College Football Preview: No. 8 Texas A&M
(Neon Tommy will be previewing the 2011 College Football Season throughout the summer. You can find links to each of our Top 25 previews here. Today, we preview the team ranked 8th, the Texas A&M Aggies.)
Mike Sherman (19-19 at Texas A&M and career)
Texas A&M's 2010 Season:
9-4 (6-2 in Big 12), Lost Cotton Bowl 41-24 to LSU
-- Ten Returning Starters
-- Impact Players: QB Ryan Tannehill, WR Jeff Fuller, RB Cyrus Gray
Coach Mike Sherman enters his fourth season in College Station with one of the most experienced teams in the nation. The 2011 Aggies' offense returns ten starters from last season, and they expect to pick up right where they left off. Texas A&M ended 2010 by winning their last six regular season games before falling to LSU in the Cotton Bowl. Why were the Aggies able to finish so strong after staggering to a .500 start? Look no further than starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill took over starting duties from Jerrod Johnson in week 7 against Kansas and managed 1,638 yards, 13 touchdowns and 6 interceptions while leading the Texas A&M offense to a No. 23 national ranking in half a season's duty.
The running game features returning starter Cyrus Gray (1,133 yards and 12 TD in 2010) as well as the experienced Christine Michael (631 yards and 4 TD last year). Leading the way for the talented stable of running backs will be four returning starters along the offensive line. The quartet of returners in the trenches are center Patrick Lewis, guard Brian Thomas and tackles Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel. The remaining guard spot will be filled by either former starter Evan Eike or Shep Klinke, who was listed No. 1 on the post-spring depth chart.
-- Nine returning starters
-- Impact Players: LB Garrick Williams, LB Damontre Moore, DB Coryell Judie
The Texas A&M defense had its share of struggles in 2010. It was solid against the run, finishing 30th in the country in run defense, but against the pass their ranking dropped all the way to 89. Nine starters return from last year's unit, and the Aggies are hoping the wealth of experience will lead to even more success in 2011.
The linebacking corps loses two starters, most notably Von Miller. His replacement will like be Damontre Moore who, as a backup, managed to finish second on the team in sacks (5.5) behind Miller. Returning starters Garrick Williams and Sean Porter are back after finishing 2nd and 3rd on the team in tackles, respectively. Jonathan Stewart exited spring ball as the leader for the remaining LB spot.
All four members of 2010's porous secondary return, and look to show drastic improvement this season. CB Coryell Judie shared the team lead in interceptions with four last year, his backup Dustin Harris also managed fourt INTs of his own. At the other CB spot will be senior Terrence Frederick. Steven Campbell and Trent Hunter are both back in their safety spots.
The experience that the Aggies possess is rarely seen in college football. Sure, they lost their best player in Von Miller, but 19 returning starters is a staggering number. The team is deep too, with a number of backups having multiple starts under their belt. The schedule isn't too bad either. The Aggies draw Oklahoma State, Texas and Missouri all in College Station. They also face Arkansas at a "neutral site," which happens to still be in the state of Texas, at Cowboys Stadium. In fact, of the Aggies' 12 games, they only have to leave the Lone Star State just three times.
Now that Ryan Tannehill has the QB job all to himself, will he show any signs of complacency? There aren't really any red flags surrounding A&M, but they do have a couple difficult road games. They play Big 12 favorite Oklahoma in Norman and they also play at Texas Tech and Kansas State, which both have a knack for providing stumbling blocks to top teams.
This A&M team is loaded with experience and talent. If they can manage to steal a win at Oklahoma in early November they will be in the driver's seat for an outright conference title (their first since 1998), and possibly the BCS National Championship. A BCS bowl game in Mike Sherman's fourth year is a possible and realistic goal. Fans in College Station could be in store for a season to remember.