Friday, September 2, 2011
My Texas A&M preview
So for what it's worth, here are a few of my thoughts and my official prediction on the 2011 Ags.
On offense, A&M is pretty loaded. Trying to take off my maroon glasses and find weaknesses, and there just aren't many. Tight end, maybe? A&M is young at that position, but at the same time, they have three or four guys that they feel are adequate, so they have depth, if not dominance.
So going down the roster by position, we start at quarterback. Most people know the story by now. Halfway through 2010, A&M made the change from Jerrod Johnson, who never fully recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, to junior Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill exploded early, reeling off huge numbers against Kansas and Texas Tech before coming back to earth a bit. Even so, he led A&M to victories against OU, Nebraska, and Texas before finally suffering his first loss as a starter against LSU in the Cotton Bowl.
Tannehill returns as the unquestioned leader, and while I personally think most A&M fans gave him a little too much credit last year, he's still a top level QB by most accounts (don't be surprised when he goes very, VERY high- like top 5 high- in the NFL draft next year).
He has tons of weapons to throw to. At wide receiver, A&M returns the best receiver in school history in Jeff Fuller. He owns basically every record A&M has and I've been saying he's an NFL-ready receiver since his freshman year. One record he actually shares is the record for most catches in a season. He shares that record with Ryan Swope, who also returns. They are joined by Uzoma Nwachukwu, who has had a strong two seasons to start his A&M career, and a handful of other contributors. In fact, A&M returns their top 7 receivers from last year.
In addition to that, A&M returns the best two running backs in the Big 12, Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael. Either one is capable of carrying the load, but having both will allow Mike Sherman to ride the hot hand and keep them fresh. With Cyrus coming off a 1,000+ yard season, A&M is one of only four teams in America to return a 1,000 yard receiver (Fuller) and runner.
They will all be helped by an offensive line that is young on the edges but extremely good. The tackles are both true sophomores, but everyone in the A&M program thinks they are sure-fire NFL talents, and it was in large part due to them that A&M rolled off the six straight wins late last year, relying mostly on a dominating running attack.
So again, long story short, A&M's offense is loaded. There is a very real possibility that A&M's starting quarterback, running back, and wide receiver will all be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft next year. I assume that is something that has not happened many times. This is unquestionably the most talented team at the skill positions that A&M has ever had.
So then, how will the defense be? Well, that's the million dollar question. Most people think the defense will improve over last year because they are in year two of the Tim DeRuyter era. He supposedly runs a complex scheme and year one is quite the learning curve, but in year two, the theory goes, the players now know the defense and are able to play faster and do more creative things scheme-wise. Of course the question that can't be answered is the issue of how will A&M replace Von Miller? Miller left Aggieland as a consensus All-American and the highest draft pick in school history. A&M will try to replace him by committee, as a stable of promising players like Caleb Russell and Damontre Moore will fight for reps.
The other linebackers should be solid if not spectacular. Certainly good enough. The defensive line is the same story. No All-Americans, but solid play and plenty of returning talent from last season's conference-leading run defense.
Behind them is one of the best secondaries A&M has had in a long, long time. They can all tackle, they can all cover, and they're all aggressive and cocky. A&M didn't put up great pass defense numbers last year, but some of that was a little deceiving, because A&M played a very pass-happy schedule, as they will again this year.
So, as long as A&M can pressure the quarterback, the defense should be good. It has a chance to be really good. In my unbiased opinion, it won't be "great," but it doesn't need to be since the offense absolutely has a chance to be a top national unit.
The big question mark remains special teams. Randy Bullock has developed into a pretty good placekicker, but A&M's inability to find a dependable punter the last few years has been frustrating, and spring and fall reports seem to indicate that the problems are still there.
A&M has plenty of options at kick returner, and, assuming they can hold on the ball, punt returner seems to be ok as well.
From my perspective, A&M has enough talent to run the table. I'm not saying they will, but they legitimately could. The issue is that it's just hard to win every week, even against teams that are supposedly inferior. OU, Arkansas, and OSU are teams that A&M can certainly beat, but at the same time, beating all three is asking a lot, especially since only one of them is at Kyle Field. And aside from those three, you still have teams like Texas, Missouri, Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas State that could very easily beat a team like A&M on a given week. So it's just asking a lot to go through all that without ever slipping up against the decent teams while rising to the occasion to beat the best teams.
My point? I think A&M is a legitimately good team this year, but I do think OU will beat them, and I think the Ags will split with Arkansas and OSU, and I think somewhere along the way, A&M has one more bad week and ends up 9-3. I think 10 wins is more likely than 8 though, if that matters, and that 11 is more likely than 7.