Sumlin out at A&M

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The end of Thanksgiving weekend brought with it the not-so-shocking news that Kevin Sumlin was relieved of his head coaching duties at Texas A&M after six seasons. Sumlin concluded his tenure 51-26 after Saturday’s SEC loss to the Tigers in Death Valley.

Sumlin was a victim of timing. He enjoyed most of his success in the first two years of his tenure, starting 20-6 including victories in the Cotton Bowl and Chick-Fil-A Bowl. While the Aggies had a lot of talent to marvel at in 2012 and 13, no star shone brighter than Johnny Manziel.

Manziel polarized more than College Station. The young signal caller captured the entire country with his incredible performances throughout his freshman season and more or less put the program back in the national spotlight. The 2012 Aggies defeated top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa and might’ve been considered for the College Football Playoffs had it existed at the time. This was a remarkable feat for a first-year coach and a freshman quarterback in the program’s inaugural SEC season.

Even with an older Manziel, the 2013 Aggies lost their ability to win big conference games. They won eight regular season games, but dropped critical matchups to Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Missouri.

It’s easy to play Monday-morning quarterback, but I think it’s safe to say it was an all-around poor decision for Manziel to declare for the NFL Draft after his second season with the Aggies. Had he stayed, there’s no telling what A&M might’ve accomplished in his junior and senior seasons. If Sumlin had the troubled but Heisman-winning quarterback, he might also have a National Championship.

With all the money that’s involved at the highest level of collegiate football, especially in the SEC, it’s all about what you’ve done lately. While Sumlin always fielded a competitive team to some extent, they could never take that next step forward after his first season with Manziel.

That said, Sumlin posted the second-best winning percentage of any Aggie head coach in the modern era. Still, the Aggies haven’t finished above the .500 mark in SEC play since 2012. Overall, A&M was just 8-14 at home under Sumlin against SEC opponents, including a seven-game losing streak in College Station against the SEC West. Sumlin was a good coach and accomplished a lot, but those conference numbers just won’t cut it nowadays.

No matter how inevitable the move was, the last six seasons have been historic for the Aggies as they settle into the SEC. However Sumlin is remembered in College Station, he will always be a big part of that.

“No matter who you are or what you do, you can live with yourself if you leave something better than what it was when you got there,” Sumlin told ESPN after his fate was sealed. “To be able to move into a new league, arguably the toughest division in the toughest league in the country, and never have a losing season, watch the renovation of Kyle Field, watch the culture turn into a national brand, you go to sleep at night knowing that things are in a better place than they were six years ago.”

The next step for the Aggies is to find someone to replace Sumlin. Rumor has it that they are preparing to make a very lucrative offer to current Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher. Fisher has led the Seminoles to an 83-23 record in his eight seasons in Tallahassee including a National Championship in 2013.

It’s been a down year for Florida State, but there’s no guarantee that Fisher will choose to leave his current position. If the Aggies aren’t able to land a name like Fisher, it could be difficult to upgrade at the head coaching position by 2018.

Playoff race intensifies

The depleted Texans dropped to 4-7 to conclude week 12 on Monday night in Baltimore and can essentially abandon any long shot playoff hopes. Despite the dominance of DeAndre Hopkins, who continues to show why he’s one of the best receivers in the league, quarterback Tom Savage commits too many turnovers and leaves fans aching for Deshaun Watson. Houston fans can safely shift their attention to the Rockets and enjoy an optimistic offseason. 

