Nick Starkel

Texas A&M quarterback Nick Starkel delivers a pass during the first half against New Mexico on Saturday at Kyle Field.

Laura McKenzie/The Eagle

As Nick Starkel threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns in only a half of work in Saturday’s 55-14 mashing of New Mexico, it was hard not to play the what-if game.

Starkel was making his first start since breaking his ankle in the third quarter of the season opener against UCLA after leading A&M to a 41-10 lead. If Starkel doesn’t get hurt, the Aggies probably don’t blow a 34-point to UCLA and lose 45-44. Win that game, and wow, the possibilities are almost endless.

Considering the chemistry Starkel had with his receivers against New Mexico, if he had started every game, the offense would have been lethal enough to beat Mississippi State or Auburn, heck maybe both.

But don’t go there. Because if you do, then you’ve also got to think about were A&M would be if quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray hadn’t transferred. Or what if South Carolina had not played the second half with a make-shift offensive line or Florida wasn’t short 17 or so scholarship players when it played the Aggies? Or what if Bobby Petrino were still riding high at Arkansas and never got fired?

So, let’s just stick to the facts — well, at least for the time being.

A&M’s best overall effort of the season made them bowl eligible. Those extra practices are so important with such a young team.

A&M’s dominating half coming on the heels of back-to-back disappointing home losses was impressive. Yep, it came against lowly New Mexico, but A&M also struggled to beat Nicholls State and Louisiana-Lafayette. No one would have been shocked had A&M slept-walked through the New Mexico game. Instead, it was over by halftime. Actually, it was over about halfway through the second quarter. That’s impressive.

The biggest fact from Saturday is Kevin Sumlin hasn’t lost this team, actually far from it. Sumlin’s job status was the hot topic since A&M walked off the field after last week’s 42-27 loss to Auburn. It seemed the players who met the media after that game and were at Tuesday’s press conference finally were coming to grips with the realization Sumlin’s job is on the line. Instead of lamenting, the players did something about it Saturday night. Odds are A&M isn’t going to win out, but they’re a win closer.

Public opinion has fired Sumlin several times this season, but as of 4:59 p.m. Friday, A&M hadn’t sent out release saying that. Nor has the agent of Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher gone on record saying no one representing Texas A&M has been in contact with him, which would of course mean they have.

If A&M were to end the season on a four-game winning streak to finish 9-4, it tops the disappointing 8-5 finishes of the last three seasons. A&M also would be 3-1 in November, thriving in what’s been Sumlin’s most troublesome month.

Sumlin would have earned the right to return even though this season he was 1-3 at home in Southeastern Conference play. That’s because he would have done better than he had in the past, answering the challenge made by A&M athletic director Scott Woodward on The Paul Finebaum Show in May.

Since the last time a Sumlin-coached team ended the season with a four-game winning streak was his first in Aggieland, talking about a 3-1 November and a 9-4 record certainly falls under the what-if category.

A&M showed Saturday why it could happen because of Starkel. A&M’s young receivers, who have had growing pains in part because they didn’t have a quarterback who could get them the football consistently, had their best game of the season as true freshmen Roshaaud Paul and Jhamon Ausbon each caught seven passes, combining for 234 yards and a touchdown. Starkel brought out their best, along with the defense and just about everyone else on the team except kickoff return coverage, the game’s lone wart.

Starkel, Paul and Ausbon are among 42 underclassmen who need to keep doing that they did Saturday to possibly save Sumlin’s job. All but two of them played Saturday with five of the freshmen and three of the sophomores starting.

Saturday’s game had to give them a huge shot of confidence. So much, that they probably are thinking, what if…

A&M’s game Saturday at Ole Miss will be at 6 p.m.

(3) comments

Mike in Keller

Instead of playing “what if”, the A&M administration should play, “This is what happened.”

No doubt, Starkel’s injury made a difference this year. However, in football, bad things happen to every team, every year. Sometimes they cause teams to fail. In A&M-under-Sumlin, every time it caused them to fail and, sometimes, they failed even without bad things happening.

HALF of this year’s six wins to become bowl eligible were against decidedly inferior competition. Sure, they count as wins, but they’re not the sort of thing you should be overly proud about. As it was, the on the field product in two of those games fell a little short of convincing. However, it led to the “they always come from behind” balloon that was soundly burst against Mississippi State and Auburn.

You speculate that if A&M wins out, it will be better than in the past and Sumlin “would have earned the right to return.” Really? We can’t look at the body of work and agree that winning against three very poor teams and losing against the SEC does not deserve dismissal?

Well, fine, all we have to speculate about is a second-order effect. The first-order effect is winning out. If and when they achieve that, we can speculate about what would then be the first-order effect which would be, “Is Sumlin dismissed?” My vote would be for dismissal because his overall record shows that he over-recruits but under-performs as a coach. That should be unacceptable.

Nukem

OK fellow Ags, sit back and take a deep breath. There is legitimacy in the argument that had Starkel been our starter all season that things could have turned out in a much more palatable manner. We will know after the two remaining games, particularly if we can beat the swamp rats in Baton Rouge. In addition, consider not just the pool of available coaching candidates, but the pool of available coaching candidates that have the ability to win an SEC West title. I maintain that pool is very, very limited. If we win out, I believe another year with Sumlin and Starkel (assuming we can keep him) provides continuity that will overshadow the trials and tribulations associated with cleaning house. Should we lose one or both of the remaining games, I suppose it will be open season. Let's keep a cool head and see what happens.

joe1234x

The problem with the coaching is not that Stsrkel got hurt but the poor decisions made in the aftermath. In the UCLA game and following, you had your choice between a true freshman who was clearly in over his head and as inconsistent as... a true freshman, or a proven, solid leader in Hubenak, who sat on the bench other than to come in a few times and lead the team down the field, only to be seated for the start of the next gsme. Then Stsrkel gets well enough to play but doesn't stsrt for 2 more games. I think Saturday's game clearly showed the difference between the 2 QBs as the Stsrkel led team turned 6 of 7 possessions into TDs while the Mond led team turned 5 of 6 possessions into 3 & outs. Did Mond have flashes of brilliance? Yes. Is he likely to grow into a solid AN? Yes. Was he a better choice than senior Hubenak in the 2nd half of UCLA and the next several games? No way! Should he have been starting over Stsrkel after the latter was well? Absolutely not!

Those are the kinds of coaching decisions that have the faithful pulling out their hair.

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