Texas A&M’s dim College Football Playoff hopes went dark with a second-straight loss.
The No. 8 Aggies saw a second-half lead disappear to an Ole Miss team with a true freshman quarterback making his first start as Ole Miss kicker Gary Wunderlich’s field goal with 37 seconds left gave the Rebels a 29-28 win on the road at Kyle Field.
After losing on the road to Mississippi State last week, A&M fell just four spots in the College Football Playoff rankings from No. 4 to No. 8. The small drop made it feasible to think A&M had the best chance of any team to ascend back into the top four if chaos reigned above the Aggies.
Instead, chaos may be reigning in the second half of the season for the Aggies. Again.
A&M entered 2016 attempting to reverse what happened in 2014 and 2015. Two years ago, A&M started 5-0 before losing five of its last seven games. Last season, the Aggies once again started 5-0. And after losing to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl — in a season that involved the departures of two quarterbacks — once again finished 8-5.
With a game vs. LSU to end the season and a bowl game after that, suddenly a third-straight 8-5 season looks possible. This year’s slump isn’t excusable. But it’s at least partially understandable because of the absence of quarterback Trevor Knight, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in last week’s loss to the Bulldogs.
And while A&M quarterback Jake Hubenak didn’t play poorly in Knight’s absence on Saturday, Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson stole the show.
Patterson started the season as a redshirt freshman because of Chad Kelly’s presence as the Rebels’ starter. But the team said Friday it would pull the redshirt off the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and start him vs. A&M because of the season-ending knee injury Kelly suffered last week.
It looked like a great decision in the fourth quarter. After entering the final period trailing 21-6, Ole Miss scored 23 points. Patterson finished the game with 338 yards passing and two touchdowns and was responsible for the final 63 yards on Ole Miss’ final TD drive of the game.
Patterson ran for 10 yards and had a 21-yard completion before hitting Van Jefferson on a 32-yard TD to close the gap to 28-26 — the margin that allowed Wunderlich to kick the winning field goal.
When pulling Patterson’s redshirt, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Patterson gave the team the best chance to win. We see why. At 5-5, Ole Miss’ season is far from what it thought it would be. But just like A&M, 8-5 is now very much in play too.
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