Dallas Colleges: Michael Hodges

Big 12 media days live: Day 2

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
9:40
AM CT
The Big 12 media days continue on Tuesday in Dallas, as Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and new Texas coach Charlie Strong each take the stage. Keep this page open throughout the day's proceedings as we bring you the latest from our reporters, who will cover all 10 teams at the event.

Notes from an up-close look at A&M

August, 15, 2011
8/15/11
11:01
AM CT
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There's only so much you can take from a 90-minute workout without pads, but here are a couple quick thoughts and observations from Sunday afternoon's workout inside the indoor facility at Texas A&M.

I'll be there this morning for a live scrimmage with pads, too.
  • Last year, when I visited College Station in the preseason, it was pretty obvious during team work that Jerrod Johnson had a ways to go before he was back to the same player he was in 2009. He obviously never quite got there. This year? Not the case. All the usual suspects looked great. Ryan Tannehill was as good as you'd expect, Jeff Fuller looked great, and Christine Michael showed some nice explosiveness and lateral movement. Cyrus Gray is limited after suffering a minor hamstring injury on the first day of camp, but he's expected to be 100 percent for the season opener against SMU on Sept. 4.
  • Every time I've come to a practice at College Station, I've been impressed with what Jameill Showers had to offer as a backup quarterback, and Sunday was no different. It's a limited sample size, sure, but he throws an outstanding ball, and he made good decisions throughout Sunday's workout in team drills.
  • An offseason arrest didn't put Damontre Moore in the good graces of the coaching staff, and as a result, the possible star had spent the first week of camp working primarily with the third and fourth groups, according to other A&M reporters who had attended earlier practices. On Sunday, however, he was back working with the first team at the Joker position. A good sign for his future, no doubt. The sophomore may have struggled off the field during the offseason, but remember: Von Miller infamously wasn't the personification of a leader early in his career, and left as one of the program's all-time greats -- on and off the field. There's plenty of time for Moore to shore up his act.
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  • Inside linebacker is a primary concern for the Aggies this fall camp, especially after they got a preview of a grim future without Michael Hodges this year when Hodges missed the majority of the Cotton Bowl with a knee injury. Garrick Williams is one of the defense's leaders and a returning starter at one of the two spots in the 3-4 scheme, but Donnie Baggs and Jonathan Stewart have been earning lots of time together with the first team -- and without Williams. Coach Mike Sherman's explanation for the approach: "I always like to see guys with the first group, because that's when you get to evaluate them. When you're with the second group, you're going up against the second group of offense. So let's see how they do against the first group guys, so it's really a more accurate evaluation of where they stand. They could be killers in the second group but go to the first group and it's a little bit more challenging, so I want to see them against the better competition."
  • Sherman says he's still trying to sort out who his starter will be, but I like the approach to throw them in with the first-team and see who outperforms the other. Stewart is the more experienced player, but Baggs, a true freshman, has obviously impressed enough to even be in this position. Sherman expects the position to be more solidified early next week.
  • Sherman played it coy when asked about a "rumor" that Texas A&M's coaches met with university president R. Bowen Loftin about the possibility of a move to the SEC. "Rumors? Really? Are you saying it's a rumor? I don't comment on rumors," he said. "You led with a rumor, so..." A poor choice of words, sure, but a fruitless line of questioning, no doubt, regardless of word choice.
  • Safety Trent Hunter did discuss the prospect of the SEC, but only that the team has been told not to discuss it. "Our coaches made a point on the first day. Don't talk about it, don't tweet about it, don't Facebook about it," Hunter said, adding that it hasn't been difficult to focus on the field while rumors swirled. "It's not anything that's going to affect us playing SMU on that first week."
  • Today's scrimmage will be live with plenty of hitting, Sherman says. Should be exciting. I'll have some notes and stats up on the blog later.

Unearthing the Big 12's rising young talents

August, 10, 2011
8/10/11
11:57
AM CT
Time to take a look at a few of the under-the-radar young talents across the Big 12.

