Prior to Texas A&M's spring practices, head coach Dennis Franchione canceled offseason workouts for one day to treat his team to a movie. Not just any movie, though. He arranged for the Aggies to see Miracle, the movie documenting the glorious gold medal run of the 1980 U.S. hockey team.
Franchione hopes his team left the theater realizing that self-sacrifice can produce dramatic results. After last year's 4-8 season, in which the Aggies endured numerous record-setting lows, Franchione isn't promising miracles. But like former U.S. hockey coach Herb Brooks, Franchione is resolute in his demands.
"We're demanding improvement in all areas," Franchione said. "Our mission, our purpose and our goals center around across-the-board improvements."
The Aggies obviously have room to improve. While there is probably not enough star power to produce a blockbuster season, A&M does appear to possess enough young talent to meet Franchione's improvement demands. These Aggies will likely be remembered for achieving mandates, not miracles.
OffenseQuarterback Reggie McNeal has the tools to emerge as a superstar, but he must prove he possesses the mental toughness and maturity to be a leader on his own team. McNeal certainly has options at his disposal. Shifty Courtney Lewis became the first Aggie since 1999 to rush for more than 1,000 yards, netting 1,024 during his debut season. And perhaps the best all-around player on the roster, senior receiver Terrence Murphy, leads an impressive group of potential go-to targets.
A&M's offensive line could also be better with the return of two-year starter Jami Hightower, who missed all of last season because of a staph infection. Hightower joins returning starters Aldo De La Garza, Alex Kotzur and Geoff Hangartner to give the Aggies an experienced front.
DefenseDefensive coordinator Carl Torbush doesn't mince words when assessing his objectives. "We've got to be better," Torbush said. "We can't go through another year like we had last year."
The defensive revitalization starts up front, and the line will undoubtedly receive a large infusion of new talent. Senior end Mike Montgomery and junior tackle Johnny Jolly form a solid combination on one side of the defensive front, while redshirt freshmen Jason Jack and Joseph "Red" Bryant are two physically imposing newcomers to the probable starting front four.
The Aggies are counting on newcomers like junior college transfer Aaron Brown to shore up a sagging linebacking unit, although sophomore Justin Warren could have a breakout season after earning freshman All-America honors.
No A&M defender is tougher or more willing to sacrifice his body than safety Jaxson Appel. The gutsy, hard-hitting Appel led the Aggies with 135 tackles and gives A&M the cornerstone of a secondary that should be improved. Cornerbacks Byron Jones and Jonté Buhl and safety Ronald Jones return after seeing extensive action last year.
SpecialistsTerrence Murphy provides the Aggies with a breakaway threat on kickoff and punt returns. While Todd Pegram does not possess outstanding range, he did finish fourth in the Big 12 in field goal accuracy. A&M also returns an experienced punter in Jacob Young, but he will be pushed by true freshman Richie Bean.
Final AnalysisWith the last two recruiting classes Franchione has assembled, the Aggies appear to be on their way back toward the top of the Big 12 South standings -- just not immediately. Appel and Murphy are proven playmakers, but most of the other players the Aggies are counting on are sophomores, redshirt freshmen or junior college transfers.
The Aggies are simply too young and too inexperienced to be considered legitimate contenders in the South. And their schedule is no cakewalk, either: A&M must face bowl participants Utah, Clemson, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas.