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Texas A&M Football: Looking Back On The Keys To The Playoff


Before the 2016 College Football Season, the National Media had Texas A&M pegged to finish in the bottom half of the SEC West, finishing with anywhere from 6-8 wins. Questions surrounded Kevin Sumlin’s job security and his control of the locker room, leading everyone to believe Sumlin was in deep heat on the hot seat.

Having started 5-0 the past two seasons, unraveling and finishing with 8 and 7 win respectively, both the starting and backup QBs to transfer, and bringing in another new coordinator, the questions weren’t a surprised and obviously needed answering.

In June, I was invited onto TexSR Radio to talk Aggie Football as we headed into a new season and I attempted to answer the questions as best I could. The podcast can be found here:

 

When I was on, my host Peter Manfre asked me the question when talking about the 2016 Season, “Does Texas A&M have a shot, in a best case scenario, of making the College Football Playoff?”

I proceeded to answer that in order for that to occur, 5 specific criteria had to be met. Almost 5 months later, let’s look back on each bullet point stated and determine if A&M was successful in improving in these key areas.

Key #1: Linebackers Stay Healthy

In 2014, AJ Hilliard won a starting job at LB and looked to be a big piece for A&M, but in the 1st Quarter in the Opening Game against South Carolina he suffered a season-ending ankle injury. That loss alone set the Aggies back as they had to dig into the already-thin depth at LB and it showed, as LB continued to be the weakness of the defense for a majority of the season. In 2015, early into the season A&M lost Otaro Alaka for the season and again lost Hilliard, causing him to have to medically retire.

In 2016, A&M has been completely healthy at LB, not only allowing for the unit to get better, but under John Chavis the position has even seen players like Shaan Washington resurrect their production and make the unit a strength. Young guys like Tyrel Dodson are now able to watch and learn not only from the players, but also from the Chief himself and prepare for their time in the spotlight in the near future.

Key #2: Offensive Line Develops Into a Strength

The Offensive Line regressed drastically after 4 straight years of linemen being drafted in the 1st Round. Under Dave Christensen, the OL didn’t improve much in 2015. In fact, it actually worsened as the year continued. With the re-hiring of Jim Turner, the OL coach that recruited the 4 1st Rounders, the OL has improved greatly despite having only 2 scholarship linemen. Though their inexperience has been on display a few times, they’ve been a solid group for much of the year.

Key #3: Trevor Knight Plays Better Than Advertised

It’s well documented by now that Knight lost the job at OU due to his inconsistencies in games. After his breakout campaign that saw him beat Alabama in 2013, he wasn’t able to match the magic he brought in that game.

However, Knight came in to A&M with high expectations, and while he still has some inconsistent throws and reads during the action, he’s a big reason why the offense is ranked #18 in the country. Knight could see his passing yards finish anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000, and his rushing attack has been a huge weapon for A&M. His leadership alone has kept the team together and will keep them together for the rest of the season. Without Knight, A&M is nowhere near as good as they have been in 2016. While he can get better, Knight has done a lot better and affected the team in more ways than most will give him credit for.

Key #4: Secondary Doesn’t Have Any Question Marks

As far as the Safeties go, they are probably the strongest unit on the team, having improved from last season, which actually says a lot since they were dominant last year as well. Watts and Evans look like 1st Rounders while Donovan Wilson in the Nickel is an animal in his own right.

This is probably the criteria that is closest to not being met considering the Corners have had their struggles in the passing game. Priest Willis and Nick Harvey have both looked really good at times but their effectiveness changes from game to game. The passing defense is one of the weaker parts of the defense, and this explains why. Moving forward, the corners need to be more consistent, especially if this team meets up in the playoffs with a team that likes to air it out.

Key #5: Defensive Line Stays Dominant

Obviously anytime Myles Garrett is on the field, the line is going to be a disruptive unit. Added unto it Daeshon Hall, Daylon Mack, Zaycoven Henderson, Kingsley Keke, and other contributors and you have a unit that can give opposing offensive lines fits.

Unfortunately, Myles has not been healthy for the entire season, and if the Aggies want to not only make the playoff, but have a fighting chance, Myles and the D-Line need to be going 100%. The defensive line has gone down on its production slightly, mostly due to Myles’ injuries and the blatant no-calls on him (come on now, they’re the easiest calls to make). Nevertheless, it’s still a strength that is sure to keep A&M’s oppositions’ offensive personnel up at night.

Verdict

All in all, in some capacity all 5 criteria have been met and have been huge keys to the Aggies getting as far as they have. A team that was projected to finish in or near last place is 2nd in the SEC and ranked in the Top-10 in the country, knocking on the door to the College Football Playoff. That’s a huge testament to the work the Aggies have put in, from the players to the coaches, in order to ensure the media didn’t get the last laugh.

You’re looking at a team that saw every expert write them off as a team that would top out at 7 wins and be on the search for a new coach and a new team. Instead, they took it upon themselves to change the status quo. It’s almost as if they wanted the country to know the media took all the negative stories out of context.

As we head forward, Texas A&M has 4 games left to write their resume for the College Football Playoff. In order to get in they need to win out and have some help along the way. College Football’s unpredictability is what makes it so popular. Anything can happen. Dynasties can fall over-night. Dynasties can be built over time. Any team can win or lose on any given day. While experts wrote them off, Texas A&M was quietly building. The College Football Playoff was and still is the Best Case Scenario for A&M’s 2016 season.

But if we’ve learned anything, it’s that Best-Case Scenario is still in the realm of possibility.

And A&M is continuing to prove people wrong.

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