Let’s just jump right in…
Texas A&M Aggies
National Titles: 3 (1 unclaimed)
Conference Titles: 18
Win-Loss Record: 717-466-48 (.602)
Heisman Winners: 2
This one is hard for me personally because as I an Aggie I have to get very harsh with my own program. He’s there sad reality Ags, the only statistic in which we are a blueblood program is in terms of culture. Our traditions and presence in the college football world is blueblood but the program itself is not, even by the loosest definition. At one point Texas A&M was a college football powerhouse. Other fanbases can make fun of A&M for claiming the 1917 and 1919 national titles but those teams were 8-0 and 10-0 respectively and neither even gave up a point. Quite frankly if Rice stepped onto the field this year and went undefeated without giving up a point you’d have to hope they get a sniff for the playoff and if they didn’t I’d have no problem with them claiming a 2016 title. Whether anyone else wants to admit it, A&M was a powerhouse before the war. Whether any A&M fans want to admit it, we have yet to fully recover from World War II.
The sad truth is we weren’t just mediocre after the war, we were downright bad. From 1946 until Emory Bellard was hired in 1972, A&M was lucky to get to seven wins. The Aggies finished with four or less wins 19 times including a winless season in 1948. The two highs for the program were Bear Bryant’s 1956 9-0-1 team that finished fifth in the AP Poll and Gene Stalling’s 1967 Cotton Bowl winning team. These two years get hyped up because Bryant is a football legend, the Junction Boys of 1954 are an amazing story, John David Crow was Bryant’s only Heisman winner and the ’67 Cotton Bowl will always be famous for Stallings’ win over his mentor Bryant. Outside of a few moments (that all bizzarely seemed to revolve around Bryant) we have to see the forest through the trees. The 50’s and 60’s were not kind to A&M, the ’56 team was ineligible for postseason play and the ’67 team was 7-4 and only salvaged its season by beating Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.
It’s important to acknowledge several occurrences that began to take effect in the 1970’s. A&M integrated, allowed non-ROTC students into the university and shortly after allowed women to attend. Overnight A&M went from a small military college to a major university. This allowed A&M to recruit better and gave A&M the resources necessary to counter the big SWC powers like Texas, Arkansas, and Houston. Secondly, NCAA scholarship limits and the retirement of legendary Texas coach Darrell Royal evened the playing field between the Aggies and the Longhorns. These sudden changes boosted A&M’s football status from what was essentially that of a small private school to a major public university in a decade. A&M no longer posted the dismal records of the post-war era but the Aggies were not exactly world beaters either. From 1972 through 1988 the Aggies ceiling was ten wins which they achieved four times. There are some top notch wins in this era such as Jackie Sherrill’s 1985 team beating Bo Jackson’s Auburn team in the Cotton Bowl and a few top 10 finishes. There were just as many missed opportunities that have to be mentioned. The 1975 A&M team started 10-0 and rose all the way to second in the AP Poll. They were then blown out 6-51 against Arkansas and USC in their last two games. A&M was plagued by eligibility scandals in the 80’s that severely impacted the early 90’s. When Jackie Sherrill was forced out and replaced with RC Slocum he had an undefeated 1994 team that wasn’t even allowed on TV and despite ten wins did not go to a bowl. Even without NCAA sanctions Slocum struggled to get over the hump from very good coach to elite coach. His team’s thrived against weak twilight-era SWC teams but he was 3-7 in bowls games and never won the Cotton Bowl or his lone Sugar Bowl appearance. During his best stretch run from 1991 to 1994 where A&M went 42-4-1 his four losses were to Tulsa (of all teams), #5 Florida State, #5 Notre Dame, #4 Notre Dame, #16 OU and the inexplicable 1994 tie to 1-9-1 SMU which denied A&M their first undefeated season since 1939. Slocum never recovered from back-to-back losses to #7 Colorado and away at Texas Tech in 1995, the collapse of the SWC and Texas and Oklahoma’s hiring of Mack Brown and Bob Stoops. He enjoyed two final great seasons in 1997 and 1998, which included the last conference championship A&M has won, and then regressed rapidly at the turn of the millennium. Since then A&M made two poor hiring decisions in Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman before joining the SEC and hiring Kevin Sumlin.
