Welcome to volume two of "fake rivalries in South Carolina football": today's episode, Texas A&M!
Many of you will read this and think, "huh?" If it makes you feel any better, I'm the co-manager of this blog and an alum of South Carolina — this rivalry was news to me this week.
The SEC has always mandated teams from the two divisions pair up every year and play for reasons I'm still not sure of. For some teams it makes sense — Auburn and Georgia is a rivalry that predates the first World War and normally produces a good game every season.
Though I'm not sure fans from either school acknowledge it, the LSU-Florida rivalry produces competitive games year after year with SEC title implications usually wrapped up in it. Once upon a time Alabama and Tennessee was a heralded rivalry, but I'm willing to bet Vol fans would take an out if offered on the third Saturday in October.
Behind Ole Miss-Vanderbilt and even Arkansas-Missouri sits whatever South Carolina-Texas A&M is. Our colleague Alex Kirshner detailed the ridiculousness of this "rivalry" in a post on dot com this week, including how the Aggies seem to care WAAAYYY too much about a series that's existed for only four years.
But enough about fake rivalries — that's not why this game is interesting. What we have here is a whole lot of anxiety between these two fan bases and for different reasons.
Both teams are 3-1 but are sitting uncomfortably in their records. You can make a legitimate argument the most complete game Texas A&M has played this season was a 45-21 win over UL-Lafayette where the Aggies trailed going into halftime.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has been under a microscope for what feels like ten years now, but really it's only been since 2014. The post-Johnny Manziel era of Aggie football has been underwhelming considering Sumlin is the seventh highest-paid coach in college football — totaling a 27-16 record and 12-13 conference record since Johnny Football left.
That's not a terrible record in the SEC West, but considering A&M is paying Sumlin Saban money I think it's fair to expect more than eight wins a year with the level Sumlin's recruited at and the money the university's poured into the football facilities.
So far, A&M has won three games in tight rope fashion and succumbed to a historic comeback by UCLA in week one. Other than creating big plays in the run game and return game, Texas A&M doesn't do anything overwhelmingly well.
That's not to say South Carolina does either though. The Gamecocks started to gain national attention after beating NC State in their opener and Missouri the week after, but have crashed back to earth after an inexplicable loss to Kentucky and needing a last-second field goal to beat Louisiana Tech.
Attribute the latter two struggles to the Gamecocks losing all-world everything playmaker Deebo Samuel for the foreseeable future, but I think fans were expecting a little more from Jake Bentley — the QB who had a considerable amount of hype around him following a good freshman season in 2016.
South Carolina has proven they can prevent big passing plays and have a defense that's played at a top-40 level through four games, but offensive ineptitude has bogged down those efforts over the last two weeks.
I don't think this game will be aesthetically pleasing for either fan base, but the result has some serious narrative implications that will surely play out over the rest of the season.
How to watch South Carolina vs. Texas A&M tonight
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Place: Kyle Field; College Station, Tex.
TV: SEC Network
Announcers: Dave Neal, Matt Stinchcomb
Good Bull Hunting (SBN Texas A&M Blog)