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.