Three underclassmen to watch:

Jackson Jeffcoat, Soph., DE, Texas: Jeffcoat might be the most exciting sophomore in the entire league. A solid Longhorns defensive line last year already had true freshman Jeffcoat emerge as perhaps the team's best pass-rusher, never more impressive than in an early-season win over Texas Tech. A high ankle sprain, however, derailed any hopes of an All-Big 12 season. This year, that could change in a Big 12 without any truly elite talents on the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeTexas' Jackson Jeffcoat
Brendan Maloney/US PRESSWIREAs a freshman last season, Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat appeared to be on his way to an all-Big 12 season before an ankle injury.
Corey Nelson, Soph., LB, Oklahoma: Nelson was referred to as the most impressive player in Oklahoma's spring after a quiet freshman year. Now, the Sooners are bending over backwards to try and get Nelson's talent on the field in the midst of a loaded group of linebackers. An earlier experiment featured Nelson at the nickel back spot, and co-Defensive Big 12 Freshman of the Year Tony Jefferson moving from his home at nickel back to free safety alongside sophomore Aaron Colvin, a converted corner, at strong safety. Now, however, with Travis Lewis likely out to begin the season, Nelson will move back to weakside linebacker where he had backed up Lewis, and Jefferson will be back at nickel back.

Ahmad Dixon, Soph., S, Baylor: Dixon was a hometown blue-chip recruit for the Bears, and looks to become one of its biggest playmakers in his first year under new coordinator Phil Bennett. Bennett loves to emphasize speed, and Dixon will take over at nickel back, playing closer to the line of scrimmage in a role that coach Art Briles says is perfect for his skill set.

Three freshmen to watch:

Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas: Brown is probably the biggest name to enter the Big 12 this season, and he'll be worth watching. A physical, bruising, 220-pound runner, Brown may be called upon to help an anemic Texas running game looking for a punch under new coordinator Bryan Harsin.

Donnie Baggs, LB, Texas A&M: Baggs was a relatively unheralded recruit coming out of high school, but made an immediate impact for the Aggies defense after enrolling early and taking part in spring practice. He should be in the conversation for starter at one of the Aggies' inside linebacker spots where Michael Hodges left a void. Baggs may be called upon heavily in fall camp after one of the other contenders at inside linebacker, Kyle Mangan, was arrested last weekend.

Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas: The Longhorns put a second player in this group in Diggs, a freshman who made big noise in spring camp after enrolling early. The depth chart in Austin is still in flux and won't be anything close to concrete until game week approaches, but it'd be shocking if Diggs didn't contribute right away. The secondary lost three NFL corners from last year's team, and there aren't many more experienced players ahead of Diggs that could keep his natural sensibilities for the position off the field.

Big 12 position rankings: Linebackers

July, 2, 2011
7/02/11
11:00
AM CT
We've taken a look at the Big 12 offensive skill positions in our position rankings, and we'll circle back along to the lines eventually. For now, though, we'll flip to the defensive side of the ball, starting with linebackers.

There's a lot of turnover in this space, and the bottom half was pretty hard to sort out. We haven't seen a lot of these new faces on the field for extended periods of time, so it's somewhat of a crapshoot. I don't feel like there's a wide gap between teams 7-10, and each of those squads have at least one linebacker who could be due for a huge year and shoot them up this list.

I see Nos. 1-3 possibly being great, with dropoffs before the No. 4 and No. 7 teams.

Also, if you missed them, here are the other position rankings we've done so far.
So, without further ado, here's how I ranked the linebackers. (Nickel backs are included in this list, hybrid DE/LBs will be with defensive lines)

[+] EnlargeTravis Lewis
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma's Travis Lewis is the Big 12's top returning defender.
1. Oklahoma -- The Sooners boast the Big 12's top returning defender in Travis Lewis, who has notched at least 100 tackles in each of the past three seasons, and he'll be joined by the Big 12's co-Defensive Freshman of the Year, Tony Jefferson. Tom Wort and Corey Nelson are both loaded with potential, and will fill out the rotation, after the starter at middle linebacker, Austin Box, died on May 19.

2. Iowa State -- The Cyclones boast two of the Big 12's best in Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, who combined for more tackles than any two teammates in the Big 12 last season. They had 241 stops, and, after healing from a broken leg suffered midseason last year, Matt Tau'fo'ou should join them at middle linebacker.

3. Texas -- Texas' offense may be lacking, but the defense will be strong once again, led by two others likely to earn spots as some of the Big 12's best. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho were Texas' top two tacklers last year with 187 stops, and return as likely captains come fall camp. Texas' depth chart is wide open, but look for former blue-chip recruit Jordan Hicks to emerge as another star this year, despite being forced to sit out spring camp with a broken foot. Dravannti Johnson played some defensive end last year at the Buck position for the Longhorns, but may find his way back to linebacker. Tevin Jackson was ineligible last year, but he's ready for 2011, and could make an impact.

