The Aggies of Texas A&M had all the momentum in the world heading in to the 2011-2012 athletic season. The football team was a preseason top 10 with national award candidates at several key positions. The men’s basketball team was selected as a preseason favorite to win the Big 12 despite losing their head coach over the offseason. The women’s basketball team was fresh off of their inspiring run to a National Championship that included wins over Baylor, Stanford, and Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament. Yet the greatest influx of momentum was being delivered at a level much higher than any of the teams. Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin and Athletic Director Billy Byrne were navigating the Aggies towards membership in the Southeastern Conference, the premier collegiate athletics conference in the nation.
The Aggie football team completed the 2010 season with a share of the Big 12 South title and a trip to the Cotton Bowl against LSU. The improvement under head coach Mike Sherman and the number of returning starters earned the team a preseason Top 10 ranking. What followed was the season of what could have been. Of the 6 losses for the Ags this season, only one came in a game that did not feature the A&M with a big lead or the chance to win the game at the end. Huge halftime leads given up in the 3rd quarter had fans fuming on message boards trying to figure out what was causing the collapses. While the season came to a close with a bowl win over Northwestern and ended a long bowl win drought, it was ultimately a major disappointment of a season for the team. The result was the firing of Mike Sherman (25-25 record as the head coach), and the subsequent hiring of new head coach Kevin Sumlin from the University of Houston.
Coming off yet another trip to the NCAA tournament, the Aggie men’s basketball team had some lofty expectations heading in to the 2011-2012 Big 12 season that was considered to be a down year for the league. Early in the offseason, former head coach Mark Turgeon was poached by Maryland when Gary Williams decided to retire. A&M hired Billy Kennedy from Murray State and took advantage of a summer tour in Europe to work with the team, including freshmen guards Jamal Branch and Jordan Green (thanks to a rule change by the NCAA, freshmen were allowed to travel on summer trips this season). Despite the coaching change, the Aggies were expected to continue their momentum and have a great season with the talent they had returning on the roster. The first blow of adversity came in the form of Coach Kennedy being diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Coach Kennedy was forced to take a leave of absence from the team to rest and let his body recover from the stress of everything he had been going through. The next two blows came in the form of injuries to starting junior Khris Middleton, a first round NBA prospect, and sophomore Kourtney Roberson. Depth was already a concern for the team, and the injuries were not going to make things any easier. As the team returned from Christmas break, freshman guard Jamal Branch, a 4-star recruit, informed the team of his intent to transfer out of the program. Halfway through Big 12 play, the Aggies sit tied for 6th in the league.
To the naked eye, a college sports fan would think the Texas A&M fan base would be completely deflated and overcome with disappointment. However, the Aggie faithful have plenty to be excited about as the year goes on, and the SEC gets closer. Despite a football season that ended in a less-than desirable record and bowl game, Coach Sumlin and his new staff are shoring up one of the top 10 recruiting classes in the nation filled with high caliber athletes across the board. The scene in College Station on September 8th against the Florida Gators is going to be absolutely incredible for any fan of college sports to watch. The Aggie basketball team seems to be rounding the corner on their rough start to the season. The cohesion amongst the coaching staff and player rotations are starting to fire on all cylinders, and fans are starting to see the confident style of play they expected coming in to the season.
The year definitely did not start off the way the Aggies would have liked it to, but there is still plenty to play for as they prepare for their introduction to the SEC. National Signing Day is less than 48 hours away. The basketball season still has plenty of games left to be played before tournament season begins. Next, the summer of anticipation begins. Kyle Field will be sold out of season tickets within minutes of renewals being sent out. Commits in all sports will begin arriving on campus and starting a new chapter in their life as student-athletes. Perhaps most importantly, the date every Aggie will be looking forward to this summer: July 1, 2012, the date Texas A&M officially becomes a member of the Southeastern Conference.