Kevin Sumlin heard the offseason chatter. He read the headlines and saw the point spreads. He was well aware what everyone thought the Aggies were supposed to do.
So on July 31, the day the Aggies reported for training camp and a day before the first practice, the Texas A&M coach set the tone for his players by using one of those headlines.
"Our first meeting we had as a team, ironically, was [July] 31st," Sumlin told reporters after Thursday's game. "The [coaches poll] came out at 11 or 12 or something like that. By 1 o'clock, USA Today had an article with a big headline that said '[Texas A&M is] the most overrated team in the country.' I just put that up there Day 1. That's how we started practice."
Sumlin, his coaching staff and players took some offense to the fact that there was a segment of the college football world that believed that the Aggies rode Johnny Manziel to a 20-6 record in their first two SEC seasons and would regress without him. Texas A&M served notice that the opposite might be true in their 52-28 drubbing of South Carolina on Thursday.
"There's probably some coaches, including myself, that took some comments personal in the offseason about how we prepare our team, what our program's all about and I think our team took that personal and they played that way [Thursday night]," Sumlin said.
Suddenly, outsider expectations of the Aggies have been recalibrated. Instead of wondering whether they'd be able to match last year's eight regular season wins, the Aggies look good enough to go toe-to-toe with any team on their schedule and exceed that number. They went on the road and convincingly defeated a ranked team that was carrying and 18-game home-winning streak into the contest.
"Our coaches had great plans and the execution level was good," Sumlin said of his team's opening-day performance. "It's hard to ever say that you think it's going to go like that but I think there was a confidence about this team coming into this year. Quite frankly, there's a little chip on their shoulder.
"Basically, nobody gave us a chance to even be close in this game. All I heard all last week was 'Two touchdowns.' If we could keep it close that'd be great. I think what we did tonight kind of showed that we're not a one-trick pony."
No, there are numerous tricks in the Aggies' bag, especially offensively. Quarterback Kenny Hill connected with a dozen different players via pass and broke Manziel's single-game school records for passing yards (511) and completions (44). Their up-tempo offense ran at near peak efficiency and South Carolina seemingly had few answers.
Moving forward, the Aggies' schedule sets up favorably. They host FCS foe Lamar on Saturday, followed by nonconference clashes against Rice and SMU before re-entering SEC play vs. Arkansas in Arlington's AT&T Stadium. The chance for a 4-0 or 5-0 start is real, which would set up a compelling road clash with Mississippi State on Oct. 4.
More importantly than the near future, Thursday's win indicates the Aggies' long-term future in the SEC is bright. The SEC West is difficult, but between their favorable recruiting (Sumlin signed consecutive top-10 classes and is on track for a third in a row this February), improving football facilities (the school is pouring nearly $500 million into them dating back to summer 2012) and rising profile nationally, the foundation for long-term success appears to be growing stronger, something Sumlin has been planning for since taking this job in December 2011.
"We've got a great university, a great location, we've got great support," Sumlin said. "Because of that, we've got a great chance to be successful. Now, the downside is we're in the SEC West. So there's a bunch of there teams there with great support and great location. We get that. But I also think that we have the ability to achieve success at a high level and sustain it and there's not a lot of places that can do that."