I’ve spoken with Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin face-to-face twice over the past three months—once at SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida, in early June, and again in mid-July at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama.
The overwhelming impression that I received from the fifth-year head coach of the Aggies, who enters the 2016 season on one of the hottest seats in the country, is that he is brimming with confidence.
It’s not the most shocking thing in the world.
After all, everybody’s undefeated at this point of the season; coaches generally understand the team is a work in progress and have faith in their own ability.
But is Sumlin‘s confidence a front to fend off mounting pressure to win now, or a sign that Texas A&M could be back?
It’s the latter.
Here’s a sample of some of Sumlin‘s confidence from Hoover:
“I like where we are,” he said. “I like the chemistry of this football team. I like where the locker room is. I like where their mind is. And I think the three guys that we brought are pretty reflective of that, as you get a chance to know them and as you get a chance to talk to them.”
Part of that chemistry stems from graduate transfer quarterback Trevor Knight. The former Oklahoma signal-caller represented the Sooners at Big 12 media days twice—including once shortly before he lost the starting job—and was named as the team’s captain in 2015 while backing up starter Baker Mayfield.
“[Knight] filled a void for us as a quarterback who was not just a transfer quarterback, but a guy who had real game experience and had some success,” Sumlin said. “So, for us, it was a great match and I think has led to really a drama-free offseason.”
The “drama-free offseason” line that has been prevalent in College Station this year might seem like lip service to outsiders.
After all, this is the same program that saw two former 5-star quarterbacks, Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, who both started games in 2015, leave the program within a week of each other in December. There was also the assistant coach who went rogue on Twitter after a quarterback commit backed out, and then the Aggies underwent some upheaval within the staff.
It’s not the same program, though.
Sumlin has every right to be confident in his team, which should be in the conversation for the SEC West title when the calendar flips to November.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the defense is a disaster.
Yeah, the Aggies finished next-to-last in rushing defense a year ago at 213.69 yards per game, but that wasn’t the real problem. The defense, led by end Myles Garrett and safety Armani Watts, kept the Aggies in every game. Had former quarterback Kyle Allen not turned into a pick-six machine and former coordinator Jake Spavital not fallen into his typical play-calling rut midseason, then the Aggies could have made noise in the West last year.
“If there’s something that we got to be able to get better at, as I said before, it’s stopping the run,” Sumlin said. “And if [Garrett] needs to improve somewhere, that’s probably where that is.”
A slight improvement from Garrett coupled with a full season of sophomore Daylon Mack in the middle, and that line should shore up that run defense a little bit, which will go a long way toward minimizing the improvement the offense—Texas A&M’s real problem from a year ago—must make.
With new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and his power-rushing attack that’s founded in spreading defenses out and using tempo, Knight doesn’t always have to be the guy who lit up Alabama with four touchdown passes in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. He just has to give off the impression of being that guy from time to time.
It’s not a front by Sumlin in order to calm what could be a growing firestorm.
The confidence is genuine and could lead to a turnaround in 2016 that will stabilize the program and give Sumlin some much-needed job security.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Source: Bleacher Report -SEC Football