At some point, it seems likely that there are going to be some difficult discussions at Texas A&M. Because with the 26-10 loss to Auburn in College Station on Saturday, it once again seems certain that the Aggies are headed to a mid-tier bowl after a .500ish season, and will remain mired in the mediocrity that have characterized A&M's two SEC seasons without Johnny Manziel.
And the Aggies have made this something approaching a pattern. They are a combined 9-0 in September (and late August) over the last two years, and 4-8 in October and November. Texas A&M has won those four games by a combined 28 points -- including a 13-point victory over Mississippi State. While it's fair to point out that the last two months of the season often include the most difficult conference games, it's equally fair to note that A&M can't win the SEC West unless it starts winning those very games.
It's not like Auburn is one of the better teams in the SEC West this year. The Tigers are themselves struggling to make a bowl. But Auburn ran all over A&M, churning out 311 yards on 52 rushes. Jeremy Johnson, whose supposed Heisman candidacy quickly became a joke this year, was an efficient 13-of-17 for 132 yards and a touchdown. Auburn punted on three of its nine drives before the game-ending possession.
Texas A&M's offense, meanwhile, was a wreck. The 303 yards of total offense generated by the Aggies marked a season low for an Auburn opponent, and the only time outside of the Mississippi State in which the Tigers allowed less than 400 yards. For context: San Jose State had 406 yards against Auburn. Kentucky had 497. But on Saturday, Kyler Murray was 13-of-23 for 105 yards and three interceptions. The rushing game did okay, averaging 4.4 yards a carry. A&M had three drives of more than 50 yards, and managed seven points among them.
Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital has absorbed most of the fan criticism so far, but at some point Kevin Sumlin has to shoulder some of the blame. He is the head coach and has built his name and reputation on being an offensive guru. If his team continues to struggle on offense whenever Manziel isn't taking the snaps, that rises to the head coach's level.
For Auburn, the game is more encouraging when it comes to the quest for a postseason game than whatever promise it holds for late-season improvement. Now, the Tigers only need to beat Idaho to get the six wins needed for a bowl bid, though it's hard to be too confident about the chances of a team that almost lost to Jacksonville State. The win against the Aggies came by the largest margin of victory for the Tigers this year, and it takes a little pressure off the besieged offensive genius running things in Auburn.
Texas A&M will make a bowl as well, and could even get to eight wins with Western Carolina and Vanderbilt left on the schedule. But will those victories be enough to dispel some of the gathering questions around the program? And if not, of whom will those questions be asked?