Could Texas, Texas A&M be experiencing a shift in the Big 12 South?
Column by CHUCK CARLTON / The Dallas Morning News |
Much will be on the line Thanksgiving night at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
Texas A&M will be seeking a potential share of the Big 12 South title and an inside track to the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Texas is playing for a chance to keep playing, with bowl-eligibility in doubt for the first time since 1997.
That should be big enough. It isn’t for some, who are seeing a grander meaning in the game, a potential changing of the guard in the state and maybe the Big 12.
Texas A&M is already poised to finish ahead of Texas in the Big 12 South for just the second time since Mack Brown came to Austin. Could this be the start of something new?
Best guess: Check back after the 2012 season, unless all that business with the Mayan calendar turns out to be true.
Turning points are a lot easier to identify in hindsight.
When R.C. Slocum took A&M to the Sugar Bowl in 1998, did anybody think that would be the last time the Aggies would have won at least 10 games in a season? Or that Slocum would be gone after the 2002 season?
John Mackovic took Texas to the Fiesta Bowl in the first year of the Big 12 in 1996 and was unemployed by Year 2.
For a couple of years in the last decade, Texas A&M seemed on the verge of returning to contender status in the Big 12 under Dennis Franchione. Yeah, that worked out.
For the better part of a decade, Texas Tech was a greater and more consistent challenger to Texas’ dominance under Mike Leach than A&M. From 2001 through his final season in 2009, Leach’s teams won at least eight games every season.
A&M fans are pointing to several key factors that the Aggies might be back and ready to surpass Texas:
• A&M starts just five seniors and is remarkably young at a number of key positions, including offensive tackle.
• The team has regained its defensive identity, which was a key part of the best A&M teams.
• Aggie Nation, which seemed like a house earlier this summer during all the realignment talk, now seems united by the recent winning streak.
An A&M resurgence makes sense.
The bigger question, though, is whether Texas will regress. Longhorns coach Mack Brown has said several times that he considers his team’s struggles to be a one-season aberration.
A recruiting class ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s best is ready to arrive next year. While many won’t provide immediate help, some like running back Malcolm Brown and receiver Jaxon Shipley (brother of Jordan) should have a 2011 impact. It’s hard to imagine that Texas will go on losing four home games in a season, something that hadn’t happened since 1997.
Texas remains a power until proven otherwise. And for now, Texas A&M has shown tons of potential that could have the Aggies as the Big 12 favorite for 2011.
Longterm? Check back in 2012.
Will Texas’ struggles this season become irrelevant if it beats Texas A&M on Thursday?
Longhorns players think so.
“Anytime you beat A&M or Oklahoma, a lot is forgotten,” said receiver James Kirkendoll. “Whether you win a lot of games or lose a lot of games [beforehand], I think honestly those are the two key games of the year. They mean more than anything. They’re the type you come to school for.”
This week’s game is a chance for the Longhorns to redeem themselves. A win would make them bowl eligible with a 6-6 record, and it also would ruin one of the best seasons the Aggies have had in a decade.
Defensive end Sam Acho was asked where he’d place this game in relation to playing in the national championship, other bowl games and the Big 12 championship.
“Oh it’s on that same scale, if not bigger,” Acho said. “Obviously, the national championship game is huge, but this game is our national championship game. For us, it means a lot because we want to make it to a bowl game and keep our winning tradition alive.”
Plus, the game is unique because it’s the only college football game on national TV on Thanksgiving and it’s Texas’ senior night.
“You gotta love it,” Acho said. “We’ll be ready.”
Q: Does Texas’ 2011 recruiting class make a bad team much better?
CARLTON: That depends. What if Malcolm Brown comes in from San Antonio and has the same sort of freshman season as a tailback that Marcus Lattimore is enjoying for South Carolina ? Yeah, that would be a boost. If you believe the recruiting services and YouTube, he could have that kind of impact. At the same time, a lot of the underclassmen with big reputations need to step up and take ownership of the team.
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Q: When UT beats A&M on Thursday, what bowl do you think they will go to?
CARLTON: Because bowls like name value and fans who will travel, Texas could go as high as the Holiday Bowl, even with a 6-6 record. Another possibility would be the Pinstripe Bowl in New York. New York Yankees and Texas Longhorns together? Haters of the world, rejoice.
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Q: Who deserves the most credit for A&M’s turnaround? Mike Sherman, Ryan Tannehill or DeRuyter?
CARLTON: Great question. The quarterback always gets too much credit or too much blame, so even though the move to Ryan Tannehill has energized the team, let’s look someplace else. Tim DeRuyter has the fans chanting Wrecking Crew again at Kyle Field, and the defense coming up big against Oklahoma and Nebraska. He’s been every bit as good as advertised. But you have to credit Sherman. He made the move to Tannehill and hired DeRuyter. For a guy viewed as an off-switch when A&M was 3-3, he’s done a pretty solid job on the fly.
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Q: If Texas A&M beats Texas, the Aggies will be 9-3 on the season. What bowl game do you think they may get?
CARLTON: At 9-3, the Aggies might be irresistible to the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic. A&M would be red-hot, with six consecutive wins and a fan base motivated to attend a potential No. 7. The Southwest Conference ties would be perfect for the game’s 75th anniversary. A&M would present a great storyline with potential Southeastern Conference teams like LSU or Alabama.
But the Aggies have to win. Otherwise, they might be looking at the Insight or Bridgeport Holiday bowls – not bad at all, but not the Cotton showcase.
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Q: If OSU doesn’t win, any chance Texas A&M jumps up in the rankings enough after beating UT to come with in one of OU and jump OSU?
CARLTON: The Aggies’ chances are slim in a three-way tie. A&M didn’t get the kind of boost it was seeking from the win over Nebraska. Right now in the BCS standings, Oklahoma State is ninth, Oklahoma 13th and Texas A&M 17th. It’s hard to imagine voters and the computers lifting A&M after a win over 5-6 Texas. Best guess: if Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State and A&M tops Texas, we see the Sooners at Cowboys Stadium.
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Q: Will Texas Tech beat UH this weekend? The game has me worried.
CARLTON: You should only be worried if you’re a UH fan. The Cougars haven’t been the same team since Case Keenum went down. Tech has enough seniors that want to go out in a big way. The Red Raiders seem to be playing better (at least at home). Expect seven wins and maybe a trip to New York for the Pinstripe Bowl.
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Q: Any chance a 7-5 Texas Tech team gets picked ahead of a 7-5 KSU & BU team to go to the Texas Bowl?
CARLTON: Anything is possible with those three teams in terms of the pecking order. Right now, I see Baylor in the Texas Bowl, Texas Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium and Kansas State in the Ticket City Bowl. But it’s hardly set in stone.