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Getting By

You were expecting a horse, but you got a goat. No one wants a goat:

  • I am curious what the re-admittance policy will be at DKR now that they are selling beer and wine in the stadium. Texas is one of the last schools in the country that still allows fans to come and go at will, and with the Longhorn Foundation and University of Texas Club tents, the Texas Exes and tailgates so close, a lot of people head out at the 2-minute mark of the first half for a cold one. The hiccup is they usually get more than cold one and quite a few of those people don’t make it back until well into the third quarter, or even later. From what I can tell about this new AD regime, that seems like a practice they would like to get away from. Now, with drinks available inside, I could see them administering a no re-admittance policy to keep those people in the stands. I have no idea if that will happen, but that’s how I see it going.
  • The Longhorns are leaving Clear Channel. If you live in Austin, you’ve gotten used to listening to Texas baseball, basketball and football on The Zone and on KVET. No more. After 16 or so years, Texas Athletics is moving to the Austin Radio Network, flagshipped by 104.9 The Horn, which is partnered with NBC Sports. The plan is to air more non-revenue sports like softball and simulcast the football and basketball games on four different stations. I wonder where Craig Way ends up? He’s been the voice of the Longhorns as long as I can remember. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
  • Speaking of The Horn, local radio host/reporter Chip Brown absolutely blew up new Director of Athletics Steve Patterson in a recent article. I mean, BLEW. HIM. UP. As an on-air personality for The Horn, which will now be the host for all the games, coaches’ shows and the press conferences that accompany them, this article will make for some tense moments with Brown and Patterson, don’t you think? I think.
  • Myles Turner made the wise decision to leave Texas after just one year and enter the NBA Draft. I say “wise decision” because he went No.11 to Indiana. His life, and the life of his family, has changed with the money he’ll get as the No.11 pick, and the Pacers got a terrific kid that is barely scratching the surface of his talent. Congrats to you, Mr. Turner, and thank you for your time in Austin and the rise in popularity of the Longhorn bucket hat.
  • Jonathan Holmes did not get drafted, but his workouts and interview impressed everyone and he’ll be signing with an NBA team soon enough.
  • Speaking of the NBA — LeBron really opted out of his contract? The word on the street is he will not even visit another team, but will re-sign with Cleveland with a similar one-year opt out option. Why? If this is truly where he wants to be, then why? Why is he opting out, and then signing another deal where he can opt out again? Mark Cuban, just give him a call. He’s clearly not putting a ring on Cleveland’s finger for a reason; just see what he says.
  • What is your favorite Will Ferrell movie? You can’t say “none.” You have to pick one, it’s my game. The first time I saw Anchorman was probably the best, but as I’ve seen it a 1,000 times at this point, I’ll offer up the one I watched Sunday: The Campaign. My son is steadfast that Step Brothers is the best. That’s really good, too. Let me hear yours.

There is literally nothing going on right now. Nothing. I am watching the women’s world cup and MLB. But it’s so early in the baseball season and the US plays like once a week in soccer, so I have a lot of time on my hands. I spend this time watching old games. I watched Texas/Tech, Texas/WVA (2014 and 2015), Georgia/GA Tech, and Florida/Georgia last week. I also watched Texas/A&M 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2011. Yes, of course they were all Texas wins, why would I watch a loss? Anyway, I was thinking about the Aggies, so let’s talk about them.

Whoop!

I will just leave these here for your review:

  • Last week A&M released this tee shirt.
  • The week before that, A&M chancellor John Sharp spoke out on alcohol at Texas A&M events after Texas announced beer/wine sales at DKR: “Our athletic program has not reached the point where we require the numbing effects of alcohol.”

