One of the reasons Texas A&M joined the Southeastern Conference was to creep out from under the University of Texas’ large shadow. Other reasons included: more money, a more stable conference, more national exposure to help with said creeping, and friendlier relations with its league partners.
From a football perspective, the Aggies also differentiated themselves from the Longhorns. A&M coaches can now ask recruits if they’d rather play in the SEC — home to six-straight BCS champs and the #1 producer of NFL talent by far — or in the 10-team Big 12 with trips to Ames, Manhattan (Kansas), and Lubbock on the agenda.
Speaking on The Paul Finebaum Show yesterday, new Aggie football coach Kevin Sumlin said all of those expectations are becoming a reality on the recruiting trail already:
“Quite frankly, the move to the SEC has really, really, in the state, kind of separated us. I think it’s really given a clear choice to prospective students and student-athletes here in the state, given that you have the Big 12, you have the Big East and the SEC and I think that there’s some clear differences between the leagues. I’ve seen the change in recruiting. There are guys out there that understand that the SEC is, without a doubt, the best conference, the best league to play in, particularly when it comes to football…
In some ways moving to the SEC has really separated us not only from the other schools in the state, but particularly Texas, and given guys a clear choice. We’re not all playing in the same league. This is a school in a state with such great high school football that gives (them) a chance to be on such a platform and compete and play in a league with the best players in the country.”
So what is it about the SEC that draws in recruits? It’s what we wrote above, said Sumlin — a ticket to the NFL:
“I think it’s a combination of national championships, I think it’s a combination of you look at the number of draft choices out of the SEC, which clearly is the leading league in the last 10 years, you look at television exposure, player development.
Guys that obviously want to play in the NFL, the caliber of players that are in the SEC and the stigma of playing in the league has really, really benefited us, in particular, not only in the class we signed in February, but I think right now where we are in recruiting, there is no doubt it’s helped us.”
Sumlin has been appointed to run what is potentially a gold mine. Yes, A&M has struggled in recent years and the SEC West is currently the tougher of the league’s two divisions. An uber-quick rise shouldn’t be expected.
However, like LSU pre-Nick Saban, A&M has everything a coach needs to win if it can find the right coach to start the ball rolling again:
1. Good facilities
2. Great fan support
3. A Top 20 all-time tradition
4. A deep, deep recruiting pool
5. A conference home that turns recruits into NFL prospects
With the right coach, Texas A&M has more potential upside than any of the other three schools the SEC has added in the past two decades. That’s saying something. Arkansas and South Carolina have already shown that they can be Top 10 programs. Newcomer Missouri was ranked #1 in the nation as recently as 2007.
But none of those schools boast all five of the positives we list for A&M going in their favor. Those schools have to work a little bit harder to win the prize. Texas A&M, on the other hand, is just looking for the right Saban or Les Miles or Steve Spurrier or Bobby Petrino (minus the baggage) or Gary Pinkel to tap into all the potential. Whether that man is Sumlin remains to be seen, but the potential for great things is there.
According to Sumlin, recruits are already picking up on that fact.