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Key stretch: Texas A&M

8/19/2010

Today is the next installment of a preseason feature that examines each team in the Big 12's "key stretch," or a string of games that will ultimately decide the fate of its season.

Next up: the Aggies of College Station.

The schedule: Oklahoma (Nov. 6), at Baylor (Nov. 13), Nebraska (Nov. 20), at Texas (Nov. 25)

The breakdown: There might not be a tougher month of football for any team in the country this year. By November, Texas A&M could finish its season with three top-10 opponents in four weeks, no doubt a stretch that will decide if the Aggies can win their first Big 12 South title since 1998.

Oklahoma embarrassed the Aggies in Norman last season in a 65-10 blowout with a patchwork offensive line and a freshman quarterback. Even in College Station, after watching that beatdown, I can't pick the Aggies to beat the Sooners less than a year later. There was nothing fluky about that game. It was complete domination. This year, Oklahoma's defense will still be significantly better than Texas A&M's and its offense should be almost as good -- if not as good.

An upset is possible, but it'd surprise me. As long as Oklahoma plays at worst an average game, it should leave College Station with a win.

Call Baylor in Waco a trap game, but nobody needs to tell Texas A&M going winless in November would be a disaster for the program. It'll be on point. Like Oklahoma the week before, if Texas A&M just plays near its capability, it should get a valuable conference road win.

Unlike Oklahoma, the Aggies match up favorably against Nebraska. An early 10-0 lead would be a nice boon for the Aggies, and holding on to that lead would take the game out of the hands of the Huskers' solid offensive line and talented running backs, forcing inconsistent quarterback play and a shallow receiving corps to earn the win. That won't be easy, but Nebraska doesn't have the talent on offense to keep up with the Aggies. A low scoring, ball control and field position game would obviously favor the Huskers, but put 30 points on the board and Texas A&M wins. Texas Tech was the only team to do it against Nebraska last year. The Aggies will try to be the team that cracks the tough Husker defense in 2010.

A lot of the hype surrounding Texas A&M's offense heading into this season stems from its performance against Texas last year, when it scored 39 points in a loss to Texas in College Station, more than any other Longhorn opponent.

If Texas A&M is going to win in Austin, it'll have to lean heavily on its offensive line and two talented running backs, Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray. No part of Texas' defense is soft, but A&M's best bet is to try to win the line of scrimmage and wear down Texas' front seven. Texas A&M has a lot of good receivers who might have some success underneath from the slot, but don't expect the Texas secondary's stars to give up the same amount of big plays they did a year ago away from home, highlighted by Jerrod Johnson's 70-yard, first-quarter touchdown pass to Jeff Fuller.

The prediction: 2-2, with losses to Oklahoma and Texas

More Key stretches: