I'm going from worst to first in my Big 12 previews. Today I look at Texas A&M. (All of my previews are in Chip's Corner - The Wire.)
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3. Texas A&M
4. Texas Tech
5. Oklahoma State
5. Iowa State
6. Kansas State
Mike Sherman is an offensive-minded coach, who finally put some offense on the board in 2009 for the Texas A&M Aggies, averaging 32.8 points per game. The problem is his defense allowed 33.5 points per game and suffered excoriating defeats against Arkansas (47-19), at Kansas State (62-14) and at Oklahoma (65-10).
But the Aggies played maybe their best game offensively against Texas, and everyone now thinks the Aggies are ready to make some bold move up the charts in 2010. Jerrod Johnson has been voted preseason offensive player of the year in the conference by the media.
That's the same Johnson who stunk up the Independence Bowl against Georgia with two interceptions and two sacks in a 44-20 loss to an underwhelming Bulldog team. Both interceptions came in a decisive third quarter when A&M still had a chance to get back into the game.
I'm sorry. I'm not buying Jerrod Johnson. At least not on an offensive player of the year level in the Big 12.
I'll buy him for those sudden surges - for those Texas Tech moments (19 of 28 passing for 238 yards and 1 TD pass) in a 52-30 victory.
I'll buy him for those Iowa State moments (23 of 28 passing for 234 yards and 3 TDs) in a 35-10 victory; for those Baylor moments (19 of 25 passing 153 yards and 2 TDs) in a 38-3 win; and for those Texas moments (26 of 33 for 342 yards and 4 TDs) in a 49-39 loss.
Outside of the Texas game, there's little to show from a big-game standpoint for Johnson. The biggest win of his career was at Texas Tech, and he had very little to do with that win.
Give credit to running backs Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael for the Tech win. Gray had 131 yards rushing on 25 carries (5.2 ypc) and three TDs, while Michael had 121 yards on 22 carries (5.5 ypc) and two TDs.
Was there anything more confounding than those "Jerrod Johnson-for-Heisman" stories that perked up after he wiped out a murderer's row in the non-conference in 2009 that included New Mexico, Utah State and UAB?
Heck, even Reggie McNeal had a real signature win (over then-No. 1 Oklahoma at Kyle Field in a 6-6 year in 2002) by this same point in his career. And McNeal did that as a freshman.
So forgive me if I cast my ballot for Big 12 offensive player of the year for Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert, who has proven to be a Ryan Mallett clone. If I had to vote for an A&M player for offensive player of the year, it would be Michael.
Johnson is a senior this season. By this time in his career, if he's a Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year favorite, he should have more on his resume than a road win in Lubbock over a 9-4 Texas Tech team and a near miss at home against Texas.
I will give Johnson this: I'm predicting an 8-4 season for Texas A&M with losses to Arkansas, Missouri, OU and Texas. But I'm predicting Johnson pulls off the upset of the Big 12 season with his best performance of his career in a win over Nebraska in College Station on Nov. 20.
Finally, Johnson will have a signature win.
2009 Record (Big 12 finish): 6-7 overall, 3-5 Big 12
Projected record in 2010: 8-4 overall, 5-3 Big 12
Projected finish in the Big 12 South: Tied for 3rd (with Texas Tech)
Returning starters on offense: 7
Returning starters on defense: 9
Franchise player: OLB Von Miller (he was the only player on A&M's defense teams had to scheme for last season, and he still led the nation in sacks with 17.)
Reasons to fear the Aggies: The Aggies' skill talent may be the best in the Big 12 with RBs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray as well as WRs Jeff Fuller, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Ryan Tannehill. … Miller is a force on defense, and NT Lucas Patterson, LB Garrick Williams and S Trent Hunter have some talent.
Reasons not to fear the Aggies: It may take first-year defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter from Air Force some time to get A&M's D headed in the right direction. He just doesn't have enough talent, speed or depth. … Special teams coverage units were a joke last year, allowing game-changing kick returns for TDs in each of A&M's last two games against Texas and Georgia. … A botched snap on a punt also helped break open the loss to Georgia. The lack of speed on defense was palpable in Colt McCoy's long TD run against Aggies last year. … A&M could start two freshmen at tackle on the offensive line - Luke Joeckel at LT and Jake Matthews at RT.
Facing Texas: Texas is 9-3 against A&M under Mack Brown, including 8-2 over the last 10. The last eight wins over the Aggies have all been by double digits by an average of 22 ppg. The Texas D led by Will Muschamp should be looking to make a statement after Johnson picked UT apart last year.
Best chance for an upset: Nebraska. I'm calling my shot right now. Texas A&M will knock off Nebraska in College Station on Nov. 20.
Final analysis: Mike Sherman has already false-started multiple times as A&M's head coach. His recruiting was so bad his first year, he had to replace assistants on the recruiting trail and apologize to high school coaches. Joe Kines retired as defensive coordinator, so Sherman is starting over on that side of the ball, which isn't a bad thing considering the poor results under Kines.
If Sherman is an offensive line guru, then maybe starting two freshmen at tackle is survivable. But the performance of that line three years into his tenure as coach will be a referendum on Sherman, whose specialty is the O-line. A&M goes 8-4, but gets the head-to-head tiebreaker against Tech by beating the Red Raiders in College Station.
Sept. 4 Stephen F. Austin (W)
Sept. 11 Louisiana Tech (W)
Sept. 18 FIU (W)
Sept. 30 at Oklahoma State (W)
Oct. 9 Arkansas in Cowboys Stadium (L)
Oct. 16 Missouri (L)
Oct. 23 at Kansas (W)
Oct. 30 Texas Tech (W)
Nov. 6 Oklahoma (L)
Nov. 13 at Baylor (W)
Nov. 20 Nebraska (W)
Nov. 25 at Texas (L)
(8-4 overall, 5-3 Big 12)