We all know Aggies. We have them in our family, in our offices, in our neighborhoods and in our houses. We grew up with Aggies, we are very good friends with Aggies, some are married to Aggies, were raised by Aggies, have Aggie kids … This is nothing new. The Texas/A&M game was iconic in college football and one most of us grew up with and identify with Thanksgiving. I have an Aggie contingent in my family, and usually Thanksgiving involved an early meal and the Cowboys and then a car ride to the game. (Not together. Yuck.) I’m not saying anything you don’t already know and didn’t experience yourself. In my family it was constantly there — Corps boots at weddings, Horns up at weddings, slights about games played in the past, or players that got in trouble or transferred. All the time. It was just the way it was for a lot of us: you were on one side or the other and the game in November was bragging rights for an entire year, whatever happened in baseball and basketball.

The relationship between the schools began to sour when the Longhorn Network started — Did you know the Aggies had a chance to be in on that TV deal? Yep, they turned Deloss Dodds down so he forged ahead alone. — and you know the rest. The beginning of the 2012 season saw Texas A&M in the SEC.

They were excited. I mean, EXCITED. They had a hot new coach, a rabid fan base and 13 other teams that welcomed them with open arms. They were joining the best football conference in America and, even more exciting, they were joining the best division of the best football conference in America. “A&M” and “SEC” were synonymous the summer of 2012 and every Aggie in the world had their SEC T-shirt and/or sticker on their car. There were Aggie billboards that stated, “THIS IS SEC COUNTRY.” They were ready to go and enthusiasm in Aggie Land was at an all-time high. Meanwhile the rest of us laughed. Hard. I was at the front of the pack, too. “This is not at all a bad idea! We are competing with the last five national champions, three in our own division, and we have ones of conference titles in the last 16 years. Whoop!” Everything I wrote was peppered with insults and jokes. I mean, come on, they barely competed in the Big 12, and now they were going to the SEC. The SEC West. From 2000-2009, they didn’t finish ranked in the top 25 in either the Coaches Poll or the AP. 10 years. They finished 26-25 overall and 15-18 in conference play their final four years in the Big 12 and won just one bowl game, and now they were crowing about the SEC? Please.

With their new coach, a redshirt freshman quarterback and a 7-6 2011 season that saw them utterly collapse and get their coach fired, A&M was to start the 2012 season at Louisiana Tech. Head Coach Sonny Dykes, son of Spike, led the Bulldogs to an 8-5 record the year before and played No.15 TCU off their feet in the Poinsettia Bowl in a 31-24 loss. The fans in Ruston were READY for the Aggies, who had lost to lesser teams (Arkansas State) in the season prior. Kevin Sumlin was in for a long day in his Aggie debut … Except Hurricane Isaac blew through the gulf coast and forced the game to be postponed. Everyone would have to wait another week for the start of what many of us thought would be an utterly ridiculous Aggie football season.

Except it wasn’t ridiculous. Johnny Football was born, A&M upset Bama and Manziel won the Heisman, making him the first freshman to ever do so. A&M finished the regular season 11-2 and destroyed ou in the Cotton Bowl. They finished the year ranked No.5 and with just about everyone coming back, their fans took great delight in letting their former conference mates know what they thought of all the jokes, comments and statements. I know this for a fact as I was one they sought out. And it was all deserved. I was wrong, we all were wrong. The Aggies were entrenched in the SEC as a football power that would continue to compete with the elite of the SEC; in fact they would become the elite of the SEC. Kevin Sumlin was stacking up recruits like Mack Brown 15 years earlier and on social media those recruits and players started the “#WRTS” (we run this state) to let everyone know who the top dog in the SEC and the state of Texas. A&M had arrived.

