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21. Texas A&M
Team Page | 2003 Schedule | Roster | 2002 Player Stats | Team Preview

Program-builder Dennis Franchione has plenty of tools on hand -- beginning with an explosive sophomore QB

By Lars Anderson

Fast Facts
2002 Record: 6-6 (3-5, 5th in Big 12 South)
Final AP Rank: NR
Returning Starters: 14
Telling Number
Aggies' passing yards per game in '02, breaking the school mark of 244.6 set in '86; total passing yards (3,216) was also a school record.
Smart Move
New coach Dennis Franchione has installed the A-back position (a running back-receiver hybrid) that he used effectively in the Alabama offense -- last year A-back Shaud Williams accounted for 921 yards of offense for the Crimson Tide. Former third-string QB Jason Carter fills the role for the Aggies.
Sports IllustratedTwo scrapbooks lie on a coffee table in Regina and Rickey McNeal's living room in Lufkin, Texas. One bursts with clips documenting the high school accomplishments of their son, Reggie, who led Lufkin High to the Texas Class 5A Division II title. The other scrapbook is devoted to Reggie's exploits at Texas A&M. It's nearly empty save for a few articles on the events of Nov. 9, 2002, when McNeal came off the bench as a freshman to throw four touchdown passes and lead the Aggies to a 30-26 upset of top-ranked Oklahoma. "By the time I'm done here, I hope the college scrapbook is filled with a lot of good memories," says the 6'2", 191-pound McNeal.

With his 4.42 speed in the 40 and his ability to throw a ball 65 yards flat-footed, McNeal is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the country, and his development at College Station is a top priority for new Aggies coach Dennis Franchione. An established program-builder, Franchione turned losers into winners at New Mexico, TCU and, most recently, Alabama. He inherits an A&M team flush with young talent, and his success hinges on how quickly those youngsters adapt to his two major changes: an offense that features more between-the-tackles power running and a defense that has switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3. "We'll be multiple on both sides of the ball," says Franchione. "So far the transition has been smooth."

The week after the Oklahoma game, McNeal suffered a high ankle sprain against Missouri and missed the rest of the season. Dustin Long, the starter for nine games in 2002, threw 19 touchdowns but was inconsistent (16 interceptions). Now a junior, Long will battle McNeal for the starting job, but given the way Franchione gushes about the kid from Lufkin, don't expect McNeal to languish on the bench. "There's no limit to what Reggie can accomplish," says Franchione. "When I watched him on tape for the first time, I thought to myself, If I could draw up a quarterback, I'd draw up Reggie."

Issue date: August 11, 2003