There is no single thing that can discombobulate a team more than losing its starting quarterback. The Texas A&M Aggies have been the case study this season, though there are reams of anecdotal research on the topic.
Don’t kid yourself — it’s not just the backup quarterback and the receivers he throws to that feel that sudden punch.
The running backs have to shoulder a bigger load.
The offensive line has to get used to a new cadence and personality.
Even the defense has to resist the temptation to press and try and do too much. Heck, they want to help the new guy out, too.
We almost always underestimate the time it takes for a team to regain its equilibrium after a quarterback change, especially one that carried the expectations that this Aggie team carried into the season.
The loss of Haynes King to injury in Week 2 against Colorado disrupted the delicate balance coach Jimbo Fisher was trying to create. The win over New Mexico proved to be a red herring of sorts as if the team hadn’t yet gone through the first stage of grief — denial.
Yep, denial. I’m going to spend the next few minutes drawing this connection. Let’s call it the five-stage of sports grief because Aggie fans did have things to grieve after that injury.
Aggie fans were in a sort of ‘sports denial’ after that New Mexico win (hey you’re not alone — there was plenty of that up in Dallas after Dak Prescott was hurt last year). Zach Calzada led the Aggies to a win over a Group of 5 team. ‘He can get it done just like Haynes,’ plenty of people must have thought.
Then came the anger. Two straight losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State. That’s not completely on Calzada, of course. Like the team, he was trying to get his bearings, too. The Aggies just didn’t play well in those two games. The offensive line was banged up. The defense was giving up big plays. Very little was in sync.
The season seemingly over (because two SEC losses usually spells doom), in came the bargaining.
‘If we could JUST beat Alabama then everything would be OK.’
And then, magically, the Aggies did just that. Bargaining is a mechanism, one that can be designed to provide control in the face of helplessness. After two straight losses, Aggies fans probably felt some hopelessness about their season at that point with Big, bad, ‘Bama coming to town, undefeated and No. 1.
The Aggies bargained. They won the bargain.
And since then, the Aggies have rolled, which is what Aggie fans would have hoped for regardless of a win or loss over Alabama. But two straight wins over Missouri and South Carolina does make that bargain taste much sweeter, doesn’t it?
So, as the Aggies enter their bye week and prepare for a substantially more difficult SEC schedule the rest of the way, my question is this:
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Have the Aggies somehow quickly cruised through depression, which is stage four, and have they now found acceptance?
Or is the depression still coming, the result of a tease of greater things to come?
As our Art Garcia wrote a couple of weeks ago, there is a path for the Aggies to reach the College Football Playoff. There are plenty of hoops to jump through, of course. And it’s one of those scenarios that sounds far-fetched if your world is rooted in logic like mine.
But, with each passing week, and each passing win, the Aggies look better and better. They’ve played with this ‘nothing to lose’ mindset the past few weeks because, in the grand scheme, they really have nothing to lose. A few weeks ago many outsiders, including myself, thought their season was done. Order up a trip to the Outback Bowl and call it a season.
But what if the Aggies beat Auburn in two weeks?
What if the Aggies beat Ole Miss the week after that?
What if the Aggies beat LSU two weeks after that?
What if Alabama loses another SEC game?
What if Texas A&M, after all that, wins the SEC West and gets into the SEC Championship Game, and THEN beats the SEC East champion, most likely Georgia?
It all sounds ludicrous, right?
But what if the Aggies really have reached acceptance of their fate, wherever the remainder of this season takes them? Does that freedom allow the ludicrous to then become plausible?
That’s my question for the rest of the season. It’s already been a bizarro world college football season. The Aggies, rising from the ashes of an 0-2 start in SEC play to reach the CFP would fit right in.
But this much is clear going into the bye — the Aggies have fully recovered from the loss of Haynes King and are playing their best football of the season.
Now it’s just a matter of depression or acceptance.
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