4. Oklahoma State -- The Cowboys "Star" linebacker is occupied by co-Defensive Freshman of the Year Shaun Lewis, and sophomore Caleb Lavey is charged with replacing Orie Lemon, the leader of last year's defense. Oklahoma State has questions on the weak side, but LeRon Furr and Chris Dinkins will compete next fall. Kris Catlin could be a factor, too.

5. Texas A&M -- The Aggies must replace their leading tackler, Michael Hodges, and don't have a clear replacement heading into fall camp. The good news: They've got two others with lots of experience in the linebacking corps that look like budding stars. Garrick Williams should be one of the defense's leaders and Sean Porter returns after making 74 tackles last year to rank third on the team.

6. Missouri -- The Tigers have lots of experience at middle linebacker, where a pair of seniors (albeit frequently injured seniors) Will Ebner and Luke Lambert will be on the field a lot. One of the Big 12's most exciting players, junior Zaviar Gooden, will hold down the weakside and perhaps become a household name by season's end. Sophomores Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will likely compete for strongside duties in fall camp. Andrew Gachkar, the team's leading tackler, is gone, but here's guessing Gooden emerges as the defense's top playmaker.

7. Kansas -- The Jayhawks linebackers were solid last year, and could be pretty good again, despite losing Drew Dudley and Justin Springer, two of the team's top four tacklers. Steven Johnson, the team's leading tackler in 2010, is back and he'll be joined by possible star Huldon Tharp, who missed all of last season with a leg injury. Fellow sophomore Darius Willis earned a starting role after spring.

8. Kansas State -- K-State's front seven struggled last year, but will get a big boost from Arthur Brown. One man won't be enough to totally fix the Wildcats rush defense problems, though. K-State gave up 26 more yards on the ground per game than any other team in the Big 12 (more than 231 per game) but Brown may be playing in a 4-3 next fall rather than the 4-2-5 the Wildcats have employed since Snyder's return. Alex Hrebec, Emmanuel Lamur, Tre Walker and Blake Slaughter will likely fill the rotation along with Brown.

9. Baylor -- Baylor's defensive depth chart, like Texas', is a bit amorphous after bringing in a new coordinator, but Elliot Coffey figures to be the Bears biggest playmaker at linebacker. Chris McAllister should be solid and Ahmad Dixon is promising at nickelback, too. Brody Trahan is a great story, but him going from third-string quarterback to starting linebacker isn't a ringing endorsement for Baylor's depth at the position.

10. Texas Tech -- Tech will be moving to a 4-2-5 this year under new coordinator Chad Glasgow, and could rise up this list, but the Red Raiders lose a lot of talent from last season's team, which ran the 3-4. Bront Bird and Brian Duncan are both gone, and youth will be a big factor with this group. Cqulin Hubert's outstanding potential is matched by his more outstanding first name, and freshman Blake Dees showed promise after arriving early this spring. They'll likely be the rotation at middle linebacker spot alongside Daniel Cobb and Zach Winbush. Terrance Bullitt could be a playmaker at his new safety spot, listed as a strong safety but with plans to spend lots of time near the line of scrimmage, a la nickelback.

Assessing the contenders: Texas A&M

July, 1, 2011
7/01/11
11:11
AM CT
Heading into the season, I see five teams in the Big 12 with a realistic chance to win the league. I'll be breaking them down in order (which won't be the same as my post-spring power rankings) of their chances to leave the season with the Big 12 title.

No. 1 on the list was the favorites: Oklahoma

Today, we take a look at my No. 2: Texas A&M.

Why the Aggies will win the Big 12

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
AP Photo/Rod AydelotteQuarterback Ryan Tannehill will be crucial to Texas A&M's success in 2011.
1. They've got the most complete offense.

Center Matt Allen is the only offensive starter not returning, but the Aggies have a solid line, headlined by a maturing, but already talented pair of bookends with big potential, tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. At the skill positions, you won't find anything close to a weakness. Texas A&M returns the best running back corps in the league and maybe the best 1-2 punch in the nation with Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray. All of the team's top five receivers return, and Jeff Fuller, who chose to return for his senior season, is arguably one of the five best in the country. Ryan Tannehill doesn't have a ton of starts (six) under his belt, but he was great in a tight spot last year, and led the team in receptions his first two years on the field.

