SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Texas A&M Aggies

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Dennis Franchione (1st year)
2002 record: 6-6
Big 12 finish: 5th (South)
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 118.2 ypg
(10th in Big 12, 92nd in nation)
Pass: 268.0 ypg (2nd, 21st)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 130.9 ypg (3rd, 37th)
Pass: 207.5 ypg (6th, 51st)
Projected Starters
Offense (6 returning starters in bold)
WR  Terrence Murphy  Jr. 
WR   2   Jamaar Taylor   Sr.  
SL  Terrence Thomas  Jr. 
QG  50  John Kirk  Sr. 
QT   75   Jami Hightower   Jr.  
C   66   Geoff Hangartner   Jr.  
SG  76  Aldo De La Garza  So. 
ST   73   Alan Reuber   Sr.  
TE   98   Thomas Carriger   Jr.  
QB  18  Dustin Long  Jr. 
FB  34  Keith Joseph  Jr. 
TB   1   Derek Farmer   Jr.  
Defense (5)
DE  99  David Ross  Fr. 
DT  60  Johnny Jolly  So. 
DT  59  Brian Patrick  So. 
DE   88   Linnis Smith   Sr.  
SLB  41  Archie McDaniel  So. 
MLB   45   Jared Morris   Sr.  
ROV  49  Nurahda Manning  So. 
CB   31   Sean Weston   Sr.  
CB   11   Byron Jones   Jr.  
SS  33  Keelan Jackson  Jr. 
FS   19   Jaxson Appel   So.  
Special Teams
13  Todd Pegram  So. 
20  Cody Scates  Jr. 
KR  Terrence Thomas  Jr. 
PR  11  Byron Jones  Jr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  Arkansas State 
Sept. 6  Utah 
Sept. 18  at Virginia Tech 
Sept. 27  Pittsburgh 
Oct. 4  at Texas Tech 
Oct. 11  Baylor 
Oct. 18  at Nebraska 
Oct. 25  Oklahoma State 
Nov. 1  Kansas 
Nov. 8  at Oklahoma 
Nov. 15  at Missouri 
Nov. 28  Texas 
As they left the field for the final time under R.C. Slocum late last November in Austin, Texas A&M players and coaches were treated to a chorus of "Poor Aggies" from Texas fans celebrating the Horns' lopsided win. Following an offseason filled with coaching changes and key player departures, the Aggies realize that sentiment may still exist as they prepare for 2003.

"People will look at our record last year [6-6 overall, 3-5 Big 12], see the big-name people we lost and see we have a new coaching staff," said A&M safety Jaxson Appel. "I'm sure they'll look at all we lost and assume it could be a long year for us. But I have to say that while we've lost a lot, we've found something more important."

In the course of a vigorous offseason and a lively spring, the Aggies believe they have found a new focus and a heightened intensity level under new head coach Dennis Franchione. The 2003 road schedule is brutal and the personnel concerns are numerous, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that Fran's first season in Aggieland could be as eye-opening to A&M's opponents as his first offseason was to the Aggie players.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

The torch has been passed at A&M, and Franchione inherits an offense that appears capable of torching opponents with the pass. Sophomore Reggie McNeal, the elusive playmaker with the big arm and the quick feet, displayed remarkable skills in the pocket and on the run when he was healthy last year, but his thin frame is a concern. With or without McNeal, the Aggies' passing game should be productive, as Dustin Long returns after passing for 2,509 yards, the second-highest single-season total in school history.

The Aggies' quarterbacks also have playmaking pass catchers at their disposal. A&M returns two of the Big 12's best receivers in Jamaar Taylor and Terrence Murphy. Taylor is a go-to target, catching 44 passes for a team-high 17.3 yards per reception in 2002. Murphy was slowed early last season by a broken thumb, but he still managed to catch 36 passes for 599 yards.

The running game, however, is another story. A&M has failed to average more than 3.8 yards per carry for five straight seasons. Junior Derek Farmer is an adequate tailback, but he often appears to seek contact instead of avoiding it. Redshirt freshman Courtney Lewis had a great spring and could emerge as the Aggies' top tailback.

With four regulars back, the offensive line could be better in 2003. Of course, the offensive line hasn't been very impressive since A&M won the Big 12 title in 1998.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

New defensive coordinator Carl Torbush says he loves the "Wrecking Crew" moniker he inherits. But it will feature a different look, as A&M moves from the 3-4 to the 4-3. That will put an emphasis on finding more defensive linemen, and the Aggies' first-team line appears to be solid. Tackles Marcus Jasmin and Johnny Jolly are both big run-stoppers in the middle, while Linnis Smith and David Ross form athletic bookends.

At linebacker, A&M will replace some crafty veterans with more athletic youngsters, such as Randall Webb and Archie McDaniel. Senior Jared Morris is back in the middle of the defense, but with speed as an emphasis, Webb, McDaniel, Everett Smith and Nurahda Manning should form an impressive rotation.

In the secondary, Appel emerged last season as the leader and one of the top playmakers on the roster. The return of Appel and cornerback Byron Jones gives the Aggies more playmaking experience. But the defensive backfield, as a whole, remains a concern.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

The Aggies return one of the nation's best punters in senior Cody Scates, who averaged 43.7 yards per punt. But a concern for A&M remains at placekicker, where Todd Pegram had an inconsistent debut, hitting just 12-of-21 field goal attempts last season.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

A&M must find replacements for several key defensive starters, but with a long list of promising youngsters stepping into new roles, the new-look Wrecking Crew should be up to its old standards. While the Aggies appear to have a potent passing attack, A&M must become a better running team to get back into the final Top 25 for the first time since 1999. The Aggies have not produced a 1,000-yard rusher since 1998 and have not been physical enough up front.

A return to postseason play is likely, but A&M isn't ready to contend in the rigorous Big 12 South.

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