Texas A&M and Arkansas face off on Saturday the 23rd at 12 pm ET for the 6th consecutive season since A&M joined the SEC in 2012. A&M has won each of the previous 5 meetings with most games coming down to the wire in some of the most exciting matchups in SEC league play. This has become a heated rivalry between the two schools, but hasn’t garnered much attention by the rest of the nation due to the fact that not much has been at stake in years past. That may change this year, with both head coaches considered to be on the hot seat if they fail to produce signs of improvement for their programs.
For Kevin Sumlin’s squad, it’s already been a roller coaster season, and we’re only 3 games deep. The meltdown at the Rose Bowl to kick off the season has been well documented, and won’t be rehashed here. Since that debacle, Aggie fans have been looking to see how the Aggies respond. Results have been mixed at best, struggling to get past Nicholls State, and losing at halftime to Louisiana-Lafayette. But the Aggies seemed to find something in the second half against ULaLa. After shuffling some players along the offensive line, they found the right mix and were able to gain some traction to the tune of 31 unanswered points. Meanwhile the Aggie defense played with a new intensity and proceeded to shut out the Cajuns in the second half. When the Aggies are firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball, they look like they can contend with just about anybody. A more optimistic observer of the Aggies might presume they were able to right the ship in that second half against the Cajuns.
As for Bret Bielema, results have been mixed as well. Several departures from the program at offensive line and running back have left many wondering if this team will be able to effectively lean on its trademark running game. The Hogs opened with a dominant performance over Florida A&M in its opener, but followed with a dismal showing against TCU at home in Fayetteville. SEC teams pride themselves on having superior size and speed to other conference foes, particularly those from the Big 12. But TCU and failed former A&M quarterback Kenny Hill were able to slice up the Hogs with a balanced attack. The Hogs were sloppy at best, managing only 129 rushing yards. Certainly not where you want to be heading into the rigors of SEC play. But with an extra week off to prepare for the Aggies, there’s no doubt Bret Bielema will have his team ready to play against a team that made them look silly last season. Perhaps we’ll even see a few unexpected wrinkles in the play calling from Arkansas in an attempt to spark a few big plays that have killed the Aggies in the past.
It’s doubtful a decision would be made on either coaches’ future based solely on the outcome of this game, but a notch in the win column by either side will certainly help the case for keeping the coach another season. However, a loss to one of your main rivals during a year in which you’re trying to demonstrate an upward trajectory for your program, could mean the scales tipping in favor of cleaning house.
Prediction: A return to the classic overtime shootouts of years past: Aggies 35, Hogs 28.