2. They're especially strong in great places on defense.

Those places: Secondary and pass-rushers. That's huge in the Big 12. New joker Damontre Moore, defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie and linebacker Sean Porter should combine for more than 15 sacks this year and tons of quarterback pressures that could result in some big plays for another defensive strength: the secondary. All four starters return, and Terrence Frederick, Coryell Judie are experienced seniors at corner, while Trent Hunter and Steven Campbell hold down the safety spots.

3. They made it hard to win nine games last year.

Texas A&M already won a share of the Big 12 South last year, despite ranking 10th in the Big 12 in turnover margin at minus-5. Its 30 turnovers (15 INTs, 15 fumbles lost) were the most in the Big 12 and 111th most in the nation. You'd have to think that number will drop this year with Tannehill at quarterback. He struggled in the loss to LSU, throwing three interceptions, but he had just three in his six previous games at quarterback, compared to 11 touchdowns. Five of those 30 turnovers came from Jerrod Johnson in a loss to Oklahoma State, and if the Aggies take care of the ball then, or this time around, they're likely Big 12 champions.

Why the Aggies won't win the Big 12

1. The defensive losses will be too much.

Damontre Moore should slide in and replace Von Miller. I'd expect him to do well, but what about middle linebacker? Michael Hodges was the heart of the defense in 2010 and its leading tackler. When a knee injury forced him out of the Cotton Bowl against LSU, the Tigers gashed the Aggies' defense, which for the few weeks to end the season, looked like one of the Big 12's best and topped the league in rush defense. Hodges is gone for good now, and the Aggies left spring without a solid replacement. For now, it looks like Jonathan Stewart will slide in, but it could end up being true freshman Donnie Baggs. Either way, A&M won't be as strong there, and teams that can run the ball (i.e., OSU, OU) may take advantage. Lucas Patterson is the only other loss on the defensive side of the ball, but my money is on Hodges being missed the most on the field, even though Miller was the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft.

2. They have to travel to Norman.

Texas A&M has been outscored 107-24 in its last two trips to Norman, and Les Miles at Oklahoma State in 2001 is the only Big 12 coach to ever beat Bob Stoops at Owen Field. The odds are definitely against Mike Sherman becoming the second. The Aggies knocked off Oklahoma in College Station last year, but did it largely on the strength of the linebackers, and Hodges and Miller, who helped orchestrate those three goal-line stops to beat the Sooners, are gone.

3. Hype and the Aggies are not happy bedfellows.

Texas A&M looked like a possible Big 12 South contender last year, but the Aggies lost all three of their first real tests, and nearly lost to Florida International in College Station, erasing a 21-7 fourth-quarter deficit to avoid embarrassment. After being written off by most, they rallied for a share of the Big 12 South, but this year, the attention is back on the Aggies, who will likely be toting a top-15 ranking into the preseason. How will the team handle big games early in the season against Oklahoma State and an early trip to Lubbock before the showdown in Norman? Their recent history suggests "not well."

The Revolving Door: Texas A&M

May, 3, 2011
5/03/11
11:05
AM CT
I've done it. You've done it.

"Hey, is that guy still around?"

Even with two fewer teams, it's hard to keep track. Our next series, which we did last year, too, takes a look at two key players for every team in the league that are taking their talents elsewhere, returning to campus, or arriving to try and write a legacy of their own.

So really, this series isn't so much for the fans of the teams in the posts, but more for everyone else. It wouldn't be a bad idea to bookmark this series.

Next up: Texas A&M

Going:

Von Miller, LB

Miller will go down as not only one of the best Aggies of all-time, but one of the most beloved. Throughout the draft process (which concluded with him being drafted No. 2 overall), he gave credit to his coaches and teammates and talked extensively about how much he loved Texas A&M and his time there. He led the Big 12 in sacks the past two seasons, and led the nation in 2009. As the lynchpin of the Aggies' 3-4 scheme in 2010, he spent more time in coverage, but his combination of size (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) and speed (4.4 40-yard dash) is found almost nowhere. No player was more integral in the return of the Wrecking Crew in 2010. And to top it all off, at the end of his introductory news conference with the Denver Broncos, he gave a "Gig 'em."

