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Texas A&M isn't playing this week, but it has work to do

Texas A&M isn't playing this week, but it has work to do

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The Texas A&M football team doesn’t play Saturday, but this is its most important week of the season.

The Aggies have turned things around with a three-game winning streak they punctuated with a 44-14 victory over South Carolina. A&M played its best three quarters of the season in building a 41-0 lead. The defense allowed only 15 yards, while the Aggies rolled up 463 yards, scoring on seven straight possessions.

A&M played with intensity that was lacking in the first five games. The Aggies played down to the competition for three weeks and then simply weren’t good enough to beat Arkansas or Mississippi State. But everything changed with a 41-38 victory over defending national champ Alabama. A&M looked like the College Football Playoff contender everyone expected, and the Aggies built on that by beating Missouri and South Carolina.

A&M is playing well in all three phases, especially on defense, which is the team’s strength. A&M’s veterans have stepped up and the newcomers are starting to come along. The inexperience and injuries that contributed heavily to A&M’s slow start have faded. It’s hard to play with intensity if you are uncertain and aren’t 100% healthy. A&M probably has its best depth since the loss to Arkansas and the young players who were forced into action have improved through trial and error. A&M will be hard to beat if it continues to play with the intensity it did against South Carolina.

The challenge is to keep building on success, realizing they still made enough mistakes in the last three games that could lead to losses against better competition. That’s why this week is crucial in preparation for back-to-back, season-defining games against 18th-ranked Auburn and 10th-ranked Ole Miss. Beating Alabama lessened the sting of losing to Arkansas and Mississippi State, but they need to win their next two games to be in position for a great season.

If A&M wins the rest of its regular season games, it would be at least in position for a New Year’s Six Bowl. That’ll fall short of the preseason goal of the CFP, but it beats playing in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl or the Birmingham Bowl that seemed a distinct possibility until this three-game winning streak.

A&M’s schedule could help fan that success. While A&M is getting healthy this week, Auburn plays Ole Miss. Aggies hope those teams beat each other up and go nine overtimes.

If A&M takes care of Auburn, it’ll head to Mississippi essentially playing for second place in the SEC West and possibly a piece of first place if Alabama would slip up and lose another game. But first the Aggies need to take care of business this week. The Aggies also were in great shape five games ago before slipping up. Hopefully, they’ve learned from their mistakes.

***

A&M, which become bowl-eligible with Saturday's victory, is ranked 14th in both major college football polls, moving up three spots. The Aggies (6-2, 3-2 SEC) are the highest ranked two-loss team. Georgia and Cincinnati remained atop the polls, but Alabama (7-1) moved to third in both polls, leapfrogging Oklahoma (8-0), which struggled to beat Kansas.

Ole Miss (6-1) is ranked ninth by the USA Today Coaches Poll and 10th by the Associated Press, giving the SEC three teams in the Top 10. The Big Ten has four teams in AP’s Top 10 — No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan, No. 8 Michigan State and No. 9 Iowa.

Other SEC teams ranked are No. 12 Kentucky and No. 18 Auburn.

 AP Top 25

The Top 25 teams in The Associated Press college football poll, with first-place votes in parentheses, records through Oct. 23, total points based on 25 points for a first-place vote through one point for a 25th-place vote, and previous ranking:

 

Record

Pts

Prv

1. Georgia (63)

7-0

1575

1

2. Cincinnati

7-0

1477

2

3. Alabama

7-1

1417

4

4. Oklahoma

8-0

1383

3

5. Ohio St.

6-1

1311

5

6. Michigan

7-0

1270

6

7. Oregon

6-1

1165

10

8. Michigan St.

7-0

1160

9

9. Iowa

6-1

1035

11

10. Mississippi

6-1

1034

12

11. Notre Dame

6-1

922

13

12. Kentucky

6-1

849

15

13. Wake Forest

7-0

801

16

14. Texas A&M

6-2

700

17

15. Oklahoma St.

6-1

682

8

16. Baylor

6-1

513

20

17. Pittsburgh

6-1

510

23

18. Auburn

5-2

481

19

19. SMU

7-0

473

21

20. Penn St.

5-2

471

7

21. San Diego St.

7-0

390

22

22. Iowa St.

5-2

298

-

23. UTSA

8-0

235

24

24. Coastal Carolina

6-1

132

14

25. BYU

6-2

44

-

Others receiving votes: Arkansas 36, Louisiana-Lafayette 32, NC State 28, Houston 12, Virginia 9, Oregon St. 7, Arizona St. 7, Texas 6, Appalachian St. 5, Florida 3, UCLA 1, Minnesota 1.

USA TODAY Coaches Poll

The USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll Top 25 with team's records FROM THROUGH SATURDAY in parentheses, total points based on 25 for first place through one point for 25th, ranking in last year's final poll and first-place votes received.

 

Record

Pts

Pvs

1. Georgia (64)

7-0

1600

1

2. Cincinnati

7-0

1469

3

3. Alabama

7-1

1439

4

4. Oklahoma

8-0

1430

2

5. Ohio State

6-1

1338

5

6. Michigan

7-0

1313

6

7. Michigan State

7-0

1208

7

8. Oregon

6-1

1139

10

9. Mississippi

6-1

1019

12

10. Iowa

6-1

1008

11

11. Notre Dame

6-1

950

13

12. Kentucky

6-1

857

14

13. Wake Forest

7-0

838

15

14. Texas A&M

6-2

736

17

15. Oklahoma State

6-1

684

9

16. SMU

7-0

535

19

17. Penn State

5-2

517

8

18. Baylor

6-1

509

20

19. Pittsburgh

6-1

487

23

20. San Diego State

7-0

431

21

21. Auburn

5-2

418

22

22. Texas-San Antonio

8-0

219

25

23. Iowa State

5-2

190

NR

24. Coastal Carolina

6-1

134

16

25. North Carolina State

5-2

73

18

26. Old Dominion

44-16

434

26

27. South Carolina

34-23

432

27

28. Fairfield

39-5

430

28

29. Louisiana Tech

42-20

427

29

30. CentralMichigan

42-18

425

30

Dropped out: No. 24 Clemson (4-3).

Others receiving votes: Louisiana-Lafayette (6-1) 42; Brigham Young (6-2) 42; Arkansas (5-3) 41; Houston (6-1) 27; Arizona State (5-2) 27; Virginia (6-2) 23; Oregon State (5-2) 13; Florida (4-3) 13; Fresno State (6-2) 10; Air Force (6-2) 9; Appalachian State (5-2) 5; Texas (4-3) 3; Liberty (6-2) 3; Utah (4-3) 1.

Robert Cessna’s email address is robert.cessna@theagle.com

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