Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, September 4, 2011 at 9:03 AM
There's a lot of excitement in College Station, Texas right now. The Texas A&M Aggies have surged back into the national spotlight and are getting serious consideration as a national championship darkhorse.
*The Aggies are currently ranked either 8th or 9th in the national polls, sharing that spot with Big 12 rival Oklahoma State. Oklahoma also of the Big 12 is the consensus #1 pick in the nation at the moment. That means the Aggies start out the season within striking distance, and they control a lot of their destiny in terms of climbing the ladder.
*The Aggies closed the season very well last year, beating BOTH divisional winners of the Big 12 (Nebraska and Oklahoma) in November. They also beat the Baylor team you watched upset TCU this past Friday Night in Waco…and beat archrival Texas in Austin. Quite a month!
*The Aggies had that hot run because of a quarterback change. Ryan Tannehill took over after an embarrassing home loss to Missouri. His leadership and discipline helped cut down on mistakes and put the team in position to win. Tannehill returns as the starter this year, after an offseason that will hopefully help him increase personal production.
*The Aggies return NINE starters on both sides of the ball, making them one of the most experienced teams in the country.
You can see why they're a popular darkhorse! They will certainly have their hands full with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. And, ranked Arkansas is going to present quite a challenge on October 1. But…the stage is set for something special. And, given the rumors about an upcoming move to the SEC…the stage is also set for Texas A&M to suddenly become the most important football program in the state! The Texas Longhorns fell on hard times last year, and haven't helped themselves with the creation of a TV network that nobody wants to carry. This is the closest the Aggies have been to 'the top of the world' in quite some time.
The best way to think of Texas A&M right now is that they're a better version of the Baylor team that just beat TCU 50-47 on ESPN. Maybe TCU's nothing special this year. Maybe Baylor is just the 5th or 6th best team in the Big 12. The Aggies are likely to play similar style games to Baylor even if they're not truly similar in attack. If you watched that game…you should have a very strong sense right now of what Baylor is all about. Let's run some numbers that will help you picture best expectations for Texas A&M.
2010 OFFENSIVE RANKINGS
Texas A&M 23rd
Baylor's explosive, but the Aggies are pretty explosive too. There are a lot of playmakers. And, as we mentioned, a lot of experience this year from a team that moved the ball so well last year.
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS
Texas A&M 9
Baylor popped a 50 on TCU's respected defensive braintrust. Texas A&M is going to embarrass some people this year with 9 returning starters on what had been the 23rd ranked defense.
2010 DEFENSIVE RANKINGS
Texas A&M 55th
The Big 12 plays a lot of fast break football, which makes it hard to sparkle in defensive stats. The Aggies were clearly a lot better than Baylor last year though. Meaning, if they jump to a 47-23 fourth quarter lead, they're less likely to give it all back! Imagine Baylor's offense with a much better defense, and that's what Texas A&M brings to the table.
RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS
Texas A&M 9
Okay, maybe 'much better defense' understates it. The Aggies will probably improve on last year's ranking of 55th. Baylor struggled to stop TCU consistently even though the Horned Frogs only returned 2 offensive starters and were led by an inexperienced quarterback.
For now, it looks like Texas A&M is going to be better than Baylor. No shock there since they beat the Bears 42-30 in Waco last year. But, are the Aggies REALLY good enough to be top ten, or a darkhorse for the BCS championship? Here are some reasons for skepticism.
*The best football is being played in the SEC right now. That's been true for several years. The trophy is being handed to SEC teams on an annual basis, even though the survivor has been beaten down by a brutal schedule. There's not much head-to-head evidence that Texas A&M would have a shot at being the best team in the SEC this year given what happened to them last year.
AGGIES VS. SEC IN 2010 (both neutral site games)
Arkansas 24, Texas A&M 17
LSU 41, Texas A&M 24
Both of those games were played in the state of Texas up in the coliseum that Jerry Jones built in Arlington. So, these weren't played in hostile territory. Arkansas and LSU both trailed Auburn and Alabama in the SEC West last year in terms of Power Rating quality. The Aggies were 12-points worse on average vs. the middle of the SEC West pack. Returning 'experience' doesn't lift you 14 points from where you were. The Aggies are a 'darkhorse' because they might sneak into the mix. You can't make the case that they're likely going to be better than the eventual SEC champ just yet.
*The Aggies haven't established yet that they can beat really good teams away from home. Victories in Waco and Austin were nice. But, the trip to Stillwater led to a 38-35 loss to Oklahoma State. We already talked about the neutral site games. If you're going to be a 'BCS' darkhorse that's really taken seriously, you have to beat somebody who really matters outside of your comfort zone. Texas A&M will have a chance to do that October 1 vs. Arkansas in Arlington, and November 5 at Oklahoma.
*Ryan Tannehill showed great leadership last year, but not great production vs. quality opposition.
225 passing yards on 32 attempts vs. Oklahoma (2 interceptions)
172 passing yards on 29 attempts vs. Nebraska
204 passing yards on 35 attempts vs. LSU (3 interceptions)
He can complete short passes, but gets into trouble if asked to throw downfield. And, his ability to avoid mistakes seems to disappear vs. the best defenses too. The offense was truly sharper vs. lesser teams with Tannehill in charge because he made smart decisions. Quality defenses don't always offer you a smart decision to make…which is why interceptions became an issue.
Note that Tannehill was just 14-30-128 against Texas too. Texas wasn't strong last year, but their pass defense ranked 6th in the nation. Tannehill was below 50% vs. Texas with a very low yardage total.
So…there's very good evidence that Tannehill helps the Aggies become relevant, but that he's NOT a leader who's going to take them all the way to a conference or national championship.
Something for you to think about as you watch Texas A&M host SMU tonight on Fox Sports. You now have a sense of how A&M compares to Baylor. How does SMU compare to TCU? Get that figured out and you can make a quality Las Vegas bet on the game. Or, you can take the easy way out and link up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK for Sunday sports. Game day releases are always available right here at the website. We have pennant race baseball available for you today as well.
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Back tomorrow to talk about Miami-Maryland in the ESPN Monday Nighter. Isn't it great to have football every day through Labor Day weekend? Isn't it great to have such easy access to BIG JUICY WINNERS thanks to JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK?!