The Perfect Storm

It will be a historic day in Aggieland as the college football descends on Kyle Field for tomorrow's Game of the Century between the Aggies and Crimson Tide. For more reasons than you think, this is the biggest game Texas A&M University has ever played and the results will be felt years from now.

Three years ago, a small but very vocal group of Aggie fans (mostly on Aggie Websider) were extolling the virtues of the Southeastern Conference, better known to every sports fans as the SEC…or what has become the gold standard of college football because of the rabid fans, electric game day atmosphere, the rich tailgating tradition, and the best football players in the country. SEC football is unmatched and unrivaled for many reasons, and everybody knows it, unless you are a Big 12 coach holding the rope for dear life.

As we discussed the pros and cons of joining the SEC back in the summer of 2010, it was clear that the best move for Texas A&M University was to go east. Some reasons were obvious and short term, but the most important benefits would be reaped years from now:

1) increase exposure and brand Texas A&M nationally

2) excellence rubs off. If you play with the best, you become the best

3) become the single SEC branded school in the state of Texas

4) increase revenues across the board…donations, TV, merchandising, ticket sales

5) improve recruiting on a regional and national basis

6) better game day atmospheres for fans

7) join a conference with a level playing field

8) join a conference with a better cultural fit

9) re-engage rivalry with LSU

10) become the most prominent school in the state of Texas

It was a long list, and a very ambitious list. People laughed…and not just Longhorn fans fresh off a 2009 appearance in the national championship game. As I wrote articles strategically discussing why a little agriculture school in a small college town should be shooting for the top in a new conference, fellow Aggies fans scoffed at the notion of Texas A&M leaving big brother and the Big 12, especially for $20 million a year.

Anyway, a year later, the perfect storm emerged politically in the form of the Longhorn Network. A&M had its political excuse to make a run for the conference border. While Texas President Powers was busy networking with his old academic colleagues over at the University of California University System still begging for a way to get into the Pac-12 with the LHN intact, Deloss Dodds in the back room of Jester Hall counting the millions from ESPN, and Mack Brown busy checking with Bobby Burton on which five-star recruits on paper to offer, the Aggies quietly got their ducks in a row and initiated the break. Even then, had Dodds looked up from his stack of hundred dollar bills and objected, the Aggies still may be in the Big 12.

Once the excitement and jubiliation wore off after dispensing with Ken Starr and Mike Slive announcing, "Howdy Aggieland…Welcome to the SEC", I'm sure fans wondered if A&M made the right move or possibly jumped into a snake pit. Even the most optimistic observers felt the road to "success" in the SEC would be a long and winding road with a few land mines along the way. And, if the Aggies took one too many body blows during this transition, would A&M risk settling into the bottom of the SEC and never get out? Yes, that was a risk…and one the university was willing to take.

Fast forward to today. Who would have imagined that the eyes of the college football world would be fixed on College Station for this weekend's "Game of the Century" against Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide? Add in a little Johnny Manziel national publicity and there hasn't been a day of programming from Bristol when the Aggies were not in the spotlight. Both the ESPN Game Day crew and the CBS Sports talking heads are broadcasting this weekend from this little college town between Houston and Dallas.

To say A&M's investment in this move to the SEC has been a success is an understatement of biblical proportions. We're talking Hillary Clinton cattle futures ROI here…big! Almost too big to be true.

With any successful investment, you can credit smart decisions. The A&M administration certainly did that with the hiring of Kevin Sumlin, and they gave the football program the tools to compete at an SEC level. Sumlin has also quickly elevated the talent pool by staking claim to the best recruiting class in the state last February. And you have to give a little credit to Mike Sherman who handed Sumlin the best offensive line in the country. That offensive line allowed Johnny the opportunity to be Johnny in the backfield.

But we all know that when you are dealing with athletics, luck plays an important component as well. Who would've thought that a smallish, three-star QB from the Hill Country buried on the depth chart 18 months ago would become the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner? Who knows how last season plays out if Toney Hurd doesn't step in front of that Bo Wallace pass, or Deshazor Everett doesn't intercept that last McCarron pass?

Or better yet, does A&M have this early success if Garrett Gilbert was the All-American QB he was supposed to be out of Lake Travis High School? Is any of this possible without the inexplicable three yearslide from a dominant program that controlled the Lone Star State with its thumb on the cruise control button? I think the Aggies would have slowly improved and made gains due to A&M coaches walking into the living rooms of the top prospects sporting an SEC patch on their sleeve regardless how Texas performed. But add in the comedy of errors that is going on in Austin that makes Mack Brown look weak and past his prime while the freight train known as Kevin Sumlin is breathing down his neck, and the Aggies are experiencing the ultimate perfect storm.

It's the same perfect storm that R.C. Slocum and the A&M football program stepped into during the 1990's when all three regional rivals (Texas, OU, LSU) struggled through bad coaching hires which gave the Aggies a huge window of opportunity. It was an opportunity that Slocum and the university eventually squandered, and the three rivals finally got it right (Mack Brown, Bob Stoops, Nick Saban).

So the big question today is…will the Aggies quickly jump through that open window of opportunity, or will it be the same song, different verse? One part of that question will be answered tomorrow by 6:30 when the final whistle blows. Make no mistake about this. If the Aggies emerge victorious on college football's biggest stage in front of what will likely be the all-time largest viewership in college football regular season history (and maybe ever!), then in my best Bum Phillips voice, "We'll knock the son of a bitch in!!!" The Aggies will fly through that window of opportunity and will never look back. A&M will achieve its ultimate goal and the ultimate purpose in joining the SEC, and they will do it in just one calendar year. They will instantly become a national power and a national championship contender, and in the process ascend to the top throne of college football in Texas. Win tomorrow, and the dramatic transformation will be complete. The Aggies will be Seth Brundle, and Texas will be the fly.

Yes, this is big…

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