The Ravens improved to 6-5 with the 23-16 win over Houston and retain the six seed in the AFC playoff picture. Despite holding the spot for now, Joe Flacco and the Raven offense look extremely underwhelming. The defense is good, but it’s not dominant. With a couple of tough matchups on the horizon, Baltimore will have to find their offense if they expect to see the postseason.
The LA Chargers continued to climb their way up the AFC ladder with their fifth win in Dallas on Thanksgiving. LA has won five out of seven games after an 0-4 start and are alive and well in the playoff hunt. Philip Rivers is carving up defenses with the help of surging receiver Keenan Allen and the pass-rushing combination of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram is enough to give any quarterback nightmares.
The Chargers are in the thick of the final wildcard race with Baltimore, Buffalo and Oakland. All three picked up a victory in week 12. However, LA is now just one game behind the crumbling Chiefs in the AFC West. The Chargers could be a scary team with sleeper potential if they can just secure a playoff spot.
On the flip side, nothing is working for the Dallas Cowboys. The absence of Ezekiel Elliot is certainly a tough loss, but there’s no excuse for putting up single digits in three straight weeks. They were 5-3 with Zeke, so it’s not like they were anywhere near 2016 status anyway. At the end of the day, the weight of the world falls on Dak Prescott. While the postseason is possible, it’s a tall order. It will be up to Prescott to find a way to put points on the board without a perfect supporting cast if he wants to prove he was worth the rookie hype.
While Dallas fell to 5-6, a division foe improved to the same record hours later. Quarterback Kirk Cousins and Washington handed the Giants their ninth loss of the season on turkey day.
Philadelphia all but secured the NFC East crown on Sunday, so Dallas and Washington can only hope to keep winning and get a lot of help in the wildcard race. The two teams will open week 13 tomorrow in Dallas and the loser is basically out of it.
The Minnesota Vikings traveled to Detroit on Thanksgiving and continued their impressive season with win number nine. The win puts the Vikings three games on top of the Lions in the NFC North and they can clinch the division with a win in Atlanta on Sunday along with a Detroit loss. Minnesota’s defense was never a secret, but backup quarterback Case Keenum and the offense have been one of the game’s best surprises. The Vikings are in a fight for the second seed in the NFC playoffs and a first round bye with the Rams and the Saints, who have eight wins. Minnesota has beaten both and own an eight-game winning streak.
The Saints lost their eight-game winning streak in LA to Jared Goff and the Rams. With the Vikings separating themselves from the two in the last couple of weeks, this game very well could decide which team will earn the three seed. It was a nice bounce back win for the Rams, who lost in Minnesota the week before.
The loss evens up New Orleans and the Carolina Panthers at 8-3 atop the NFC South. Cam Newton is as dangerous as it gets when he’s on, but he has had his off weeks. However, the Panthers have one of the better defenses in the league and are serious contenders. Right behind the Saints and Panthers are the Atlanta Falcons. The defending NFC champs seem to be slowly but surely rising from their Super Bowl hangover and currently hold the sixth and final playoff spot. Many were beginning to question the production of receiver Julio Jones, but the dominant force from Alabama finally showed out on Sunday with two touchdowns and over 200 yards against the Buccaneers.
The NFC South has produced the last two NFC champions and are showing again why they’re the most complete division in football. The combined 27 wins from the four teams is by far the best record of any division and they arguably have three Super Bowl contenders. If the Saints find a way to reach the Super Bowl, the South will have produced three different NFC champs in three straight years.
Despite some devastating injuries to this point in the season, the Seahawks stayed a game behind the Rams in the NFC West with a win over the San Francisco 49ers. Russell Wilson will need to carry Seattle into the playoffs without a lot of help and a very tough stretch the rest of the way. A Monday night loss to Atlanta last week severely damaged their wildcard hopes.
The 49ers fell to 1-10 but got their first look at newly acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo when C.J. Beathard left with an injury late in the fourth. Garoppolo completed both of the passes he attempted including a touchdown to Louis Murphy as time expired. Kyle Shanahan has not yet announced whether it will be Garoppolo or Beathard against the Bears on Sunday.
Jimmy Garoppolo in the starting lineup is about the only thing that could make a Bears-49ers matchup interesting. The man who made a name for himself backing up Tom Brady will return home to the Chicagoland area and could have an intriguing day on the field with fellow up-and-comer Mitchell Trubisky despite the ugly records.
The Patriots and Steelers continue to own the AFC and each picked up their ninth win in week 12. New England easily took care of the Dolphins at home and the Steelers just barely scraped by the resurgent Packers in Pittsburgh. All roads seem to point to a week 15 matchup between the AFC’s finest. The winner will most likely secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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