The spring and fall came and went with high expectations for Texas A&M football in 2021. A returning defense that would be expected to improve from the previous season and a young offense that was expected to contend with some of the best in the SEC week in and week out.
On offense, returning standouts Isaiah Spiller and Orange Bowl MVP Devon Achane as well as the entire receiving corps from the season prior, Ainias Smith, Jalen Wydermyer, and a rehabilitated Caleb Chapman would help.
There were questions on the offensive line that lost four starters to graduation, as well as at quarterback, with Haynes King ultimately winning the job over Zach Calzada just a week prior to Kent State, the first game of 2021.
The defense returned stalwarts up front and saw capable replacements in the secondary.
Hopes were high for an Aggies squad that just missed out on a College Football Playoff appearance a year ago.
The Aggies were ranked No. 6 entering the opening game of the season and things were going their way, even into and through the Sept. 4 Kent State game, a 41-10 blowout at Kyle Field showing the offense could still score, and the defense could still take the ball away, with two Leon O'Neal interceptions.
Sept. 11 found A&M at No. 5 in the AP Top 25, and in Denver, Colorado to face the Colorado Buffalos in a game that would be a turning point in the early season, with King going down with a season-ending injury that would anoint Calzada as the chosen one the rest of the way.
The defense still held its own in the 10-7 win, but the offense showed holes, and an inability to move the ball at times.
The No. 7 Aggies hosted the New Mexico Lobos on Sept 18, another blowout win over an inferior opponent, as A&M prevailed 34-0 as Calzada got back on track and showed promise, throwing three touchdowns to just one interception, while the defense continued to improve.
Sept. 25 saw the 3-0 Aggies ranked No. 7, and beginning their SEC schedule at the Southwest Classic against the No. 16 Arkansas Razorbacks at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
A&M fell behind early, giving up its first passing touchdown of the season, while the offense couldn't put a point on the board until 21 seconds left in the first half with a Seth Small 49-yard field goal, making it 17-3 Arkansas. The Aggies could never catch up and suffered their first loss of the season 20-10.
The loss to Arkansas bumped the Aggies all the way down to No. 15 as they faced unranked Mississippi State at Kyle Field on Oct. 2. In a game eerily similar to the week before, A&M trailed early and could not stay in the game in the 26-22 loss.
The defense showed vulnerability as the Bulldogs logged 438 total yards on the day as the Aggies had lost two in a row and were 0-2 in SEC play.
But on Oct. 9, things would take a big turn as now unranked A&M would host No. 1 Alabama in a game that was once thought might be for a chance at the West title but was now just another game on the Aggies schedule.
A&M's offense came out firing on all cylinders and confused the Crimson Tide defense the entire first half. Calzada played the game of his life and was poised, confident, accurate, and mistake-free.
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The second half saw Alabama play better and take the lead before the Aggies would tie the game at 38 late in the fourth quarter. But Calzada and the 12th Man were too much for the Tide, and Calzada led a game-winning drive capped off by a Small 28-yard field goal as time expired giving the Aggies a 41-38 win.
Hope was returning for the possibility of an SEC West crown and even an outside opportunity at a College Football Playoff appearance.
The win over Alabama saw A&M back in the rankings at No. 21 for the Week 7 SEC matchup against the Missouri Tigers in Columbia on Oct. 16. The Aggies would see the offense continue where it left off against Alabama as Smith and Achane would score two touchdowns each while Spiller added another in the 35-14 win.
No. 17 A&M was back at Kyle Field on Oct. 23 to play host to the South Carolina Gamecocks for the Bonham Trophy. The Aggies offense played well again and Wydermyer scored two touchdowns while Achane added another. Smith contributed a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown in the 44-14 A&M victory, while the defense was continuing to help the offense win games.
The 6-2 Aggies would enjoy a much-needed bye week before their Nov. 6 matchup with the No. 12 Auburn Tigers in College Station. No. 13 A&M beat the Tigers 20-3 in a game absolutely dominated by defense.
The Aggies led 6-3 entering the fourth quarter before a Small 47-yard field goal followed just 36-seconds later by a Michael Clemons 24-yard fumble return for a touchdown put A&M on top 17-3.
Small would add another late 37-yard field goal to help A&M to the 20-3 victory.
The Aggies rose to No. 11 in as they traveled to Oxford, Mississippi on Nov. 13 to take on the No. 12 Ole Miss Rebels. This contest was also a defensive battle, but the Rebels defense would outlast the A&M defense 29-19. A slow offensive start would haunt A&M with all 19 Aggies points coming in the second half.
After falling to 7-3 the No. 16 Aggies hosted Prairie View A&M on Nov. 20. In a game that might have seen some frustration from the week before being taken out on the Panthers, the Aggies scored quickly and often on the way to a 52-3 victory while the defense did what it was expected to do. Calzada threw for two touchdowns, receiver Moose Muhammad III caught two touchdown passes, and Spiller added another on. the ground.
The season finale saw No. 14 A&M travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to take on the LSU Tigers, in a game that saw the Tigers were saying goodbye to coach Ed Orgeron, who would depart at the end of the season.
Calzada played well, throwing for 306 yards and three touchdowns, but A&M could never find the ground game, rushing for just 54 total yards. LSU would put up 412 yards, and although A&M outscored the Tigers in the second half, it wasn't enough, as A&M lost the season-finale to LSU 27-24.
Regardless of which bowl game invite the Aggies accept for 2021, it won't be the one they wanted. Big expectations for the season were washed away after consecutive losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State to begin SEC play.
And while A&M's upcoming recruiting classes are ranked among the best, that gives little consolation for what some consider a lost season.
And while there were bright spots along the way, the season as a whole seems disappointing as A&M underachieved. As we enter 2022 Aggies fans are left wondering...
What might've been?