playing musical chairs: There's always someone left standing. While the earliest-ever coaching Silly Season continues to grind on, consider this ...
There is going to some team -- or teams -- that doesn't get Tom Herman. There is every possibility Jimbo Fisher doesn't leave Florida State. Who knows, there may even be a college president that stands up and says, "No, we're not hiring Art Briles."
That's another way of saying there is a finite number of home-run coaches available. We've sort of entered a new era recently with guys coaching for their jobs on a weekly basis. LSU sort of started the race this year by axing Les Miles. And Herman's supposed availability had a lot to do with it.
It's not going to end anytime soon. Texas-Oklahoma this week will be as much about Charlie Strong's job security as the result. In less than 1.5 seasons, Oregon's Mark Helfrich has gone from coaching for a national championship to (perhaps) coaching for his job. Baylor has supposedly been out looking for a full-time coach since it fired Briles in May.
When did the coaching profession become like a line-change in hockey? Some of it had to do with rich old men (boosters) letting their money dictate policy. Skittish athletic directors -- worried about their jobs -- acquiesced. Think about that the next time you feel like bitching about coaching salaries. The average fired coach has been on the job slightly more than five years.
Since the end of 2012, there have been 105 coaching changes. Another reminder the hiring process is an inexact science sometimes overseen by narcissistic, monied, bloviating, fanboys who have no idea what they're doing.
Last thoughts on Les Miles: Some random year after some random LSU game, a colleague and I were swept into LSU's inner sanctum: the locker room. You have to understand how rare this is. The locker room located under the north stands is closed to the media. It's where the Tigers emerge from to make their dramatic entrance before each game. It's the space recruits are funneled into after each game.
Somehow, we were caught up in that tide of players, coaches and prospects. It was wonderful to be an eyewitness to the postgame scene. The door closed behind us and somehow no one noticed two media slappies were witnessing the game-ball ceremony.
A senior captain got up and hushed everyone. "Coach this is for all the bulls--- you put up with," the player said as he handed Miles a game ball. The place went nuts. Yes, even then the players were aware of the criticism their coach was taking on a game-to-game basis. A small smile crossed Miles' face.
"I humbly accept," he said.
Once again, nuts. We'll miss ya, Les.
Three spots Les might land:
- Baylor -- Get him an offensive coordinator who can keep up with Big 12 and he's set. Think of a possible "trade" that winds up with Briles going to LSU.
- West Virginia -- The school seemingly doesn't want Dana Holgorsen there. Holgorsen may not want to be there. You think Les Miles wouldn't upgrade recruiting?
- Penn State -- Returning to his Big Ten roots, Les would be able to profit just as NCAA hangover is ending.
To be the best (in the Big Ten), you have to beat the best: If you believe that schedule strength matters, the Big Ten has an inside track to a College Football Playoff spot. Big Ten teams occupy seven of the top nine spots in this week's NCAA metric that measures cumulative schedule strength.
Rutgers is ranked highest, third nationally. Its opponents currently have a .703 winning percentage. The Scarlet Knights are followed by Ohio State (.689), Northwestern (.684), Illinois (.683), Indiana, Maryland and Michigan (all .667).
What do the CFP types tell us? It's who you play and how you challenge yourself that matters. There are still four undefeated teams in the Big Ten (Ohio State, Michigan, Maryland, Nebraska). There have been notable nonconference wins over Oregon (Nebraska), Notre Dame (Michigan State), LSU (Wisconsin) and Oklahoma (Ohio State).
The numbers will change, drastically as conference play progresses. But if you're one of those CFP nerds who programs his radio show with such stuff, file this note away. You'll thank me later.
Stat of the week: North Carolina is the only football-playing program in all of the NCAA (645 teams) that has neither thrown nor intercepted a pass. That's 323 combined passes over five games. (Thanks to David Teel of the Newport News Daily Press.)
Short gains: Feel-good story of the week: Colorado's Mike MacIntyre who has the Buffs (4-1) ranked for the first time since 2005 heading to USC. "We've brought it back from the ashes." ... The last time Alabama didn't have a 1,000-yard rusher was 2010 (Mark Ingram). It goes into the Arkansas game with leader Damien Harris on pace to run for slightly more than 700 yards. Harris remains day-to-day with an ankle ... When South Alabama's Cory Gavin entered the game against San Diego State, he was taking his first snaps since high school in 2013. Gavin redshirted at Marshall in 2014, sat out transferring to USA last year and saw his first action in Game 5 Saturday helping upset the Aztecs ... Since Jim Harbaugh arrived, Michigan has led the country allowing opponents only 3.3 third-down conversions per game. Michigan has allowed 10 third-down conversions all season (out of 65 attempts) ... Hard to believe Washington State hadn't scored 50 in back-to-back games since 2011 when it beat Oregon 51-33 last week. Harder to believe coach Mike Leach hadn't done it since 2008 with Texas Tech.
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