Several months before the public exchange between Alabama football coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M counterpart Jimbo Fisher over the name, image and likeness landscape, the Southeastern Conference experienced a unique occurrence in the transfer portal.
On Nov. 27 of last year, LSU quarterback Max Johnson connected with Jaray Jenkins on a 28-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds remaining to propel the Tigers to a 27-24 thriller over Texas A&M in Baton Rouge, which gave LSU coach Ed Orgeron a memorable result in his final game. Five weeks after that result, LSU hired Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly as Orgeron's successor, but that announcement came two weeks after Johnson transferred to the program he had just defeated.
"We talk about it," Texas A&M redshirt junior guard Layden Robinson said with a smile at last month's SEC media days. "We're like, 'Man, why did you have to do that to us on the last play?' He's like, 'I was just doing my job.'
"That was an amazing game, and him coming over and bringing his energy has been an amazing fit."
Aggies senior safety Demani Richardson was part of the secondary that Johnson torched for 306 aerial yards and three touchdowns, but he didn't need long to embrace the former enemy.
"He's a cool guy," Richardson said. "He works hard. He's a funny guy, but I like the competitor that he is. I'm glad we have him on our team now."
Last season: 8-4 (4-4 SEC)
Opener: Sept. 3 vs. Sam Houston State in College Station (noon on SEC Network)
Fun fact: Texas A&M is 8-0 against South Carolina since the two became permanent cross-divisional rivals before the 2014 season.
Up next: Vanderbilt
The loss to LSU wound up being Texas A&M's final game of an 8-4 season, as the Aggies were unable to play Wake Forest in the Gator Bowl due to coronavirus-related issues. Texas A&M had one of college football's most riveting victories last year, a 41-38 topping of top-ranked Alabama, but that followed consecutive losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State and preceded eventual setbacks against Ole Miss and LSU.
Texas A&M entered last year looking to build on its 9-1 season of 2020 that culminated with an Orange Bowl win over North Carolina and contained a lone loss to Alabama in Tuscaloosa, albeit by a lopsided 52-24 margin. Yet the inconsistencies of last season resulted in a ninth consecutive year in which the Aggies failed to reach double-digit wins.
The addition of Johnson resulted in optimism as the calendar flipped to 2022, as did the nation's No. 1 signing class.
"We're the only SEC team with one loss in the playoff world and never get in the playoff," Fisher said. "I thought we were at that time as good as anybody in the country, I really did, but that's part of it. I'm disappointed we didn't play as well as last year. We had some injuries, but that doesn't matter. You still have to finish, and we didn't finish at the end.
"I like where we're at right now. I like the mentality. I think we've been to the highs, and we've been through some disappointments, but we have depth and talent."
The Aggies likely will start the season viewed as the league's third-best team behind defending SEC champion Alabama and reigning national champion Georgia. Will 2022 be the year Texas A&M finally plays for an SEC championship, or could it be a 10th straight year of missing out on double-digit wins?
Perhaps the Aggies could attain 10 wins while still falling short in the SEC West race, but anything short of titles will be viewed as disappointing.
"The goal for this team is to compete for the national championship," Robinson said. "We know our standard, and it's to be the best we can be every day and to rise up to the occasion."
Said Richardson: "You saw what we did in 2020. We have a lot of talent at a lot of positions. We just have to put in the work, and we'll do what we need to do."