Friday, July 27, 2012

Is Texas A&M Ready for the SEC? (Part II)

Click here for Part I


I really didn’t envision this topic requiring multiple attempts to adequately cover, but in writing Part I earlier this month, I realized I had too much to say for one post. After all, this isn’t Grantland – you don’t have the time to read a novel, and I don’t have the talent to write one.

We already covered the fact that the administration (if someone else should be held responsible for the video embedded in Part I, let me know) made us look like pushover "just happy to be here" pushovers. Next week I plan on addressing the football team in Part III, so be looking for that.

So what, then, is Part II going to be about?

You. Me. Us.

The fan base.

I vaguely remember having a discussion with someone a few years ago, when Texas A&M hosted the Nebraska Cornhuskers, about which fan base was ‘nicer’, and which campus was ‘friendlier’. I honestly cannot recollect a single aspect of that game other than that conversation. I am quite sure neither of us had ever visited Lincoln, much less encountered the Husker faithful on the Nebraska campus for a football game. But somehow we heard that A&M and Nebraska were considered the two “friendliest” campuses in the Big 12, and quite possibly the country.

But as we know, friendliness doesn’t win football games.

According to aggietraditions.com, “‘Howdy’ is the official greeting of Texas A&M University. It is our way of ensuring that no one feels like a stranger. The exact origin on this tradition is not known. However, ‘Howdy’ is what sets us apart as the friendliest campus in the world.”

That’s nice. Really, it is.

Let me preface this by first saying that I love Texas A&M University. Did hearing an extremely awkward and forced “Howdy” from a Corps freshman in a quiet, deserted hallway of the Wehner building make me cringe? Yes, absolutely. But I have grown to appreciate “Howdy” and what it stands for.

I recall loving the friendly atmosphere at Texas A&M when I visited in high school. The welcoming vibes made for a great day-to-day college experience. But I never quite understood why Texas A&M would bend over backwards to accommodate fans of the Aggies’ opponents. For example, the other schools’ tailgate location was closer to Kyle Field than the Greeks’. (Clearly, I’m not bitter at all.)

That attitude is why I believe the majority of the Aggie faithful is in for a rude awakening when experiencing a true SEC gameday experience.  We won’t be met with abundant high-fives, instead we very well might be met with condescending stares.  Stares that say, “thanks for joining the SEC Mr. Texas A&M fan; now please stand aside while we walk on top of you for a couple years.”  

Most of us can probably attest to being ridiculed by friends who attended Arkansas or LSU the past few years. We deserved it after the embarrassing losses at Cowboys Stadium. But I believe any fan base is going to be 10 times more intense when they are at their home stadium. People tend to be milder at a neutral site, so I don’t think the 12th Man has really seen just what the fans of the SEC are capable of.

There won’t be a lot of free beer at the Auburn tailgate for us. The women at the Alabama games won’t be interested in where your wife got her rhinestone-embroidered Aggie flip-flops. The fraternity boys in Oxford won’t be looking for a “howdy”. When we play LSU, you’ll become very familiar with “tiger bait”.

This isn’t to say that Texas A&M needs to all of a sudden change its friendly ways overnight as a result of joining an intense conference. However, if we are going to be taken seriously by the fan bases of the SEC, a certain amount of growing up needs to happen. We are officially in the big-time now, and it’s time we embrace it.

They don’t give out free servings of respect in the SEC.  That takes wins… lots of them.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Monday Musings

I'm usually not a fan of writing quick hits, but today has to qualify as one of the most interesting and newsworthy days of this college football offseason, and my thoughts are too scattered to be compiled in a coherent fashion, so here we are. Chalk it up to a long day at the office.

This was not your typical Monday in July:

- The NCAA's President (and Roger Goodell prototype) Mark Emmert lowered the boom on Penn State today. I'm going to let you read the musings of someone who's far more aware of that situation. However, after giving it some thought, I will say this: The college sports we care about (i.e. football, basketball) are DIRTY businesses. The NCAA had to do what it did to Penn State's football program. Anything less would have resulted in public outcry. But I'm not quite sure that punishing the football program was the most right way to go about this. The scandal was a systemic failure at different levels of the institution. This is obviously uncharted territory for the NCAA - but it opens up a whole new can of worms.

- The Aggies landed a big fish from the Louisiana recruiting pond today. Shaan Washington, a big safety that could end up being an outside LB, is another good pickup for Coach Sumlin, according to Taylor Hamm of Gigem247.

- Speaking of Sumlin, did anyone catch him on ESPN today? I thought about driving to Bristol to see him (it's only about an hour from me) but, you know, the man happened.

- Aubrey Bloom of Gigem247 had some interesting notes on twitter today about the monetary value of the Aggies joining the SEC. Which game would you pay the most to be at in 2012? (At Kyle Field, my money is going toward the LSU game. I'd give my right arm to watch the Aggies in Tuscaloosa.)