Michael Hodges, LB

Hodges came to Texas A&M as a walk-on. He didn't play at all in 2008, but coordinator Joe Kines gave him a shot in 2009, and Hodges rewarded him with an All-Big 12 honorable mention season after starting nine games in his first real season on the field. Last year, as a senior, Hodges emerged as one of the defense's leaders and led the team with 115 tackles. Hodges missed most of his last game, the Cotton Bowl, with a knee injury, and the Wrecking Crew suffered in his absence. Hodges wasn't blessed with the measurables of his teammate, Miller, but he made the most of what he had and always seemed to be around the ball. Fans admire that, and like Miller, he'll go down as one of the most beloved Aggies of all-time, too.

Staying:

Jeff Fuller, WR

Fuller took some time after the Aggies bowl game to make his decision, but his decision to stay has further amped up the anticipation in College Station for what could be a special year this fall. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder is one of the Big 12's best red zone targets, and just finished the first 1,000-yard receiving season in school history, adding 12 touchdowns, too. He'll further etch his name into the record books in 2011, and there's no reason to believe he won't have the second 1,000-yard receiving season in school history. Fuller wants to refine his route running and become a better run-after-catch threat, making himself a more complete receiver, and he should be better than ever next year.

Cyrus Gray, RB

Entering last year, Gray was largely considered the lesser half of the Aggies' stellar running back duo. Not anymore. After Christine Michael went down with a broken leg, Gray uncorked one of the greatest stretches by any running back in Texas A&M history. He rushed for 100 yards in seven consecutive games, the first time any Aggie had done that since Darren Lewis had a 10-game streak in 1988. Gray brings his seven-game streak into 2011, which boasts big games against defenses like LSU, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

Coming:

Johnny Manziel, QB

Could Manziel be the next Ryan Tannehill? He enrolled early, impressed coaches and did the same with fans when he completed 8 of 9 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be in a three-man race this fall to back up Tannehill, but Manziel has nice wheels, too. He rushed for 1,674 yards as a senior in high school, and if he doesn't win the backup job, could he find his way on the field as a receiver? We'll find out this fall.

Brandon Alexander, DE

Alexander committed to Texas A&M days before signing day, despite strong interest from Texas and a late visit to Arkansas, and was one of the Aggies' top recruits. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Brenham, Texas, native was one of the best defensive ends in the country and gives Texas A&M a possible top-flight pass-rusher in a quarterbacks' league that demands teams have them.

Click here for more from The Revolving Door.

Spring superlatives: Texas A&M

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
1:05
PM CT
The ninth in our series looking at the strongest and weakest position for each team in the Big 12: The Texas A&M Aggies.

Strongest position: Skill positions

Key returnees: QB Ryan Tannehill, WR Jeff Fuller, RB Cyrus Gray, RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, WR Kenric McNeal

Key losses: None

Analysis: You can't pick one position out of this group, really. The Aggies have two of the Big 12's best running backs, both with two years of solid experience in the Big 12.

The same is true of the receiving corps, which is deep and experienced with lots of ability to make sure Tannehill's first full season starting (he was 5-1 in six starts last year) goes well.

In that group of receivers is plenty of balance. Jeff Fuller's size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) makes him one of the best red zone targets in college football, and he caught 12 touchdowns last year. Ryan Swope and Kenric McNeal are some of the league's toughest covers in the slot and Uzoma Nwachukwu is a more balanced receiver with a lot to prove after an underwhelming sophomore year.

Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael are both balanced backs, but Gray's biggest asset is his speed, and Michael is the more powerful back. They complement each other well and could both flirt with 1,000 yards this year. Gray brings a seven-game streak of at least 100 yards rushing into 2011, racked up against defenses like Nebraska, Oklahoma and LSU to close the 2010 season.

The Aggies' backup plan if Tannehill goes down isn't very attractive, with no experience behind him, but he should be among the Big 12's best at the position this year.

Best of all, the offensive line brings back four starters. The Aggies should be among the Big 12's best offenses and defenses, but the biggest asset is its depth and experience at all the skill positions.

Weakest position: Linebacker

Key returnees: Garrick Williams, Sean Porter, Damontre Moore, Kyle Mangan

Key losses: Von Miller, Michael Hodges

Analysis: For the Aggies, linebacker is more of a question mark than a true weakness, but they'll need good players to blossom into great ones if they want to build on last season's strong finish.

Make no mistake, Von Miller and Michael Hodges are huge losses. Miller was the Big 12's best defender last year, and Hodges led the team in tackles, with 115. We already got a preview of what happened to Texas A&M's defense without Hodges in the Cotton Bowl. He went down early with a knee injury and the Aggies fell apart, giving up 41 points to an LSU offense that averaged fewer than 30 last season, ranking ninth in the SEC. It wasn't pretty.

