Sunday, August 8, 2010

Season Preview: the Fightin' Texas Aggies

This off-season has taught me something about myself: being an Aggie fan for the past ten (or so) years* has scarred me a smidge. You see, I kept reading all these positive things about the upcoming season--this is an A&M with decent expectations. And my first reaction was creeping terror. Expectations, in my experience, lead to disappointment, if not heartbreak.

But I think--I think--I'm starting to get over it. Maybe it's just that I'm getting used to the idea that my own team actually has talent and experience and a coaching staff that can find their collective posterior with their collective number of hands.

The most exciting part of this team is (by far) its offensive skill players. We've got a very good receiving corps, some quite promising running backs, and probably the best quarterback in the Big 12, for crying out loud. They all performed really well last year (for the most part) and should be even better this year. (This is the kind of thing that makes me nervous. A super talented Aggie offense? You haven't seen any apocalyptic-looking horsemen around, have you?)

In spite of myself, I'm also kind of excited about the defense. Experts agree: if they can be merely competent, the offense can lead this team to very good places. (Money quote from the Yahoo! Sports preview magazine: "Three times last season A&M scored at least 31 points and lost.") They've been terrible--just abysmal--for Coach Sherman's tenure so far, but this could be the year they turn the corner. The new defensive coordinator, Tim DeRuyter (da-ROOT-er, according to Aggie Athletics), was lured away from Air Force because he did such a good job there. He's switching the Ags to the 3-4, which should work better with the team's personnel. Plus, we've got Von Miller, and he's so good!

And he wears glasses!

To be sure, he can't pick up the slack if the other ten guys are no better than last year, but it's nice to have him there.

So we've got Jerrod on one side and Von on the other, but that can't erase all the worries.

Second-biggest worry: the offensive line. They showed improvement over the course of last season, and we've finally got some more talented guys up there, but they're young. Jerrod can't Heisman it up if he has to run for his life on every play.

Biggest worry: special teams. Dangit, why did I already use up the word "abysmal"? They were so bad last year. Don't blow off the importance of special teams--if the Aggies had been competent on the third side of the ball last year, they wouldn't have lost that bowl game to Georgia. End of story. Maybe they'll be better because they've got a new coordinator too? And of course, there's the "They'll be better because they have to be" theory, which is frankly what I'm hanging my hopes on.

What does all of this add up to?

Rankings smörgåsbord:
Here's what my beloved preview magazines have to say. Yahoo! Sports ranks the Ags 43rd in the country, third in the Big 12 South. Athlon says 35th and third respectively. Lindy's (whose rankings, overall, look to me to be the least likely) goes with 30th and--brace yourself--third. It's a consensus that texas and Oklahoma will still be the cream of the division and that Tech, Oke State, and Baylor will be non-factors.

Similarly, the New York Times' college football blog (summarizing a longer article at Pre-Snap Read) places the Ags 34th in the nation.

Finally, A&M is "receiving votes" in the one that kind of matters, the preseason coaches' poll--the Aggies are getting 45th-most votes, if you take the time to count up the RVers. How many votes does that translate to, you ask? Why, a healthy three! Interestingly, A&M is getting fewer votes than Oklahoma State and Texas Tech--maybe the coaches don't read the magazines?

So if the average prediction comes true, we're looking at finishing the season definitively outside the Top 25, but at least on a few people's minds. (Alamo or Insight Bowl, I'd suppose.) But that won't win Jerrod a Heisman, now will it?

It is my tradition not to predict the outcomes of A&M's conference games until the non-conference slate is over. This year, unusually, we have the first conference matchup (against Oklahoma State) before the last non-con (Arkansas). So I'm just going to pick the first four and save the last eight until after they're done. (A&M vs. Oke State seems to be the easier call anyway.)

9/4, Stephen F. Austin: Layup.
9/11, Louisiana Tech: A team A&M should beat even if they didn't have a new coach.
9/18, Florida International: And that makes three.
9/30, at Oklahoma State: I like the odds of starting 4-0, I really do. Oke State lost a lot, a lot, of guys, and I've never been sold on Mike Gundy. Last year was their big chance to achieve something, and they blew it. When you think about it, it's a bit surprising T. Boone hasn't put out a hit on Deion Sanders. That we know of.

Now, if the Ags win these, and depending on how they win (and on how everybody else does, of course), we'll be able to see if the Aggies might be able to make some noise this season. Here are some more things to consider:

Arkansas is a team in the same general mold of the Aggies--big-time offense, afterthought defense. Their offense is, however, bigger-time than ours (at least so far).

This year's North slate is Mizzou, at Kansas, and Nebraska. It's nice that the tougher two are at Kyle. I don't have high hopes for the Nebraska game, because I'd have more faith in their lousy offense against our possibly lousy defense than in our possibly terrific offense against their very serious defense. (Did that make sense?) I'm pretty confident about the Kansas game--new coach, bare cupboard, same old story. The Mizzou game falls somewhere in the middle. I never have a great handle on those guys, mostly because of my apathy toward them.

Texas Tech and Baylor, like Oklahoma State, don't really scare me that much this year. Tech's got a new coach, and although Tommy Tuberville's great, it's hard to predict how he's going to mesh with the guys on Tech's roster. The system he's going to want to run is very different from the system most of them were recruited to play in. Baylor should be better than they were last year, because their crazy amazing quarterback, Robert Griffin III, will be back from injury (on top of the natural arc of improvement they should be following in their third year under Art Briles). But that means they should be roughly as good as the Aggies were last year, shooting for bowl eligibility. (You'll hear this anywhere Baylor is mentioned, but if they make it, it would be their first bowl game since 1994.) They could beat us, but the odds aren't good enough for me to fret about it.

As for the big boys--another thing the experts all seem to think is that texas and Oklahoma are going to be just about as good as usual. They're projected to compete with each other (and Nebraska) for the conference championship and to be at least in the discussion for the national title game. (t.u. and OU are respectively ranked fourth and eighth in the preseason coaches' poll.)

I'm a little dubious. (Is "hopefully dubious" a thing?) The t.u. team lost most of the stars that studded last year's national championship runner-up team. OU was totally wrecked by injuries last year (yes, for a Bob Stoops team, eight wins counts as "totally wrecked"), and they should be better this year, but they still don't have comparable guys to those that were the runners-up to Florida in the '08 championship. The prevailing theory seems to be that with the two schools' top-notch coaching and recruiting, they can simply reload to stay at an elite level no matter who graduated or got drafted. I just don't know if I'm buying it.

Here's the thing: texas and Oklahoma, if I'm guessing right, might have down years in the same year. This is the last year of eligibility for Jerrod Johnson, who's the best quarterback to come through A&M in a long, long time, and he's got an excellent supporting cast. What I'm getting at is, I want A&M to win the Big 12 South.

Now, next year's Aggie team might be better than this one, because even though we'll lose Jerrod and Von, everybody else will be a year older and wiser, and trouble spots like the offensive and defensive lines should continue to improve. But OU and t.u. will probably be fully reloaded again, so I think our odds will probably be worse. (Of course, by next year, there will be no such thing as winning the division, only winning the conference. But, practically speaking, that's not going to be much different than winning the South is now.)

So that's what I want. What I expect (as in "These are my bare minimum expectations for you, Mike Sherman") is an eight-win season. I could live with seven, but I wouldn't be happy about it. Nine would be nice, ten terrific. Eight is doable. It's not asking too much. Go forth and win at least eight, Aggies!

*Yes, since I didn't become an Aggie fan until I started school there, that statement made me feel old, too.


  1. 8 wins for the football team? How many half-times will the band win?