- The Big 12 Media Days started today. If a tree falls in the forest but no one was there to hear it, did it really make a sound?

- Follow us on twitter at @AggieRundown for thoughts too short to write about. As always, we appreciate any and all feedback from you.

Friday, July 20, 2012

NCAA 13 Email Exchange

Scott and Trey exchange emails about the newly released NCAA Football 13 video game.  After the actual opening of the season, might NCAA 13 represent the second most exciting day of the year for college football fans?  You could talk me into it...

Scott: Let’s get this straight, the NCAA franchise is merely a lesser addictive form of drugs. It consumes you, it enrages you, it excites you, and at the end of the day... you keep coming back for more (at least until FIFA comes out).  If you play this game every year, you 100% know what I am talking about.  If you don't?  Well, you are probably rather unimpressed by my little video game confession memoir.  This is why I brought Trey into this.  Trey loves Texas A&M and college football as much as anyone, but he is only just now returning to NCAA after many years of abandonment.  How does it feel Trey?

With my drug metaphor set aside... what college football fan can resist the opportunity to control the simulated inner workings of his/her own team on a week to week video game basis?   

Trey, where should this conversation go?  Should we really dive into the nuances and theories of replicating something as complex as college football onto a little disc?  Should we just go player by player (for Texas A&M) and bicker about their NCAA 13 ratings (WOW, were they generous with Jameill Showers... the producers must have been insanely impressed with his 5 total pass attempts last year)?  The email world is your oyster, Trey Bahney... take it away...

Trey: Well, first I should address my prior experience with the NCAA franchise. After my initial love and domination of the old school BLITZ, I really discovered NCAA when I was introduced to the Rush Attack mini game. Let me just say, I LOVED Rush Attack (especially with Reggie Bush). Then it was followed up by the genius mini game of Option Attack (heaven forbid, I was a big fan of playing Option Attack with VY).

Needless to say, I learned how to run the ball really well in open space. The only problem is, in a full game against my friends, you have no use for a “run the ball in open space” skill. Thus, when the mini games were eliminated, I stopped playing.

That all changed last fall when A&M was given what is easily the most talented team to come out in 10 years with Ryan Tannehill, Jeff Fuller, Cyrus Gray, etc. I thought, if nothing else, I’m buying this game just because A&M is so talented; so if I’m ever going to do well in the game, it will be this year. Well guess what, my experience went about as well as the Aggie’s season. Alright, enough of that sob story; on to my thoughts of the new game.

First thing I noticed was that A&M is still rated as a 4 star program. Obviously I’m biased, but I’ll never stop getting upset about that (whatever, haters gon’ hate). Second, I really felt like the passing game was a lot more streamline and realistic. Maybe it’s because I’m playing on Varsity, but I was actually able to hit receivers right when they came out of their breaks, rather than 10 yards later after the 240 pound LB had already sprinted over to swat the ball down.

Question for the veteran, what is your impression of all the “improvements” to recruiting? Personally, I hate doing recruiting, so the fact they gave me more work to do is really going to bug me.

Scott:  As much as I want to bicker alongside you in regards to Texas A&M being a 4-star program, I would have to say that is fair.  A 5-star program is elite and while we have the potential to be elite (resources, fan base, etc.) we haven't performed like it over the past decade.  Meinke Car Care Bowl victories don't get you 5-star ratings in NCAA 13.  The truth hurts... no doubt about that.

I will though bicker about the fact that when recruiting on NCAA 13, Texas A&M's fan base is not an A+.  That is preposterous and offensive and wrong and unfair and mean.  I have to stop there.  If you won't listen to an actual Aggie, listen to Kirk Herbstreit.

The overall gameplay has been improved a tad bit.  The passing game is a little smoother... mainly with better deliveries and receptions, but I still feel as if the creators are being lazy.  I played Madden last year and the gameplay is dramatically better.  Enough talk about gameplay (snooooooze), I wanna get into some of the endless intricacies of bundling something like college football into a virtual product that millions consume.

As a guy who loves analyzing the ratings of all the players, I do feel like the game doesn't do its due diligence on player ratings outside of the top few guys (and even those can be skewed.  How hard is it to know that Trey Williams has game-breaking speed?  Am I being too shortsighted because I expect the game designers to know as much about Texas A&M football as I do?).

You asked about recruiting.  I love recruiting.  How in the world can you not enjoy the tireless pursuit of the next great athlete to step onto Kyle Field.  What is more exciting than getting that Scrambler Quarterback to run the option with?  Trey, you must choose to truly dive into the nuances of NCAA to fully appreciate it.

Trey:  I'll just leave this here: 
TCU - 5 Star Program [insert joke here].