Damontre Moore, at the pivotal Joker position, showed lots of potential last year when Miller was slowed early in the season with an ankle injury, but he was still just a freshman. He'll have to grow up and be counted on for much more as a sophomore this year.

Garrick Williams made 112 tackles last year and should be one of the defense's leaders. Sean Porter may play a bit of the Joker position, but he'll grab another linebacker spot in the Aggies' 3-4 after starting last season and making 74 tackles, third-most on the team.

Replacing Hodges isn't entirely settled yet, but someone will have to step in and be solid in the middle of the defense. Jonathan Stewart and Kyle Mangan played some last year, and freshman Donnie Baggs was in the rotation this spring as well.

More spring superlatives:

Spring practice notes: Texas A&M

April, 1, 2011
4/01/11
3:44
PM CT
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It's tough to plan around which practices I'll get to see when I come to campuses during the spring or preseason camp, but it was a pretty ideal situation at Texas A&M on Wednesday. The team was in full pads, practiced for about an hour and a half, and the vast majority of it was 11-on-11 team drills.

Texas A&M's practices are open to the public, something that's increasingly rare in college football, but there were probably 70-80 fans who made it to the afternoon workout on a gorgeous day for spring football. To my knowledge, the only teams in the new Big 12 that open up spring practice to fans are Texas A&M, Missouri and Baylor.

Additionally, it takes a lot for women's hoops to generate buzz, but there was definitely a bit out at practice. The Aggies beat rival Baylor, featuring arguably the game's biggest star, 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, in Dallas earlier this week to reach the first Final Four in school history. I'm sure there will be plenty of maroon in the stands in Indianapolis this weekend. (More on that here from colleague Mechelle Voepel.)

But back to football.

A few thoughts and observations from practice:

Two guys a bit under the radar who had great days: Receiver Kenric McNeal and running back Ben Malena. With all the skill-position talent at Texas A&M, both get a bit overshadowed, but Malena, at least for one day, looked every bit as good a runner as the backs ahead of him on the depth chart, Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray. He has a lot of development to do in things like feeling creases in the line but when he got a chance to get to the second level and let his instincts take over, he was giving the defense fits. He looked solid in the open field.

Additionally, McNeal has a reputation as a shifty slot receiver who works best underneath, but he was stretching the field on Thursday like I hadn't seen from him before. His two longest plays of the year (27 and 32 yards) came late last season, but he had a couple of deep catches in the end zone after slipping past the safeties and bringing it in behind the defense. He got open a few more times, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill missed a couple of deep balls to him, but it has to be encouraging for the offense to see him break a few off like that.

Michael looking confident on healed leg

[+] EnlargeChristine Michael
AP Photo/Dave EinselChristine Michael is working his way back from a broken tibia he suffered against Texas Tech.
Michael was one guy I wanted to see, and it was tough to get a read on his mobility -- he didn't get into the open field very much. But one encouraging sign was he didn't look like he was shying away from contact at all. That's exactly what A&M wants to see. Michael brings a mean running style that no other back on the roster can provide. Early in the conference season last year, he was running over plenty of linebackers. He looks like he wants to get back to doing exactly that, and he did it on Thursday, dragging a couple of defenders at times.

I don't think the mental side of returning from the injury will be an issue. He's never been quite as shifty as Cyrus Gray, but he runs with power that you won't find anywhere else in the Big 12, and considering how the rest of the league defended the run during the bowl season -- especially power runners -- the Aggies will once again be glad he's on their team this fall.

Wrecking Crew missing a few members

Diehard A&M fans are surely already aware, but the Aggies' defense is missing quite a few key pieces this spring, especially in the back seven. Defensive backs Terrance Frederick and Coryell Judie are both sidelined after offseason shoulder surgery and linebacker Sean Porter is out with an injury to his left foot from earlier in spring practice.

Lionel Smith is also out for spring ball.

Former Aggies on hand

It's always good to see alums and former coaches on hand for spring practice. Former Aggies linebacker Michael Hodges was milling around the practice field. He's one of just three defensive starters (Von Miller, Lucas Patterson) the Aggies have to replace this spring.

Additionally, former Aggies coach R.C. Slocum was in attendance.
Springtime is almost here. And here's a look at what to expect across the Big 12 when it gets into full swing here in the next couple weeks.

