Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Lone Star Showdown not short on stakes
By David Ubben
Texas A&M knows how Texas feels. They've been there.
It's been a full decade since the Longhorns ended a season without a double-digit number in its win column. Texas A&M? They haven't seen a 10-win season since 1998.
Which, of course, has meant the spoiler tag has been more often pinned to the Aggies.
Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill likes the way the offense is coming along. "We’re playing a lot better, the offense is starting to gel and play as a unit," he said.
Not so in what's been a wild 2010. Through six games, Texas A&M sat at 3-3. Texas was a healthy 4-2, fresh off a win over then-No. 5 Nebraska in Lincoln.
The Aggies haven't lost since. Texas is 1-4 over the same stretch.
They'll meet on Thursday, and with a win, Texas A&M is within a bowl win of a 10-win season.
"Just beating Texas--we haven't done that since I've been here -- is big in itself," said Aggies coach Mike Sherman, whose team already has wins over Big 12 powers Nebraska and Oklahoma this season. "We always talk about the next step, and each step -- as I told the players -- the consequence of winning is the challenge and expectations become greater and greater. If you don't beat Nebraska or you don't beat Oklahoma, then the significance of the ensuing games isn't quite the same. They put themselves in a position to be in a national spotlight, and this game Thursday night is huge for us."
A win could propel the Aggies to a berth in the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 2005 and finish the season with a six-game winning streak capped by no sweeter an opponent.
"We’re starting to play together. We’re coming together as a team. We’re playing a lot better, the offense is starting to gel and play as a unit," said quarterback Ryan Tannehill. "All those small things are coming together and making the team better as a whole. The special teams are playing great. It’s been a team effort and I think we’re playing as a team right now."
But while Texas may get its chance to prevent that from happening, their own string of losses has allowed that spoiler tag to still apply to the Aggies. A Texas A&M win ends Texas' season in November for the first time since 1997.
"It really comes down to a one-game season. We’ve played ourselves into this situation, some good, some bad. But we have played ourselves into this situation," said safety Blake Gideon. "It really does come down to this."
The Longhorns got their first win in over a month on Saturday, beating Florida Atlantic. Considering the history of the program, keeping that bowl streak alive is the only meaningful piece of the season to salvage.
These seniors would get to play another game, and they would like to. They feel like they’ve made some progress here at the end. The team’s hung together, and they did play well on Saturday," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "The other thing is Senior Day, beating your rival on Senior Day, your last game at home in your home stadium is very emotional."
But bigger for the Longhorns is a point Brown maintained throughout his team's skid. Getting back to Texas' winning ways next year won't be automatic, and getting that bowl bid this year could pay off next year.
"We would love to have the 13-to-15 practices for this young team to lead into spring practice," Brown said.
Young talents like quarterback Garrett Gilbert, linebacker Dravannti Johnson, receiver Mike Davis, a handful of offensive linemen and defensive back Kenny Vaccaro should all be contributors for the Longhorns for years to come. They'd be among the biggest benefactors of those valuable December workouts that not every team can use to their advantage.
The prospect looms, however, that the Longhorns could receive a bowl bid at 5-7 if not enough teams are eligible to fill 70 slots in 35 bowl games. Texas would be near the top of the list for bowl committees scrambling to fill a spot.
Texas A&M can't control that, but that doesn't mean they would enjoy beating Texas for the first time since 2007 any less.