HOOVER, Ala. — When Texas A&M defensive tackle Justin Madubuike first entered “The Swamp” in Florida two seasons ago, there was a moment of awe as the then-freshman looked up at the crowd that roared in the fabled stadium.
As soon as the opening kickoff left the tee, though, it was the same as any other football game he had played, he said.
“The first five minutes, it’s just like all buzz, and then it’s back to football — the grind, the grit, the trenches.”
The Aggies are taking the same approach when it comes to their 2019 season slate, which features matchups with Athlon’s preseason No. 1,2 and 3 teams, as well as No. 7 LSU. The rigors of A&M’s calendar were the prime focus of the press at Tuesday’s edition of SEC Media Days, which featured Aggie head coach Jimbo Fisher, Madubuike, quarterback Kellen Mond and punter Braden Mann.
“It is what it is,” Fisher said. “You either embrace it or you run from it. Like I say, ‘Dog don’t bite as a pup, don’t bite when he’s an adult.’ In other words, when things get going, you know what you’re going to face.”
After kicking off the season against Texas State, the Aggies, who are ranked No. 10 by Athlon, will be thrown into the fire when they travel to South Carolina’s “Death Valley” at No. 2 Clemson. Two weeks later, No. 20 Auburn comes to College Station. The Aggies get No. 1 Alabama at home, and travel to No. 3 Georgia and No. 7 LSU to complete the 2019 ranked gauntlet.
“I’m tired of that’s the first thing everyone talks about — our schedule and how it’s going to be like borderline impossible,” Mann said. “We’re not going to make it bigger than it needs to be.”
Athlon has A&M’s 2019 schedule ranked No. 7 in the country, behind conference mates LSU (5), Auburn (4) and South Carolina (1). From a historical standpoint, 2019 could possibly present the toughest challenge an Aggie team has faced since the 1998 Big 12 championship team. That season, A&M squared off against four teams ranked in the AP top 5 at the time, which included a Sugar Bowl date with No. 3 Ohio State and three matchups with No. 2 teams — Florida State, Nebraska and Kansas State. A&M finished that challenge with an 11-3 record overall and a 2-2 record against top 5 teams.
Since that 1998 season, the Aggies are 5-18 against teams ranked in the AP top 5 at the time of the game. A 41-38 win at No. 3 Auburn in 2014 was A&M’s last AP top 5 win.
Despite holding an 0-2 record against top 5 teams last season, Madubuike said the Aggies don’t feel like underdogs heading into the program’s second year under the direction of Fisher.
“We do feel like we are disrespected, but it’s all about us, and it’s all about what we put onto the table and how hard we work and how strong our chemistry is and how we believe in each other.”
It’s a standard that has been set by the head coach himself.
During his time at the media day podium Tuesday, Fisher was asked if the word “spoiler” would be deemed by the program as encouraging or condescending.
“Condescending,” Fisher said without a pause. “We don’t want to spoil anything. We want to take care of our own, and they are great teams, but we expect to play with them and compete with them and win those games. That’s why we’re here. We are not looking to spoil anything.”