Well, not quite. But they were coming. It was just a matter of time. Right? 11-2 with an impressive bowl win the year before and the hottest player in college football back running the show, 2013 was setting up nicely for the Aggies. They seemed poised for a big run with their new coach, new system, great quarterback and momentum; like Bob Stoops made in his second year at ou, or Gus Malzahn would do in 2013, or Urban Meyer in 2014. They didn’t get Florida and had both Auburn and Alabama at home. The defense was young, but the offense had the ability to carry them. It was their time. Right? No. It wasn’t their time. Off-season issues started piling up. Eight players were suspended for part or all of the 2013 season opener with Rice including Johnny Manziel, who was not handling the spotlight of being a superstar like they needed him to. Still, they breezed through Rice without them and cruised through their non-conference schedule, rising to No.6 the week they hosted No.1 Alabama. That was “the rematch,” the biggest regular season game of the year in college football, this time at Kyle Field. It had all the hoopla and hype you could imagine, starting in the summer, and the house was rocking. It was a fun game to watch and A&M showed well, but lost in a shootout, 49-42. For everything Manziel did, AJ McCarron answered. Still, one loss doesn’t undo a season, they certainly didn’t get embarrassed and they still had plenty of time to get where they wanted to be. It could still be a special season. Except for everything the offense was doing, the defense was letting the other team do as well. Most every game that year was a shootout. They lost again at home to eventual national runner up Auburn, 45-41, and then dropped their last two regular season games: a blowout at LSU and a 7-point loss at Missouri. They squeaked by Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, 52-48, after a big comeback with Manziel being the highlight reel of the bowl season in that comeback. A&M finished 8-4 that year and with the NFL calling Manziel and several others, that window of opportunity seemed to close.

Going into the 2014 season, things were once again sketchy off the field. More arrests plagued the program and a new quarterback and no wide outs led to uncertainty as the season approached. But A&M started the season red-hot with freshman Kenny Hill throwing for five td’s in a 52-28 season-opening win over No.9 South Carolina. It was the first game of the college football year, that Thursday night game South Carolina loves so much, and Kenny Hill launched to the top of the Heisman polls in a huge win on the road. He was so hot that he and his family applied for a trademark for Kenny Trill to capitalize on the marketing opportunities after his college career ended (at least another 18 months away). But the same defensive problems were there and the offense was having to bail them out, and when that stopped happening things went south. Fast. They squeaked by Arkansas in OT and then were blown out on the road at No.12 Mississippi State, 48-31, after jumping out to an early lead. Turnovers ( and that poor defense) doomed them that day, just as they did in the 35-20 home loss to Ole Miss, where they were shutout in the first half for the first time in the Sumlin era. And then Bama beat them 59-0. 59-0. They were 5-0 and No.6 in the land, and three weeks later they were 5-3 and unranked. They held on to beat Louisiana-Monroe, 21-16, in an ugly game where they were shut out in the second half (that was the week Kenny Hill lost his job to Kyle Allen and then was suspended for two games later in the week; he would leave the program at the end of the season). A fumble recovery late helped them hold on to win at Auburn, 41-38, but as was the case the year before, they finished the season with back-to-back losses to Mizzou and LSU. They played a Clint Trickett-less West Virginia team in the Liberty Bowl and held on to win, 45-37, to finish the season 8-5 and unranked. For the second straight year, a early season full of promise ended in less-than-thrilling fashion.

I’ll be honest with you: I wanted them to fail. I wanted them to fail spectacularly. I was hoping for a season-opening loss to Louisiana Tech in 2012, and then it would go downhill from there. I was hoping Rice would shock them in 2013 with half the team suspended and was hoping South Carolina mopped the floor with them in 2014. I wanted to point and laugh and tell them how silly they looked for running away from a conference they couldn’t compete in for the most dominant one in all of football. But it didn’t happen. They aren’t failing. They had about 20 guys and their head coach at the NFL Draft in 2014, with first rounder after first rounder being called while Texas had NO ONE drafted at all. They weren’t failing and I didn’t like it. I still don’t.

But is not failing the same as succeeding? In their three years in the SEC, they’ve played in a solid non-BCS bowl game, a not-quite-as solid non BCS bowl game and one minor bowl game: The Cotton, the Chick-Fil-A, the Liberty, and won all three. They finished in 6th place in the SEC West last year with a 3-5 record. The year prior they were 4-4 in conference and 6-2 in season one. That’s 13-11 in three years and not finishing even No.2 in their division standings, meaning absolutely no shot at an SEC Title Game. Is that success, or is it not failing? I know it’s a hard division. I get it, that is the cream of the crop in college football, but that’s what they wanted, right? Seems to me that’s just getting by, not succeeding. Trust me, my college progression is a case study in just getting by (with a cautionary tale of  bad decisions and pizza buffets, but that’s a topic for another time) and that’s what this is, just getting by.

