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Austin Columnist Jumps On A&M Bandwagon

By: Kirk Bohls-Austin AMerican Statesman Email
By: Kirk Bohls-Austin AMerican Statesman Email

With its dramatic, nationally televised victory over Nebraska before a towel-twirling record crowd at Kyle Field on Saturday night, surging Texas A&M won its fifth consecutive Big 12 football game and remained undefeated in November for the first time in 13 years.

Maybe, just maybe, the sleeping giant has finally awakened.

Lord knows it's been asleep long enough, which is reason enough to show some restraint over the sudden transformation that has taken place in College Station.

The Aggies have been to just one BCS game in their history, that courtesy of a shocking, double-overtime upset of unbeaten Kansas State in 1998. They lost that Sugar Bowl, falling to Ohio State, but then they've dropped their last four bowl games and 11 of their last 13 postseason games.

So we're talking new territory for the Aggies.

However, there are even more striking factors that could lead one to believe that the 17th-ranked Aggies could sustain their recent success and have a realistic chance of taking a place among the college football elite.

Those include an unflappable, versatile quarterback who clearly possesses the "it" factor; new energy and confidence from a dynamic, first-year defensive coordinator; more athleticism from solid if not spectacular recruiting classes; a passionate, student-heavy fan base that has few equals; a renewed home-field advantage; and a grounded, proven, no-nonsense head coach who's not given to wild swings in emotion.

A year ago in this space, it was offered for consideration the premise that slumping Texas A&M was fast becoming the new Baylor and settling into the role of league doormat. That notion was off-base; Sherman's vision, leadership and belief in his overall plan turned around the Aggies and could put them in position to contend for the Big 12 championship for years to come.

Therefore, it might be worth wondering if Texas A&M will become the new Texas — rash, though, that sounds. It's a fair debate, considering the Aggies are coming on faster than iPads and the Longhorns are in jeopardy of their first losing season in 13 years under Mack Brown, and the ignominy of no bowl appearance.

Longhorns players didn't weigh in on that Monday, but senior split end James Kirkendoll said, "They've got just as good a players as we do. If they keep doing what they're doing, I can't see why they couldn't be at the top of the conference."

Texas has no guarantee it will return there. Oklahoma's slipped some as well. Considering six bowl slots could remain unfilled with a lack of bowl-eligible, six-win teams, it's possible that the NCAA could exempt 5-7 teams to fill those berths.

Asked if Texas would accept under those circumstances, Brown said, "I'm planning on being 6-6."

And that's the upside if the Longhorns win.

Should the Aggies win and the Sooners beat Oklahoma State, though, Sherman's club would tie for the Big 12 South title and move up the ladder in the bowl chain, probably to the Cotton Bowl.

Next season could offer even more because A&M loses only five starters off a bowl team.

Of the program's top 50 players — the 44 on the two-deep and six other special-teams regulars — only six are seniors, and Jerrod Johnson no longer plays. At least 140 recruits attended the Aggies' 9-6 win over the Cornhuskers. Many worry that one of them — defensive end Cedric Reed, a Longhorns pledge — could swing to A&M.

"Our motto all year has been, ‘Let's take the next step,' " said Tim Cassidy, A&M's associate athletic director for football operations and recruiting coordinator. "We've definitely taken a step in that direction, but I don't think we've arrived. When you arrive, you're winning championships."

We're assuming everything currently in place at A&M remains in 2011, unless defensive boss Tim DeRuyter becomes a hot commodity and relocates as a head coach at Colorado or some other locale, and wideout Jeff Fuller declares early for the NFL as the first-round pick he should be.

"I think they've got real momentum," said Bobby Burton, editor of 247sports.com. "On offense, they're the real deal. The issue you have is how good are they gonna be on defense and can they sustain that? They've been much better than anticipated on defense. I'm not saying they're going to steamroll everybody, but they have legitimate options on offense."

The fans certainly believe along with the coaches and players. More than 31,000 students pulled tickets for the Nebraska game, and almost as many showed up for yell practice the night before.

"We don't have cheer practice," Cassidy said, tweaking Nebraska coach Bo Pelini for his pregame comments. "But we had one helluva yell practice. And with the electricity, the frenzy and support we had Saturday, I think it was the best I've ever seen at Kyle Field."

And no one should be shocked if there's much more to cheer — or yell — about in the future.

kbohls@statesman.com; 445-3772


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