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Spring Football 2016: The Mess at Texas A&M

Kevin Sumlin
It has now been 1,275 days since the college football landscape was turned upside down. On that day, the SEC newcomers,Texas A&M, cemented themselves as serious players in the conference as Johnny Manziel led the charge to upset the No. 1 and undefeated Crimson Tide. For Manziel, it was the Heisman moment he needed to claim the award in 2012. For Kevin Sumlin, it was the biggest win of his head coaching career and put him on a fast track towards an NFL future. Finally, for Texas A&M it seemed to be the beginning of a new era of exciting football and beating the other big boys of the South. Yet here we are, 1,275 days, roughly 40 months, and things couldn't be more different.

Here is just a quick summary of what has happened to Texas A&M over the past two years: after two straight 5-0 starts they've faltered in the second half finishing 8-5 over the past two years. During this span, the Aggies have struggled mightily against the SEC's top competition, most notably a 59-0 loss to Alabama in 2014, and an uninspired 23-3 drubbing at the hands of Ole Miss this past season. While the results of the last two years have been worrying, even more frustrating has been the Aggies' issues off the field. They have lost three high-profile quarterback transfers over the past two years, including Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. Hill, who was supposed to be the heir of Manziel's throne, fell apart quickly after a flaming hot start and left to TCU, where he has a chance to start this season. Allen replaced Hill, and the former five-star recruit showed plenty of promise before he was eventually benched, and left for greener pastures at Houston. Murray was yet another five-star recruit who was supposed to also be the next big thing. He showed flashes of brilliance, but disagreements between him and the coaching staff led him to ditch to Oklahoma. The struggles of these past two years have all culminated in this extremely troubling week. To kick things off, the Aggies lost their most important recruit of the 2016 cycle, and another quarterback who was supposed to be the next superstar. Tate Martell was a consensus five-star recruit out of Las Vegas with astounding arm strength and terrific scrambling ability. He decided to decommit this week, leading to an ill-advised "tweet" by wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, who essentially called out Martell's lack of accountability and loyalty. That helped push Mannie Netherly, a four-star recruit to announce his decommit, referencing to Moorehead's tweet as he did so. Yet another highly touted prospect, ESPN 300 recruit Tyjon Lindsey, also dropped Texas A&M from his list. This recruiting drama and struggles have all exposed issues that have long been festering in College Station.

Contrary to this past week, recruiting has not been much of an issue for Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M. In the 2014 recruiting cycle, Sumlin hauled in loads of talent, chiefly defensive end Myles Garrett, athlete Speedy Noil and Allen, all who were ranked No. 1 at their position group. In 2015, they hauled in five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, Kyler Murray and explosive wide receiver Christian Kirk. Overall, ever since the breakout of Manziel and the arrival to in the SEC, Texas A&M has been a staple among the best recruiting programs, and continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the Lone Star State. Yet, their is much more to college football than simply landing five-star recruits and incredible athletes. Sumlin is a great offensive mind who has proven he can do special things, in College Station and at Houston before his arrival. Yet, his player development has been seriously lacking. Outside of Garrett (who has a very serious chance of going No. 1 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft), most of Texas A&M's big-time prospects have fallen far short of the hype. There have been the transfers (Murray, Allen). Outside of solid receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, who has had his injuries, no player from the 2013 recruiting class has done anything of note. Not every player is going to come into college football and become a star, particularly in the ulta-competitive SEC, but Sumlin hasn't been able to work the same magic he worked with underrated Johnny Manziel at quarterback, or a number of other positions. Running back doesn't play a big role in the Aggies' offense, but none has emerged consistently under Sumlin and the defense as a whole continues to have their growing pains despite the addition of former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis last season.

Just as worrying as the player development of Kevin Sumlin is his player management. All the way back to the Manziel era, Sumlin has received plenty of criticism for the discipline of his program. He never interfered with Manziel even when his partying lifestyle became national headlines, or when the autograph scandal became a major distraction early in the 2013 season. Manziel's replacement, Kenny Hill, was arrested for public intoxication before he came the figurehead of Texas A&M football (before his benching). Since the start of 2010, Texas A&M has been among the leader in players arrested, along with Oklahoma and Washington State, with 21. Considering these are 18 and 19-year olds thrown into the bright lights of SEC football who immediately became celebrities on a football-centric campus like Texas A&M, some of these issues are understandable. However, Sumlin and much of the Aggies' coaching staff hasn't been able to control some of these issues, and haven;t exuded the role of a mentor, which many of these young men need. For a program that is aiming to become the elite of college football, giving of a sense of crime and little leadership isn't what should be happening.

Once more, the talent is in College Station for this team to win big as they look ahead towards 2016-2017. Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight is expected to take over the reigns of an offense that has plenty of potential. Christian Kirk enters his sophomore season criminally underrated, and there are plenty of receiving options that can break a game wide open. The defense has plenty of talent beyond Garrett, and Chavis will continue to find difference-makers. Also sure to help is the addition of new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone who replaces the extremely unpopular Jake Spavital and hopes to rejuvenate an offense that was truly magical under now-Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury. However, the pressure on this team and Sumlin is immense. This hungry A&M fanbase has seen success on the recruiting trail and on the field, and they are eager to see it return. Things won't be easy on to 2016, but Sumlin needs to have success, as he hopes to turn around a program that is quickly creeping in the wrong direction. And he needs to do it fast.

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