Monday, January 3, 2011
Big 12 on the spot: AT&T Cotton Bowl
By David Ubben
Sitting at 3-3 in mid-October, even the most optimistic of Aggies fans had to have a hard time seeing Texas A&M landing in the Cotton Bowl. But here they are, the biggest story of the Big 12 season's second half, winners of six consecutive games and the Big 12 South co-champions.
It's been awhile since the Aggies did any of those things, but the offense and defense started clicking late in the season and by December, Texas A&M was playing arguably the best football of any team in the Big 12.
So, now they're here in Dallas, ready to line up against Les Miles and LSU. Who needs to step up for the Aggies to win?
Receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu. Swope sprained his foot in practice last week, and was limited in practice on Sunday, but looks likely to play on Friday night.
Jeff Fuller makes the headlines and has a strong argument as the Big 12's No. 3 receiver, but elite cornerbacks have limited Fuller's effectiveness all season. Against Nebraska, he caught only one pass for 36 yards. He caught only three passes for 24 yards against Texas and managed only three receptions for 28 yards against Oklahoma.
It's worth noting that the Aggies won all three of those games, but he'll be facing another elite secondary on Friday night. LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson won the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards and was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Also a punt returner, Peterson even garnered Heisman buzz early in the season. Don't expect Fuller to have a big night against the physical, 6-foot-1, 222-pounder.
But Texas A&M has plenty of other receivers, and Swope and Nwachukwu are the best of the bunch. Though Fuller has the size and accolades, Swope actually caught more passes this season, setting a school record with 67 receptions.
Ryan Tannehill is going to need a lot of help against a stout Tigers defense, and running back Cyrus Gray will be a big part of relieving some of the pressure on Tannehill, but they'll need offensive balance to leave with a win.
To get it, Swope and Nwachukwu will have to get open and make plays.