COLLEGE STATION — Jimbo Fisher won’t say it. His players don’t want to go there. Even the calendar doesn’t quite want to admit it yet.
But the Aggies are for real. Really.
And now that the calendar has ushered in November, Texas A&M is showcasing itself as a legit top-10 team as well as a strong candidate for a possible College Football Playoff berth, even if the season is only at the halfway point and no one in maroon dares utter the word playoff.
Asked if the postseason enters their minds after Saturday night’s decisive 42-31 pounding of Arkansas at Kyle Field, record-setting quarterback Kellen Mond said: "No, not at all. But if we execute all three phases, whatever happens at the end will work itself out."
Make no mistake: The Aggies worked over the improving Razorbacks for their third consecutive win, a 4-1 record and a No. 7 ranking in the latest Associated Press poll.
They certainly play and look like the top-10 team that they are, even though Fisher insisted: "I don’t know what a top-10 team looks like. We just have to keep getting better. We’re far from a polished group, and that’s encouraging. I’m just happy we’re playing as well as we’re playing."
OK, they’re not perfect.
A&M’s defense gives up a little more than the coach would like. The Aggies might have lost their alpha receiver, Caleb Chapman, to a knee injury even though they added another talented receiver, Hezekiah Jones, who missed last season with an Achilles injury.
And they’re still in Alabama’s shadow, but who isn’t?
But they’ve got playmakers, a veteran quarterback and outstanding lines on both sides of the ball, and they’re rapidly staking their claim as the second-best team in the SEC, jostling with fellow Crimson Tide victim Georgia for that honorary title. Then again, Nick Saban might just mash the Bulldogs again in the league title game, so there’s that.
"My confidence is always high," said Mond, who completed 21 of 26 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns. "I think we’re headed in the right direction."
On the last night in October, eighth-ranked A&M dashed Arkansas’ hopes of ending the maroon domination in this rivalry by unleashing the best of Mond and a full-throttle offense that after an opening-series punt scored touchdowns on six consecutive possessions.
Trust me; it wasn’t close because the Hogs (2-3) punched in a meaningless score in the final minute of play.
You want dominant? Arkansas leads the nation with 10 interceptions, but it didn’t gain a single takeaway out of A&M in the host’s first turnover-free game of the year.
The Hogs, not the Aggies, had the game’s only 100-yard running back and 100-yard receiver, but collectively the Aggies "are all playing as a team and feeding off each other," A&M’s elusive Ainias Smith said after his two-touchdown night.
The Razorbacks are much, much improved, but not enough to keep the Aggies from whipping them for the ninth straight time as SEC brethren. And before their bye week, the Aggies beat Mississippi State in Starkville for the first time since 2012.
It’s very clear that A&M has many of the necessary ingredients to stoke unbridled optimism.
The Aggies have a polished senior quarterback who broke Johnny Manziel’s school record with 10,015 career yards. Sure, Manziel did it in two years to Mond’s 3½ and had the cool nickname, but Mond could accomplish something Johnny Football never did if he can get the Aggies to the playoffs.
They’ve got weapons galore, including an emerging one in rambunctious tight end Jalen Wydermyer, who also scored twice Saturday.
This is a long way toward suggesting A&M is in the hunt for the first CFP berth in school history. The Aggies are not yet serious contenders because Ohio State might go undefeated and the Pac-12 champion could as well if it ever starts the season, but A&M is in the mix, Clemson could dislodge Notre Dame from the unbeatens next week, and the calendar has now flipped to November.
All the Aggies can do to at least remain in the conversation is run the table. And it’s a wobbly table at that.
Over the last half of the season, A&M will face only one opponent that currently has a winning record. And that team, Auburn, is 4-2 after crushing the team formerly known as LSU but just as easily could be 2-4 if not for a pair of fortuitous officiating decisions that turned losses to Arkansas and Ole Miss into thank-their-lucky-stars victories.
Plus, the Aggies will travel to Auburn one week after the Tigers have to deal with Alabama. Score one for A&M.
Otherwise, Fisher’s bunch has to get past struggling South Carolina and Tennessee on road trips the next two weeks before tackling Ole Miss and diminished LSU at Kyle Field.
In addition, A&M’s five remaining opponents aren’t exactly setting the world — or even the SEC — on fire on defense. None is ranked higher in total defense than Auburn (54th) while LSU (a shocking 86th) and Ole Miss (a not so shocking 100th) are close to the rear.
Only once in the first six seasons of the CFP era has a single conference produced two qualifiers, and that was when Alabama came back to nip Georgia in overtime in the title game, thanks to the heroics of freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who came off the bench at halftime. So history is not on A&M’s side. But it’s getting better every week.
Asked if they’re getting the maximum out of themselves, Smith said, "I think we can definitely elevate. There’s never a time when we’re playing to our full potential because we still make mistakes. But we’re having a good season so far but need to keep improving."
Things are going so swimmingly for the Aggies that their blood rivals, the Longhorns, even did them a solid Saturday, handing previously unbeaten Oklahoma State its first blemish and effectively eliminating the eventual Big 12 champion from all strong CFP consideration.
Oh, and A&M actually picked up a couple of commitments from two highly regarded players out of Miami in Fisher’s old stomping grounds. As we said, little is going wrong for Fisher’s team these days.