Texas A&M Aggies (2000: 7-5)
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Coach and programR.C. Slocum has been coaching the Aggies for 12 seasons and he has a glittering 109-37-2 record during that time. But the drum beat in College Station has started. Last yearís middling 7-5 season included too many negatives:
ē The Aggies finished out of the final Associated Press Top 25 poll for just the second time in Slocumís dozen years as the coach.
ē The Aggies closed out the season by losing their last three games, including a galling 43-41 Independence Bowl overtime loss to Mississippi State and former A&M coach Jackie Sherrill.
ē The Independence Bowl loss was A&Mís fourth consecutive loss in a bowl game. Under Slocum, the Aggies are 2-8 in bowl games.
ē Despite an expanded Kyle Field (80,650), A&M lost two home games (to Colorado and to Oklahoma) for the first time since 1985.
Oklahoma is also a great example for Slocumís detractors. The Sooners reclaimed their seat at the championship table in just two seasons under a young, firebrand coach. The Aggies won their only national championship in 1939, they havenít been ranked No. 1 since the 1957 season and they havenít gone through a regular season undefeated since 1992.
ďYes, I do feel pressure but maybe not the kind that you imagine,íí Slocum said. ďI donít feel the pressure of job security. I am a good football coach and I will be able to coach for as long as I want somewhere."
Slocum says that one of his teamís annual goals is the national championship. But with Oklahoma and Texas both top five teams this season, the Aggies donít look to be anything more than a dark horse choice.
His team lost three of its top playmakers -- linebacker Jason Glenn ran out of eligibility while wide receiver Robert Ferguson and fullback JaíMar Toombs both left school early to make themselves eligible for the NFL draft.
ďWe will eventually get the stars in the right alignment and get our [national championship]," Slocum said. "It would be a tragedy to be chronically unhappy as a fan until that time comes, and I donít think that would be fair to our players either.íí
OffenseJunior Mark Farris (6-2, 206) spent five seasons in the Pittsburgh Piratesí farm system before giving up his baseball dream and joining the Aggies in 1999. Last August, the 25-year-old won the A&M quarterback job during preseason workouts. Farris showed that Slocum made the right choice by setting a single-season school record for passing yards (2,551) and total offense.
Farris completed 208-of-347 passes for 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. One of those interceptions, though, was critical. His fourth-quarter pass against top-ranked Oklahoma was picked off by Torrance Marshall and returned for the game-winning touchdown, preventing the Aggies from springing the seasonís biggest upset.
Toombs was asked to shift to fullback last season. He gave the Aggies a powerful runner at that position, gaining 355 yards and scoring a team-high 14 touchdowns. But his decision to pass up his senior season for the NFL draft left A&M without a power runner in the backfield.
Former walk-on Stacy Jones, a 5-11, 229-pound junior, was the only other fullback with significant experience, so the coaching staff decided to shift some of the teamís tailbacks to fullback. Junior Joe Weber (6-0, 233), who gained 444 yards and averaged 4.4 yards a carry last year as a tailback, will probably be the starter at fullback.
Sophomore Richard Whitaker (5-10, 197), the teamís leading rusher last season with 455 yards (5.4 yards per carry and six touchdowns) will get the bulk of the carries at tailback.
The Aggies have four experienced receivers -- seniors Bethel Johnson (5-11, 188) and Mickey Jones (5-9, 178) plus juniors Dwain Goynes (5-10, 179) and Greg Porter (6-4, 228).
Johnson was the teamís second-leading receiver, with 42 catches for 440 yards. Goynes, who averaged 25.7 yards on his six receptions last season, had a solid spring.
The anchor of the line is senior Seth McKinney (6-3, 290). Heís a steady blocker and leader who has All-America potential.
Defense and special teamsJunior Ty Warren (6-4, 300) started the last eight games of last season at defensive end. He tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 16. However, Warren has been moved from the edge to the middle, where heís projected to be the starter at nose tackle.
The lone returning starter at linebacker is junior Brian Gamble (6-2, 227). Last season he led the team in tackles and was second in sacks.
Despite fielding a group of unproven defensive backs, the Aggies survived last season. The only starter who must be replaced is free safety Michael Jameson, who finished the season strong and was later chosen in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He will be replaced by senior Jay Brooks (5-9, 190), who as a reserve cornerback made his presence felt by making big plays.
Slocum is confident that redshirt freshman Chris Sims (6-0, 183) will step forward as the teamís kicker. Also in the picture is sophomore Cody Scates (6-0, 180), who handled the teamís punting last season and will fill that role again this season.
Bottom lineTexas A&M optimists point out that Oklahoma went 7-5 and suffered a two-point loss in the Independence Bowl before going 13-0 and winning the 2000 national championship. The Aggies, remember, went 7-5 last year with the final game a two-point loss in Shreveport.
ďCollege football is a crazy game,íí Aggies junior linebacker Gamble said. ďAnything can happen. We have to start preparing that way, preparing for anything that happens down the road. If luck comes our way, then we could be that next team to win the national championship.íí
After consecutive 5-3 Big 12 records and seasons that ended with bowl losses, the Aggies find themselves on a slippery slope. If they donít get a grip, the whispers about the need to change coaches will increase in volume.