Alright, back on track. You're question about player evaluations is quite exciting. I would love to know how they go about evaluating tens of thousands of players and recruits on 30-something different attributes. Rivals, Scout, 247Sports, and ESPN all can't agree on player's attributes so how are we supposed to expect the makers of Mass Effect 3 to know? And that's not even mentioning the dynamic of how much players are supposed to improve over the off-season. Can you get transformations like '08 to '09 Von Miller and RB to WR Ryan Swope in the off-season?

Here's my non-expert opinion. The design team just spends a couple weeks addressing the complaints each school has about their mascot animations and stadium looks, then they outsource the player evaluations to someone who just averages the national rankings and call it a day. In reality, there's very little pressure on EA to improve any game-play; it's all on them improving the pageantry of the game. Everyone wants Kyle Field to look super impressive (even though fans of Maryland will never even play a game in Kyle Field to know what it looks like). I think Reveille makes her debut in this game and that's enough to shut up all A&M fans. I'm alright with it because the talent they stripped TreyWilliams of was given to Jameill Showers (much bigger need for my first dynasty season). 

I'll give you this, the "scout" feature is a pretty dang cool feature they added to recruiting. I get real excited seeing their ratings go up and down throughout the recruiting process. You've mentioned on this blog before that you love the off-season because of recruiting. Is it possible that you like the recruiting aspect of the game more than the actual game-play?

Scott:  I suppose we will never know on the ratings front.  And what am I to expect as a fan of the underachieving Aggies... my fair share of disappointment, that's what!  And as we have both pointed out... they were generous with Showers, and who wants to play that game with a subpar quarterback?  Speaking of that... I honestly think our quarterback situation (whichever unproven guy takes claim) is a huge rain cloud in the distance.  I wouldn't feel good about our quarterback situation if we were in the Big East, yet I am supposed to be blinded by the beauty of the SEC and only focus on the strengths of the A&M team?  

Whoops, I went too far into real life... and my worrisome side came out.  But wait, aren't we analyzing the actual team through a video game lens?  Did they just ensure me that Showers will be a competent quarterback?  Ahhhh, back to irrational exuberance.

Also, I think you hit the nail on the head with the "pageantry" idea.  And honestly, I am cool with that... college football truly is about the "pageantry".  It is about the traditions, Saturday afternoons, obscure small cities that only exist because of the university that resides there.  I don't feel as if you will find many individuals who went to a high profile tier one university that would say they truly love the NFL more than the college game.  It has more heart, more passion.  It isn't about the salary cap and the contracts to the fans, its about puffing your chest out and saying, my school is the best damn school there ever was.

And with that statement... I have just come to the truest beauty of NCAA 13.  When I play NCAA 13, you better believe I can put in the hours, to recruit, to mold my schedule, to play the games, to endure untimely fumbles... to make my school is, without a doubt, the best damn school there ever was (in my sad, sad virtual world).

Trey:  Well said. 
It takes rain to make a rainbow, and I see some scattered showers as I approach my game with #3 LSU.  Play on!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Is Texas A&M University Ready for the SEC? (Part I)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DaPne-8Wjg&feature=youtube_gdata_player

*Slams forehead on desk*

Back in the fall of 2011, when it became clear to all that Texas A&M University would no longer bear the burden of being publicly burned by the University of Texas and was bolting the Big 12 for the greener pastures of the SEC, I assumed the Aggies would eventually encounter their fair share of harmless jokes from their new conference brethren.

I expected the guys at Ole Miss to hear about the cadet drawing his sword on the SMU cheerleader that dared step onto the grass.

I figured the boys at Bama would do a few Google searches and learn about the sheep.

Heck, it wouldn't surprise me if the LSU message boards jumped all over the Yell Leaders' "Tra-la-la" YouTube fiasco.

Anyone interested in some good-natured ribbing of the opponent's fan base is going to do a little digging to find some dirt on the other school. It's part of what makes college athletics so fun, and rivalries so intense.

Here's the part where I get embarrassed.

Most (if not all) schools other than Texas A&M do their best to project a sense of superiority when it comes to their athletic department. For some reason, the Aggies' M.O. upon joining the SEC has been to effusively praise the other members of the conference, as if our staying in the conference depends on it. With this video, the marketing department gift-wrapped our insecurity for the other schools to prey on, and exposed us to easy ridicule.

News flash: Texas A&M (yes, President Loftin, there is an 'A' in there) is a full-fledged member of the SEC. We don't need to publicly pander to the emotions of the other SEC schools. We don't need to convince them of our worth. The SEC wanted us. They would have never considered Texas A&M for inclusion if they felt differently.

So drop the kind campaign, guys. Stunts like this video make us look weak (at best) and clueless. Let's act like we belong.

Until we do, no one will take Texas A&M seriously - on the field or off.

