At 2:30PM today, Texas A&M will officially kick off its first game as a member of the Southeastern Conference. In a journey that spans two years and one that has been anything but smooth sailing, excitement around the first SEC game against Florida has trumped anything the Aggies have seen in recent memory. Throughout the two year build-up to this game the A&M administration had to battle through lawsuit threats, promises of political interdiction, and a thorough ribbing from the national media. With all of those things comfortably in the rearview mirror of A&M President R. Bowen Loftin and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, everyone will be keeping a close eye on how A&M handles itself on the big stage.
It’s no surprise that the Aggies would have liked to play their Week 1 game against Louisiana Tech. Game time reps are at a premium in a season that is filled with more firsts than many programs will ever face all at once. First year head coach Kevin Sumlin, first year offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, first year defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, first year starting quarterback and redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel taking competitive snaps for the first time since his last high school game, and of course, the first SEC conference game. There was already an incredible amount of unknowns surrounding this 2012 squad and the postponed game in week one magnified these unknowns.
The opportunity to take the national stage today provides the Aggies a chance to change the way college football fans outside of the regional market they had been resting in. Therein lies the reasoning behind the Texas A&M administration deciding to leave behind the comfort of a conference with so many statewide ties and storied rivalries with programs like the University of Texas. Since the move to the SEC became official, Kyle Field sold out of season tickets at a record pace, merchandise sells have skyrocketed past levels the licensing department previously thought possible, and the drastic increase in interest from national college football writers is evident with a quick and simple Google search. The school and athletic department had an opportunity to do what was best for them, and they made the decision that immediately started paying positive dividends.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding Sumlin and his team, the Aggies will be placed front and center on the nation’s biggest stage this afternoon. It all started last night with an estimated 45,000 Aggies, Gators, and college football fans attending the first Midnight Yell of the season that was nationally broadcast by ESPNU. It resumes this morning at 8AM as ESPN’s flagship show, College Gameday, begins its broadcast from Simpson Drill Field with Kyle Field serving as a backdrop. ESPN’s primetime crew of Kirk Herbstreit and Brent Musburger will have the call when the national broadcast kicks off in front of what is going to be an electric atmosphere at Kyle Field.
College Station won’t be the only city in the state seeing maroon if the Aggies are able to get a win in their first SEC game this afternoon. The large alumni bases in every major Texas city and others across the nation will be seeing what could be the rebirth, resurgence, and reenergizing of the Texas A&M football program. There are certainly plenty of Big 12 fans that will be keeping a close on the game hoping the Aggies fall flat on their faces. If the Aggies can pull of a win today, they have the opportunity to validate the move and silence their critics as they lay the first building block to becoming an SEC power. This first game in the SEC goes far beyond having the eyes of Texas on them. Today, the eyes of the nation will be on Texas A&M.