Texas A&M came into the season expecting to struggle to stay out of the South Division cellar.
The Aggies accomplished much more than that, earning a stunning upset at old nemesis Texas Tech, making Texas sweat in their Thanksgiving night game and earning their first bowl bid since 2007 in the process.
Coach Mike Sherman played 18 freshmen and helped quarterback Jerrod Johnson become the most improved player in the Big 12. The Aggies also have one of the most talented collection of players. The development of proven producers like tailbacks Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray and experienced receivers Ryan Tannehill, Jeff Fuller and Uzoma Nwachukwu should help for next year and beyond. The Aggies fashioned an improved offense that finished the regular season as the nation’s only team to rank in the top 25 in rushing, passing, scoring and total offense.
Playing all of the young players did come at a cost. The Aggies were the most inconsistent team in the country, winning games by 35, 37, 35, 25 and 22 points but also losing games by 28, 48 and 55 points.
The youth was especially noticeable on defense, where the Aggies had 14 freshmen and sophomores on their two-deep roster at the end of the season. That group showed its inexperience as the Aggies ranked 104th nationally in scoring defense, 107th in total defense and 111th in pass defense. They were singed for 640 yards and 65 points against Oklahoma and yielded 597 yards and 49 points against Texas.
But the Aggies kept growing through the season, which gives Sherman hope for the future.
Offensive MVP – QB Jerrod Johnson
The brightest star in the Aggies offense was Johnson, who emerged as the Big 12’s top statistical quarterback this season. Johnson set school records with 3,217 passing yards and 28 touchdowns, completing 267 of 439 passes. He also rushed for 455 yards and eight touchdowns. And he gave 2010 Heisman Trophy voters something to think about after accounting for 439 yards and four touchdowns against Texas.
Defensive MVP – DE/LB Von Miller
Defensive coordinator Joe Kines hoped to boost Miller’s production by playing at a hybrid “Jack” position where he hoped Miller would be too fast for most bulky offensive linemen and too strong from running backs. Miller played to that level and more as he led the nation with 17 sacks to key a Texas A&M defense that ranked eighth nationally in sacks.
Turning point – Oct. 24 at Texas Tech
The Aggies were huge underdogs going into the game at Lubbock after a 62-14 loss to Kansas State the previous week. But Sherman was so confident in his team’s chances he presented them with carabiner clips before the game as a talisman that would signify their victory. Suitably inspired, the Aggies claimed a 52-30 victory that ended up being the triumph that got them into a bowl game.
The Aggies will benefit hugely from the extra bowl practice, which may be almost as important as their Independence Bowl date against Georgia. That game has the makings of an offensive shootout, but a victory would enable A&M to finish the season with a winning record moving into next season. Johnson and most of the skill-position players return on offense and nine starters are expected back on defense, although Miller has been contemplating turning pro. But with all of the returning talent, the Aggies likely will be improved next season and a solid bowl team.