This history shows a recurring theme for A&M that persists to this day. The program is so desperate to win that they shoot themselves in the foot constantly. A&M has a nasty tendency to choke in big games that either set the tone for the upcoming season or punctuate what should have been a great season. Scandal wracked the Aggies in the 80’s and 90’s and scandal continues to wrack the Aggies today. Instead of focusing on the games, A&M has locker-room struggles, transfers, mind-boggling sexism at a women targeted football clinic, realignment drama, and everything that revolved around Johnny Manziel. It’s no wonder Kevin Sumlin can’t find consistency on the field, he spends most of his time trying to hold the program together from the inside.
All in all A&M has had a mixed history with a handful of highs that are made out to be higher than the truly are but aren’t nearly as low as it’s sometimes made out to be. But they were also an undeniable pre-war powerhouse. A good chunk of A&M’s storied history has occurred off the field as well which tends to over-inflate the actual numbers of A&M’s successes and failings. At A&M, Bear Bryant isn’t just a four year coach who went 26-14-2. He was the orchestrator of the Junction Boys who won the SWC in 1956 and coached a Heisman winner. Gene Stallings wasn’t just a 27-45-1 coach; he was the Junction Boy who beat his mentor in the ’67 Cotton Bowl. The 1998 season was about Dat Nguyen and defeating Kansas State for the Big 12 title in double overtime. Ignore the three narrow losses to #2 Florida State, Texas and #3 Ohio State as well as the narrow win over #2 Nebraska that is so often forgotten. Even 2012 boils down to the SEC and Johnny Football. Ignore the highly experienced starters around him, the NFL caliber offensive line, and the excellent coaching staff that was plucked overnight in the offseason (probably contributing to A&M’s post-2012 decline more than anything). Trust me when I say this, too many people (not just Aggies themselves) boil A&M down to a handful of talking points instead of taking the program for what it is. For non-Aggies this does a huge disservice to an A&M program which has been a consistent winner (though not an elite power) and an always dangerous team since the Nixon Administration. For Aggies you allow this to get into your own head and drive you crazy. The root cause of A&M tripping over itself can always be traced back to a hyper-rabid fanbase that is so desperate for respect that it actually impacts the team itself.
Is Texas A&M a blueblood? No, not even by a loose definition. This isn’t because of anything personal, this isn’t because of a narrative or talking point. It’s not because of Battered Aggie Syndrome. It’s because A&M had one great era before the war and one good era from 1985 to 1998 with a few high points intermixed every decade or so. This entire article and series has preached consistency, and era-to-era greatness. A&M is not a consistent program. They will spend ten years racking up wins and follow it by ten years struggling to make a bowl game. They also lack era-to-era greatness. A&M’s two great eras are separated by nearly 40 years and A&M has shown no sign of entering a new era of consistent greatness. Sumlin appears to be a good coach and he has an impressive trophy case with some great wins, a Cotton Bowl trophy and a Heisman winner but that doesn’t negate that A&M hasn’t won a conference title in almost 20 years. It doesn’t negate that A&M hasn’t competed for a national title late in the season since the 1970’s. This isn’t enough evidence to establish A&M as a blueblood program. Tradition-wise and history-wise A&M can compete with the best but reality is harsh. A&M is a good program, they have a lot of conference titles, a lot of wins, and a lot of resources but they also have a lot of missed opportunities, inconsistencies, and off the field issues. A good coach who can overcome the program’s issues and bust out a ten year stretch of elite level play (a very realistic scenario for any team with A&M’s level of resources and passion) would go a long way to erasing some of the ghosts that haunt A&M. So many Aggies long for the days of Sherril and Slocum. I say A&M needs to find its Spurrier who will rewrite the history books, destroy the ceiling, and have a strong enough personality that he overcomes the angst and frustrations of a team that so often rips apart from the inside out.
Until then, this is a good program with an impressive historical narrative; but not a blueblood.