(Part II coming soon)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mr. Personality - Coach Sumlin


Is it safe to say Kevin Sumlin was the right man for the job?  Not yet, but I sure do like what I see thus far.

Now let’s be clear, if the Aggies go out there in August and September and put up a bunch of  inconsistent efforts that result in goose eggs, I will 100% turn on him.  (It should be noted I am absolutely an irrational fan - sue me.)  Sumlin will then be classified (by me) as all personality, with nothing to back it up on the actual field.  I’m not looking for a 10-win season.  Just win the games you are supposed to win, win a couple we aren’t supposed to win, and, please, just look like a team ready to compete every week.  I'll let you decide which games are which.

But since the games haven’t started, let’s talk about that personality of Mr. Kevin Sumlin.  He is young, energetic, confident, and demanding.  I love that mix.  I want the players to love him, yet still fear him; willing to go to war for him, but not willing to cross him.

Football teams are a large, complex living organism.  Sometimes things need to be changed at the top (the brain), and that is why letting Mike Sherman go was the right decision.  Sherman was an exemplary human, whom I think is specifically manufactured to succeed at a supporting role, more specifically, an offensive coordinator.  The head coach of a college football team might as well be the mayor of the city or the president of the school.  Their entire life is devoted to balancing a bunch of ego-driven football players, financially-driven admins, and success-driven fans.   A&M needs someone to inspire them, to fire them up, to make them believe.  Some coaches lack the vibrant personality to be the man at the top of the totem pole.  And honestly, that is perfectly fine; those men are meant to be fantastic coordinators (i.e. Mike Sherman and Wade Phillips). 

As far as specific leadership style… well, sometimes your team needs the stern, stoic leadership of a Nick Saban; and sometimes your team needs the loud, stirring leadership of a Mike Tomlin.  Obviously, most people would throw Coach Sumlin in the Mike Tomlin boat (heck, they even look alike, along with Omar Epps), but I don’t want to pigeon-hole him yet.  A college coach is far different than an NFL coach.

I love that Kevin Sumlin is involved on twitter.  Current Texas A&M students love twitter, future A&M athletes love twitter (LaQuvionte Gonzalez - @LAQUVIONTE_GJay Arnold - @JArnoldTAMU85, & Kenny Hill - @Kennyhill13,  seem to be fond of it), the whole world seems to love twitter right now.  Twitter is a revolutionary tool that helps us FEEL connected with people we once deemed to be out of reach.  Twitter allows someone in the position of Sumlin to give us all a little peek into his world.  And Sumlin embraces that notion.   Anyone who follows him has likely come to know that when he tweets “YESSIR” it usually means another recruit has committed to Texas A&M.  
As evidenced by this proclamation when Darian Claiborne committed on July 3, 2012.

This not only invigorates the devoted fan base to no end, but it proves that Coach Sumlin cares enough about those who surround him in order to let them be involved to an extent.  Family isn’t just a tagline at Texas A&M, it is the fabric of our University.  Sumlin seems to get that.

The Texas A&M student body is very different now than it was 10 years ago.  And it will undoubtedly be very different 10 years from now.  I believe Coach Sumlin does a fantastic job of understanding the student body as they are today, much more so than his predecessors ever did.  Obviously his age is helpful in that equation, but that doesn’t tell the entire story.  Sumlin appears willing to adapt and evolve with the college football atmosphere.

Another tidbit that I love: Sumlin plays music at practice.  He obviously believes that a football practice is no place for solemn, silence… and I couldn’t agree more.  Not that the music of Drake, Rhianna, or Skrillex truly replicates a game day atmosphere, but guess what, I have zero doubt the players love it.  It not only creates an up-tempo atmosphere for them to practice in, but it also gets the energy at a whole new level.  Getting the mood right can make or break a practice, and consequently, the team as a whole. 

A college football team in its simplest form is a gathering of fifty-plus 18-22 year olds that just so happen to also be raging, athletic monsters.  These kids need to be harnessed at times and let loose at other times, but they ultimately should be molded into a winning product.  This becomes the ultimate juggling act for a coach who realizes that winning football teams turn universities across the country into national brands (see Florida, Texas, USC,etc). 

Again, a college football team is a complex living, breathing organism and which needs a brain to direct it.  Right now that brain, whether we like it or not (which I currently “like” it) is Mr. Kevin Sumlin.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Coming Soon

Phew! After a lengthy hiatus, the Aggie Rundown will be getting back into gear over the next couple weeks with some new write-ups.  We are cautiously (oh what the heck, we are totally psyched to venture into SEC territory) excited for the upcoming season and look forward to putting some pen to paper (or just typing those thoughts).  As always, give us a shout with your own musings, recommendations, or thoughts.  We would love to hear from you.  @aggierundown @sklovans @benberryman or aggierundown@gmail.com!