The writing was on the wall for Kevin Sumlin as clear and bold as there ever was for a coach heading into a sink-or-swim season. By Texas A&M’s final game last weekend against LSU, he found himself in the deep end of the pool without his floaties.
From 2014-16 the Aggies finished with three consecutive 8-5 seasons, a disappointing run after an inspiring 11-2 mark in Sumlin’s first season in 2012. After this year’s 7-5 mark, a dismal response to athletic director Scott Woodward’s very public warning to Sumlin before the start of the season, the expected decision to part ways was made on Sunday.
Aggies faithful will always expect a competitive finish year-in and year-out, but could something on the recruiting front been done to give the team more positive outcomes? Looking back on the past three recruiting classes, there are several trends that should have signaled things weren’t heading the right direction.
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QUARTERBACK RECRUITING AND RETENTION
Quarterback evaluation and recruiting is as difficult a task as there is in college football and, unsurprisingly, one of the most crucial elements of success. It’s hard to definitively say that a fully healthy season from Nick Starkel would have produced some more positive results, but many would have also expected some more inspired numbers from true freshman passer Kellen Mond after finishing as a five-star prospect in 2017.
The production at quarterback this season has been particularly frustrating after seeing former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill finally seeming to pull things together well enough this season to lead TCU to a two-loss record this season and a shot at a Big 12 title. Meanwhile, Kyler Murray’s decision to transfer out of A&M to spend two seasons behind Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma rather than stick it out in College Station is a disappointment, and Kyle Allen, another five-star prospect signed by A&M in 2014, continues to languish after not being able to get himself back on track at Houston.
WHIFFING ON THE 2016 CLASS
How different things might have been for Texas A&M had its 2016 lived up its Top 20 rank nationally? If Sumlin and his staff got as much out of the players at the top end of their class last year as they did from even its lowest ranked three-stars, things may have been different this season. Furthermore, the Aggies went all-in on offensive talent, but this season, the Aggies' had their worst defensive efficiency as a unit in defensive coordinator John Chavis’ three seasons by a significant margin.
Texas A&M’s top signee in 2016, Kellen Diesch, didn’t see the field this season after redshirting his first year. Austin Anderson, the Aggies only other four-star offensive lineman that year, played in four games during his freshman season, but didn’t play this year. Meanwhile, three-star signees Colton Prater and Ryan McCollum rotated in-and-out of the starting lineup this season, but probably weren’t the players Sumlin was hoping to have step up in the trenches.
Tyrel Dodson gave the Aggies a bright spot from the class defensively this season, but Alton Robinson’s legal woes kept him from joining the team. Aaron Hansford’s transition from high four-star linebacker to receiver hasn’t produced meaningful returns. After redshirting his freshman season, former Rivals250 defensive lineman Justin Madubuike had the biggest game of his career against the Lobos with three solo tackles and a forced fumble. After an eye-popping debut in the Texas Bowl last season, Ikenna Okeke hasn’t significantly factored into the Aggies secondary this season
Former four-star wide receiver Quartney Davis played in six games this season without registering a stat while every receiver signee from 2017 class has. Save for Hezekiah Jones, all of the 2017 receivers also out-performed 2016 Rivals250 wide receiver Clyde Leflore-Chriss. Arguably, the only significant success story on offense from the 2016 class was running back Trayveon Williams, who led A&M in rushing this season with 733 yards.
FAILURE TO CAPITALIZE ON IN-STATE DOMINANCE
From 2013-17, Texas A&M finished with the highest team recruiting ranking among in-state Power Five programs in four-out-of-five years. While 2016 may have been fool’s gold in its returns so far to-date, that was the one year that the Aggies didn’t finish with the top ranking in-state during that run. In 2014, 2015 and 2017, Texas A&M not only finished with the highest team ranking in Texas, but Top 10 finishes nationally. Sumlin and his staff may have had the goods to bring big-name recruits to College Station, but the inability to turn so much perceived talent into more success during his tenure ended up becoming a theme in his time as head coach.