COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M has yet to become a power in the Southeastern Conference in its eighth season in the league. With trips to No. 4 Georgia and top-ranked LSU to end the regular season, the Aggies could thrust their way into the spotlight by playing spoiler.
The 24th-ranked Aggies aren’t yet among the SEC’s elite in coach Jimbo Fisher’s second year, but they’re still a formidable foe. They’ve won four in a row and their three losses have come against No. 3 Clemson, No. 16 Auburn and No. 5 Alabama. The Tigers were ranked No. 1 at the time of their game.
“This team will probably be one of the most talented teams we’ve played against,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We all know who their three losses are against. I feel like the three losses are against Top 10 teams that are really, really good football teams. And they have an immense amount of talent.”
Fisher, who won a national title in 2013 at Florida State, said he is much more worried about improving his team than spoiling anyone’s season.
“We want to affect the outcome of our own program and how we play and what we do and what we get out of that … we’ve played well this last month, and we can keep November rolling and play well, play good football,” he said. “It’s important for our program. The playoffs are wonderful, but I’m worried about what’s going on at A&M.”
Auburn was in a similar situation in 2017 when the team beat No. 2 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama late in the season to rise from No. 16 in the polls to fourth and reach the SEC title game for the first time since 2013. Auburn’s late push ended a streak of three straight SEC titles for the Crimson Tide. The Tigers ended up losing to Georgia in the rematch for the conference championship.
The Bulldogs know people would love to ruin their title hopes. But they’re confident that they can finish the season strong after bouncing back from a double-overtime loss to South Carolina with four straight victories to win the East and land in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings.
“We always knew we controlled our own destiny, we always knew we could be back in this position and just continue to work and do what we have to do to get back,” linebacker Azeez Ojulari said.
Smart is aware that he can’t shield his players from talk of the playoff, so he doesn’t try to tell them to ignore it. Instead, he just implores them to focus on paying attention to details on the field.
“What you try to emphasize is the facts,” he said. “Here are the facts … if we block and tackle people, if we do simple better, we’re pretty good. If we don’t and we turn the ball over and we don’t play well on special teams and we give up big, explosive plays, we’re not very good.”
LSU, meanwhile, is looking to reach the SEC title game for the first time since 2011, though the Tigers also have national championship hopes.
In last year’s meeting in College Station, Texas A&M snapped a seven-game skid in the LSU series with an epic 72-70 win in seven overtimes.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron is pleased with how his team has grown in his third full season in charge in Baton Rouge after taking over for Les Miles after four games in 2016.
“It seems like this year it’s come all together,” he said. “It has taken us three years. Yes, it is a process. Maybe that’s too long. Maybe that’s a short time. I don’t know … but I always knew at LSU you have to win. I know the expectations at LSU is you have to win. My goal has always been to win at LSU.”
And that’s what he and the Tigers have done this year. And at 10-0, they’re the SEC’s only undefeated team and are ranked No. 1 in the AP poll and the CFB rankings with two games to go before conference title games.
They face Arkansas this week before the visit from A&M two days after Thanksgiving. The Tigers are certainly not looking past these games, but know the SEC championship game awaits if they handle business.
“It’s something when you come to LSU that you want to do,” Orgeron said. “Our players want to do it. We don’t talk about it, we really don’t. (It’s) the next game up. We said we’re going to look at where we’re at at the end of the season. We want to win every game, that’s one of the things we did want to do. Arkansas is our next game. This is game number 11. Our goal is to beat Arkansas.”
After being the standard bearer for this league for much of the last decade, Alabama is now on the outside looking in at the CFB. The Crimson Tide are ranked fifth in both the AP poll and the CFB rankings. Alabama and Georgia both have just one loss, but the Bulldogs have the coveted No. 4 spot in the CFB rankings and would get a spot in the playoffs if the season ended today.
Alabama would need to win out and get some help to crack the playoffs this season. They have chance to regroup after the season-ending hip injury to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa when they step out of conference play to host Western Carolina before wrapping up the regular season with a trip to Auburn.
“I don’t think there’s any way that any of us can say we won’t miss that spirit that he has,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
They’ll now have to try and make a late push to move up in the rankings with backup quarterback Mac Jones, who Saban called very capable and said he has a lot of confidence in.
If Alabama isn’t able to catch up to LSU in the next two weeks it will be the just the third time in eight years that the Crimson Tide won’t be in the SEC title game.