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Texas A&M and the ‘hot start’

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The Aggies have notoriously gotten off to hot starts, only to tumble later on in the season. Where are they compared to their starts of the past few seasons?

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

You know how the script is written by now. The Texas A&M Aggies get off to a hot start, impress in the polls, rank highly, garner all sorts of hype and then take a few pellets and come crashing back down to earth.

It’s not even a ‘perception vs. reality’ discussion point either. In each of the past three seasons, Texas A&M has had at most one loss through the first six weeks of the season. And by the end of those three seasons, they were tagged with at least four losses including two back-to-back 8-5 seasons in 2014 and 2015. The phrase, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” has rung true for Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies lately, and it hasn’t been too kind to them either.

The 2016 season seems to be following straight to script as well. The Aggies came into the year unranked but toppled No. 16 UCLA at home in the opening week. A win over the Bruins was followed up by a thrashing of Prairie View A&M and then an impressive road win over Auburn. Then, at JerryWorld, the Aggies had perhaps their most impressive performance of the season so far in a 45-24 takedown of longtime rival Arkansas. This past week, the Aggies were inflicted with a scare but survived a road trip to Columbia as they defeated South Carolina, 24-13.

Now, the Aggies will be welcoming No. 9-ranked Tennessee to College Station this coming week, and as history tells us, this could be the litmus test we need to figure out if the Aggies are ‘legit’ or not.

Week 6 is usually where things have fallen apart for A&M in the past three seasons. In this 2013-15 sample we have, the Aggies are 1-2 with the lone win coming in 2013 over Ole Miss. The two losses, which came at the hands of Mississippi State and Alabama, were by an average of 17.5 points with last year’s loss to the Crimson Tide coming in their own house. The road loss to the then-vaunted Bulldogs could at least be somewhat excusable given the travels, but while Alabama was the eventual National Champion, it’s seldom good to be on the receiving end of a dump-trucking like the Aggies were last season.

The ‘benefit’ of hindsight has suggested that maybe the Aggies were never all that good to begin with. It’s a fair suggestion that perhaps Texas A&M was a bit overrated over the past few seasons from a team and individual standard (Need we remind you of September Heisman winner, Kenny “Trill?”).

Up until this past season, the Aggies had definitely recruited like a top-tier team. They were ranked No. 8, No. 6, and No. 12 in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 recruiting rankings via 247Sports, so the talent, at least based on recruiting services, was definitely there. The Aggies were ranked No. 17 heading into this year, taking a bit of a hit, which may suggest that a lot of attention was being paid on how the Aggies’ seasons were progressing.

So what was the cause? Was it coaching not maximizing talents? Was it just the fact that they were playing in the toughest division in America and were just not on the level of the top-tier teams in the SEC West? We could find out those answers, or at least how the administration feels about those questions, by the end of the year if the Aggies stumble to the finish line again. For now, we’re left to wonder about the great unknown that awaits Texas A&M in 2016.

As we await those answers, let’s talk about this year’s team. Where do the Aggies stand nationally in various statistical categories on offense and defense? Let’s find out.

PPG YPG Pass YPG Rush YPG YPG/a Pass YPG/a Rush YPG/a PPG/a
39.2 521 262.4 258.6 388 253.4 134.8 15.4

So, the Aggies offense and defense are hovering around similar spectrums. Their rushing offense is one of the best in the country while their pass offense still ranks up in the Top 45, which is a pretty comfy place to be. Defensively meanwhile there are some issues in the passing game, but a ‘bend but don’t break’ style seems to be applied as they’ve only allowed 15.4 points per game through their first five games of the season.

Let’s compare and contrast these numbers to the ones that were posted by the Aggies in the past three seasons.

Through 5 weeks:

2013

PPG YPG Pass YPG Rush YPG YPG/a Pass YPG/a Rush YPG/a PPG/a
49.2 586.4 369.2 217.2 476.8 262 214.8 30.8

2014

PPG YPG Pass YPG Rush YPG YPG/a Pass YPG/a Rush YPG/a PPG/a
51.2 594.6 401.2 193.4 376.4 219.6 156.8 15.0

2015

PPG YPG Pass YPG Rush YPG YPG/a Pass YPG/a Rush YPG/a PPG/a
39.2 480.4 292.4 188 374.8 192.2 182.6 21

So, it seems like it’s more of the same from the Aggies. The PPG might be down from the prolific numbers they were posting in 2013 and 2014 but they still rank near the top in PPG this season regardless. The biggest difference from this year to the past three seasons is the semblance of balance they have in the offense. They haven’t been highly reliant on the pass game and instead have been succeeding with the run which they’ve struggled to get going in the early portion of the season in the last three years.

Defensively their numbers are still way down from the abysmal marks in 2013. Their PPG allowed still hovers around the mark they had in 2014 when they allowed just 15 through the first five games. They’ll have to try and stay the course and not have a repeat of 2014 where they allowed 36.14 PPG in their final seven games including 48, 35, and 59 in three consecutive weeks after their 5-0 start.

Their run defense has been outstanding compared to the past three years, but they have proven themselves to be susceptible to being attacked through the air which they had improved upon majorly last year. That will almost certainly have to be shored up as the season progresses because, as it so often goes, the competition is only fixing to get stiffer.

So, truth be told, there isn’t much different in 2016 compared to the past three seasons from these standpoints, sans a stiffer run defense a more powerful rush attack, and a less prolific offense with regards to points. Those benefits can certainly help the Aggies going forward as they look to maintain their progressions and not have the wheels fall off just as they have in each of the past three seasons.

Having stability at quarterback will aid them as Trevor Knight has been very good both through the air and on the ground as well. He has a ton of weapons on offense to throw the ball to and so far has been able to take pretty good care of the football too with only three interceptions through the first five weeks.

But for now, while we can enjoy what Texas A&M has done, we still might need to hold our collective breaths.

(All stats come from ESPN.com)