Texas A&M has a maturity problem.
It has little to do with the type of football player or coach that currently inhabits the locker rooms and offices in the Bright Football Complex. It has everything to do with the fact that 60 percent of the Aggies who have played this season are underclassmen. And they're not just playing -- 14 of 18 true freshmen who have seen the field this year already have become staples of their respective units.
So it shouldn't be surprising that some off-the-field growing pains have arisen, according to Aggie senior defensive end Jarrett Johnson.
Tuesday, Johnson laid out a chain-reaction scenario that linked forgetting to do "little things," like turning in travel backpacks, to apathetic attitudes after suffering the consequences of those actions to the team's on-field performance.
"It's these small things like not turning in your backpack, and then it goes into not going to class, and those things build up," Johnson said. "Now you're behind on tests and homework, and that's all going to affect how you practice, how much film you're going to watch and how much you get into the treatment room. It's part of the growth process for younger guys. Some guys are knuckleheads, and it takes them longer than others."
A&M needs to grow up. A victory over New Mexico on Saturday will give the Aggies a chance, for that sixth win of 2017 is vital for the program's future.
True growth in a college football program happens during two key periods disconnected from the regular season: summer offseason workouts and bowl practice.
While Saturday's matchup leaves much to be desired as the Aggies reach their annual late-season patsy game delivered to us courtesy of the Southeastern Conference, it provides the Aggies an easy opportunity at gaining bowl eligibility, which unlocks the door to four extra weeks of practice that this inexperienced team desperately needs.
"Bowl practice is the time of year that a lot of the young guys get some very important work in," former Aggie defensive lineman Jay Arnold said. "Whereas most of the year is focused on getting your starters ready for an opponent each week, bowl practice allows the players further down on the depth chart chances at simulated game reps."
When the future of the program becomes the focus, apathy tends to melt away. Players with added on-field responsibility in practice buy into the overall process more readily.
"For a young team like Texas A&M, every bit of practice young players can get will help them moving forward," Arnold said. "It also allows for specialized direction to address the flaws in their game more directly."
Since 2009, A&M has had two seasons in which it finished with less than eight regular-season victories and advanced to a bowl game. In each of the following seasons, the Aggies posted nine or more victories.
Beating Ole Miss and LSU on the road to close out the season seems very uncertain, as is the coaching future of Kevin Sumlin and his staff in Aggieland.
While a win over New Mexico might not buy Sumlin an extra year at A&M, it will give at least some of the next staff, should athletic director Scott Woodward decide to make a change, an early chance to get to know the program and begin installing a new system.
Sure, the 12th Man might not be fired up to watch their Aggies dismantle a 3-6 Lobo squad that only sports one win in the Mountain West this season. Fans and journalists alike also won't be thrilled about the possibility of having Christmas with family shortened in order to drive over to Houston or Shreveport, Louisiana, to watch a lackluster bowl matchup.
Neither concern holds as much significance as the all-important sixth win and the prize that comes with it for the actual team.
Yes, we're talking about practice.