When Jackie Sherrill made his first visits to Texas A&M in 1968, he soon noticed some reminders of his past.
After meeting with then-Aggies coach Gene Stallings, a former Alabama assistant who had recruited him to that school, Sherrill wandered the A&M campus. Its far-flung location and the school's spirit were comparable to rival schools he encountered while playing for the Crimson Tide.
“When you look at the campus environment, the students on campus, the curriculum and everything, there were a lot of similarities there,” Sherrill said. “Looking at places like Mississippi State, Auburn, LSU or Arkansas, it was a whole lot like what I found at A&M.”
There have been a lot of changes since Sherrill's first trip. But more than 40 years later, Sherrill remains convinced that the “Spirit of Aggieland” will make A&M a strong potential partner for the SEC.
“What you see across the SEC really is very similar to what you see at A&M,” said Sherrill, who was head coach at A&M from 1982-88 and at Mississippi State from 1991-2003. “The Southeastern Conference might be the best match for the Aggies of any you could imagine or consider.”
After A&M regents announced their intentions to possibly leave the Big 12 on Thursday, the rumored move to the SEC could be only a few days away. It will represent the boldest and most daring athletic decision in the 135-year history of the school.
A&M's recent football profile has been an underachieving one during much of its time in the Big 12. A&M doesn't match up with most other SEC teams in terms of quantifiable achievements such as top-10 finishes, NFL draft picks or bowl victories.
Despite those recent struggles, several college football authorities have deemed that moving to the SEC will be a progressive change for the Aggies.
“There's no question the Texas A&M fans are passionate,” ESPN.com senior football writer Ivan Maisel said. “Sometimes they are more passionate about being Aggies than about football. But the pride they have in the place and all of the camaraderie will fit into any college setting, but especially into the SEC.”
Olin Buchanan, a former A&M beat writer at several Texas newspapers before becoming a national college football editor at Yahoo! Sports, has noted similarities between A&M and SEC schools.
“SEC fans are crazy about their teams,” Buchanan said. “The Big 12 schools love their teams like a wholesome marriage, but among SEC fans, it's a tawdry, sordid affair. It's nasty.
“A&M has that kind of support. And from that aspect, they are very similar to the schools in the SEC.”
Raising the bar
If they are invited to join the SEC, the Aggies will be competing in a conference that has been ranked first or second in the final Sagarin football ratings in each of the last six seasons. A&M has posted a 2-12 bowl record since 1992.
“The Aggies have been a chronic underachiever, given their resources and their rhetoric in the Southwest Conference and the Big 12,” Maisel said. “And they want to move up in class? The whole affair smacks of acting out, of being fueled by emotion. That emotion is the essence of being an Aggie.”
Four different SEC teams have accounted for the last five national championships. The conference has eight teams ranked in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll. No other conference has more than four.
Even as A&M is ranked eighth to start the 2011 season — its highest preseason starting point since 1999 — the Aggies will be challenged to raise their football program to SEC standards.
“There's a line of demarcation throughout this conference historically,” said Tony Barnhart, a studio commentator on CBS-TV's SEC games who earlier worked for many years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You have your ‘Big Six' in Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. Take those teams away, and the Aggies are somewhere in the second half (of teams). ”
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