14 Burning Questions for 2012: #9 – Texas A&M

We’re down to single digits. Fourteen SEC teams and fourteen burning questions.

#9 – Can Kevin Sumlin win in the SEC?

I hate to be blunt, that that’s the deal.

Sumlin acquitted himself well as head man of the Houston Cougars where he amassed a 35-17 record in four years. Sumlin also had use of Case Keenum for three of those four years. Keenum only played in three games of the 2010 season before being lost for the remainder of the season with a knee injury, but in his three full years, the Cougs won 8, 10 and 13 games. In his injury marred season, they stumbled backward to a 5-7 mark.

It’s also worth noting that Keenum threw for over 19,000 yards (no, that’s not a typo) and 155 touchdowns.

How did the NFL reward this stat king? By not drafting him. That’s right. The pros essentially hung a gimmick label on the offense of Keenum and Sumlin.

Texas A&M, however, liked what they saw in Sumlin and hired themselves a football coach.

A&M is coming off of a 9-4 season in which they beat Northwestern in some sort of no-name bowl.

Things could have been much better, though.  The Aggies lost leads against two top five teams (Arkansas and Oklahoma State) and lost two overtimes games (Missouri and Kansas State).  That all spells a heartbreaking season for A&M fans.  (And that’s without even mentioning the Longhorn Network.)

A&M will also be without the services of quarterback Ryan Tannehill who took his services to the NFL.  Tannehill completed almost 62% of his passes for 3,744 yards and 29 touchdowns and also tossed 15 picks.  Jameill Showers, Tannehill’s replacement attempted five passes last season, yet college football guru Phil Steele had this to say in his 2012 preview magazine:  “…if the new QB cuts down on turnovers, they could be just as productive.”

I think I get Steele’s point.  Tannehill threw some ill-timed interceptions and Sumlin and company can stop those the results could be similar.

Except I don’t believe that.  Yes, some of the turnovers had to come at bad times, but you don’t just replace 3,800 passing yards and 29 touchdown passes.  And in A&M’s case, you don’t replace it with a returning quarterback who threw five passes last year.

The Aggies do bring back running back Christine Michael who rushed for 899 yards at six yards a pop, and leading receiver Ryan Swope who hauled in 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns.  They also bring back a less experienced defensive line and secondary.

And they also play the 2012 season in the Southeastern Conference.

So back to my original question…can Sumlin win in the SEC?  I think he’s shown to be a good coach in a dismal league, but I have some big doubts about whether that translates into wins in the SEC West.  One rule I have for hiring coaches is don’t hire a coach whose best years correspond to those of a once in a lifetime player.  Keenum may not be a once in a lifetime player, but for Houston, he’s close.  It’s hard not to link Houston’s recent success with Case Keenum and I think Sumlin’s spread system isn’t likely to shock or surprise the SEC’s defensive minds.

The Aggies also play a difficult schedule as well.  Their non-conference games are pretty dismal, though Louisiana Tech could give them a scare, but their conference schedule is tough: Florida (h), Arkansas (h), Ole Miss (a), LSU (h), Auburn (a), Mississippi State (a), Alabama (a) and Missouri (h).

Sumlin may win at A&M, but I don’t think it will be in 2012.