The summer temperatures in Texas maybe soaring into the triple digits but the heat building up under the seat of Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has to be feeling even hotter for the embattled leader. The Aggies have descended down the SEC ranks since an 11-win 2012 season and have faced a fair share of public embarrassments over the past two years. The 2016 season could be a double-digit win or go home campaign for Sumlin and company.
The Aggies started the 2015 season out hot, beating then-No. 15 Arizona State 38-17 on the way to a 5-0 start. But much like the past two years Alabama put a crashing halt to a great start beginning a slide on the field and in the locker room. At the end of the 2014 season, starting quarterback Kenny Hill transferred to TCU. At the end of last season, starting quarterbacks Kyle Allen (Houston) and Kyler Murray (Oklahoma) both decided the grass was much greener outside of College Station. The revolving door at the quarterback position has caused concern.
The good news for Aggie Nation is that former Oklahoma starting quarterback turned graduate transfer Trevor Knight arrived on campus in January and has won the job. Perhaps even more important, the Aggies have arguably the best wide receiver corps in the nation with Ricky Seals-Jones, Christian Kirk and Josh Reynolds giving new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone a lot of pieces to play with.
On defense, coordinator John Chavis returns for Year 2 with stud ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall along with fantastic safeties Justin Evans and Armani Watts, but that is about it. The defense still has a lot of rebuilding to do but hopefully can hold the fort down enough for the Aggies’ dynamic offense to win games.
Here is a look at Texas A&M’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to the most difficult matchup.
12. Sept. 10 vs. Prairie View A&M
The Panthers may have posted an 8-2 mark a year ago but did not face a single FBS team in the process. Head coach Willie Simmons will have his hands full trying to slow down the Aggies’ high flying offense.
11. Oct. 29 vs. New Mexico State
New Mexico State had a rough 2015, going just 3-9. The offense returns four starters but none in the backfield and just two up front. On defense, seven starters are back, but that should not matter too much even if another Texas A&M implosion takes place following a potential loss to Alabama.
10. Nov. 19 vs. UTSA
The Roadrunners are beginning a new era following the resignation of former head coach Larry Coker after five seasons. UTSA went 3-9 a year ago and bring back six starters on each side of the ball. Maybe the Roadrunners and new head coach Frank Wilson (a former LSU assistant) can make the game interesting considering it’s sandwiched between dates with Ole Miss and LSU?
9. Oct. 1 at South Carolina
The schedule out of the gate is very tough for A&M with the lone potential breather being a visit to South Carolina. The Gamecocks are undergoing a coaching change with former Florida head coach and Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp taking over. South Carolina has some talent and a quality offensive coordinator in Kurt Roper. However, the new regime will have to work wonders in 2016 to make a lot of noise out of Columbia.
8. Nov. 5 at Mississippi State
The Bulldogs have enough talent returning on defense to have a solid year but too many question marks on offense with quarterback Dak Prescott off to the NFL. The Aggies beat Prescott and company 30-17 in College Station last year, expect something similar if Knight finds his groove in the pocket.
7. Sept. 24 vs. Arkansas (Arlington, Texas)
Sumlin has Bret Bielema’s number. The two teams play each other close but A&M always finds a way to pull it out in overtime. Could this be the year Arkansas wins the Southwest Classic? The only way Arkansas could top the Aggies is if former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhodes has worked his magic with the Razorbacks secondary. Arkansas has nine starters returning on defense but can the revamped offense generate enough points to keep up with the Aggies?
6. Sept. 17 at Auburn
Even though Auburn was down last year, the Tigers got revenge for the 2013 season by beating the visiting Aggies 26-10. The loss came in between the shuffling under center for A&M. It’s tough to tell what to expect from Auburn in 2016. Gus Malzahn’s team could be fighting to stay around .500 or be just talented enough to hand some good SEC teams losses when they visit Jordan-Hare.
5. Nov. 12 vs. Ole Miss
The Rebels have 4,000-yard passer Chad Kelly returning but that should not worry the Aggies. Going point-for-point to win a game fits Sumlin’s style. Ole Miss has six tough games in a row then gets a breather with Georgia Southern before heading to College Station. The Rebels could still be beat up but will have their full focus on the Aggies with Vanderbilt on tap the following week.
4. Sept. 3 vs. UCLA
It’s only fitting that former UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will face off against his former team for a Pac-12 vs. SEC showdown that will have national interest during the opening weekend of the season. UCLA has some great pieces back on defense with eight starters returning. Chavis make ask Mazzone for any insight on how to prevent Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen from picking apart the Aggies’ defense. UCLA will have plenty of new faces in starting roles on offense, so the opportunity should be there for Sumlin’s team to get off on the right foot in 2016.
3. Oct. 8 vs. Tennessee
The 2016 schedule plays out really well for A&M as far as getting most of its toughest games at home. Tennessee should be with 18 total starters returning (nine on each side of the ball), including quarterback Joshua Dobbs and along with the addition of new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.
Both teams could be looking ahead with dates against Alabama looming. The Aggies have a bye before facing the Crimson Tide, while the Volunteers return home after this one to host the defending national champions. Texas A&M gets South Carolina the week prior to this matchup, while Tennessee will be coming off back-to-back tilts against fellow SEC East contenders Florida and Georgia.
2. Oct. 22 at Alabama
The Aggies head to Tuscaloosa to face the reigning SEC and national champs a year after the Crimson Tide whipped them 41-23 in College Station. Timing could end up helping Texas A&M as Alabama will be coming off of back-to-back games against Arkansas and Tennessee.
1. Nov. 24 vs. LSU
Chances are whichever team wins the Alabama-LSU game on Nov. 5 will be in the driver’s seat for the SEC West title and looking good for a spot in the College Football Playoff. LSU could be on the verge of losing head coach Les Miles, just like last season, or could be one step away from reclaiming former glory. Texas A&M could stand in the way of the Tigers accomplishing their goals. The Aggies will be tasked with slowing down LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who enters the season as one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.