I get the first response to this is “What about Texas? What has Texas done since A&M left the Big 12?” The answer is nothing. Nothing it all. In that same time Texas is 23-16/18-10 with three minor bowl appearances and just one bowl win. And I get the other initial reaction is “we are better than Texas!” And right now, production-wise and perception-wise, that’s true. There is no getting around it. But was the goal of leaving the Big 12, and Texas, behind for the rough and tumble SEC to be better than Texas, or to be successful? Those aren’t necessarily the same thing.

I’m sure plenty of Aggies (anyone at all, really) will tell me I’m dumb/full of it/wrong/incorrect/whatever phrase you can think of, but that’s not how I see it. I see a team that struck lightning with a good coach, a great system and a perfect fit at quarterback in 2012 and took the “you can’t run the spread” SEC by surprise. It was a great year, but they couldn’t get to the SEC Title game and were left out of the BCS conversation. In 2013 with all those pieces back, they derailed themselves as much as any opponent with off-the-field issues and finished a modest 9-4. And last year similar issues arose with off-the-field problems and defensive woes. In 2015 they could set the world on fire. They have a new DC (John Chavis from LSU), a solid sophomore at qb and an excellent recruiting class coming in. But you know who else has great talent and recruiting classes coming in? Bama, and Auburn. And LSU. These are teams in their division. They could be Ohio State this year, or they could lose 8 games. It’s going to be somewhere in the middle, surely. Is another 8-4/7-5 year a success, or is it just getting by? That’s not success to me, that’s just not failing. That 8-4/7-5 year could very well be better than the Texas Longhorns this year with their fancy Network. But again, is being better than Texas the goal, or is being successful the goal?

I look at the Aggies and see a top-of-the-middle-to-bottom-of-the-middle-of-the-pack SEC team.

They aren’t showing off and leading the way like Bama, LSU, Auburn and Mizzou — Yes, Missouri. If you win your division twice in your three years in the conference, you are a success — but they aren’t dragging everyone down like Vanderbilt. I wonder if the Aggies think about what 2012 would have been like in the Big 12, with a struggling Texas, an ou team they whipped in the bowl game and an RGIII-less Baylor team? The Aggies and the Collin Klein-led K-State Wildcats are playing in (likely) College Station for the Big 12 Title that year, and it’s probably A&M holding that Big 12 Trophy and playing in the Fiesta Bowl. What about 2013? Talk about the possibilities for success … But it doesn’t matter. They aren’t here, they are there. Getting by. And we aren’t even talking about baseball or basketball, who really haven’t made even the beginnings of a dent in their new conference.

So, congratulations. Is that the right word? I am sure for some it is. I’d be a total hypocrite if I said I wouldn’t be celebrating being better than A&M as a total success, regardless of where Texas stacked up in the conference, if things were the other way around. It’s one of the many, many reasons I am not in charge of anything. On the football field they have definitely been a more finished product and national draw since they left the Big 12 than the Texas Longhorns, who are struggling to find the right offensive pieces to make it work and were just getting by in many respects themselves. A&M has offense and offensive players for days, including the heralded Kyler Murray at quarterback, waiting for a window to get in the game and never come out. This may all be part of Kevin Sumlin’s plan: keep stacking up the talent and moving the ball around the field. And maybe it all comes together this year and they stop getting by and start succeeding, like they did in 2012. Or maybe it all comes unraveled and they drop the ones they should lose and the ones they should win. I know which one I want and I know which one the Aggies want, but my guess is neither one happens and it’s somewhere in the middle. Again.

Back in two weeks with some MAJOR NEWS and a look at the summer wish list for the Texas Longhorns.

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