BAYLOR BEARS

Spring practice starts: February 28

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • Big changes on defense. Baylor brought in Phil Bennett as its new defensive coordinator, and he says his scheme will be multiple, built to fit the Bears' personnel. Considering the Bears' recent recruiting successes in the secondary, look for a 4-2-5 type of look.
  • Recruiting stars: time to shine. Both safeties, Tim Atchison and Byron Landor, are gone. Baylor, though, has two former ESPNU 150 recruits at safety who would be well served to start filling their potential. Prince Kent was a reserve last season and at one time, the nation's No. 51 overall recruit who originally signed with Miami. Ahmad Dixon, meanwhile, was the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2010 class. The opportunity is there. Baylor needs big talent at the position. Briles has recruited it. Can they develop into players who make Baylor a contender?
  • Running back competition. Jay Finley topped 1,200 yards in 2010, but he's gone. Who steps into his void? Terrance Ganaway is a bowling ball at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, but the shifty Jarred Salubi could get a good amount of carries, too. They could begin to share carries this spring.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Quarterback competition. It should be a good one in Ames this spring. Jerome Tiller is the name most recognize after getting lots of meaningful time and starts because of injuries to Austen Arnaud over the past two seasons. But juco transfer Steele Jantz sounds confident he can win the job. Rising sophomore James Capello and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett will compete, too.
  • Paging Cyclone receivers. Iowa State had one of the most underwhelming receiving corps in the league during the past season, and three of its top five pass-catchers won't return in 2011. Of those three, however, one is a tight end (Collin Franklin) and another is a running back (Alexander Robinson). The new quarterback will need some help, and Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds will need to provide it as seniors.
  • Shontrelle's time or not? Freshman Shontrelle Johnson looked like the running back with the most pop behind Robinson for most of 2010, but two other freshmen running backs jockeyed for carries, too. Paul Rhoads is hardly handing the job over to Johnson, but spring could be the time when he really separates himself from the pack.
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • What are they doing behind center? Kansas never got much consistent play out of the quarterback position last year, but freshman Brock Berglund is one of the 2011 class' top recruits, and enrolled early to compete in the spring with Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham. With a building program like Kansas, there's perhaps some value in handing the program to a younger player like Webb or Berglund, but they'll have to earn it. Doing so will start in the spring, but don't expect the Jayhawks to have a set-in-stone starter by spring's end.
  • Top linebacker back on the field. Huldon Tharp missed all of 2010 with a foot injury, but he says he's 100 percent and ready to get back on the field. As a freshman in 2009, he was fifth on the team in tackles, with 59, and looked like one of the league's possible budding stars. Now, he'll get his chance to join fellow linebacker Steven Johnson as one of the team's top tacklers, and he'll do it as a sophomore after redshirting in 2010.
  • Toben rising? Turner Gill raised plenty of eyebrows when he moved his team's leading rusher in 2009, Toben Opurum, to linebacker in fall camp, and eventually slid him up to defensive end. But toward the end of 2010, Opurum started showing some major signs of growth at the position. We'll get a better idea this spring if he's one of the league's most unlikely new stars at defensive end.
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Spring practice starts: April 6

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • Prodigal Kansan sons come home. There's no doubt that the Wichita native Brown brothers are the main attraction at Kansas State this spring, a season after transferring back home. Bryce Brown, the running back, was the nation's No. 8 prospect in the 2009 class. Arthur Brown, the linebacker, was the nation's No. 6 prospect in the 2008 class. Bryce transferred from Tennessee and Arthur from Miami. The Wildcats are pinning much of their hopes on the duo, and we'll get a good sense of what they can provide soon.
  • Quarterback competition. Carson Coffman is gone, and two new faces will challenge for the job: juco transfer Justin Tuggle and Daniel Sams. Sammuel Lamur is also up for the gig. Collin Klein may or may not be; Bill Snyder hasn't explicitly confirmed a past comment from Sams saying Klein had moved to receiver. Don't expect a starter to be named by spring's end, but a general order could start to form.
  • Can the defense show improvement? Kansas State had the Big 12's worst overall defense last year, and the worst rushing defense in college football, giving up 3,008 yards on the ground. Coordinator Chris Cosh looks like he'll still be around in 2011, and defensive backs David Garrett and Tysyn Hartman are solid pieces to try and build around. But this young maturing defense must get better to make a bowl game again with so many questions on offense. That starts in the spring.
MISSOURI TIGERS

Spring practice starts: March 8

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Franklin comes alive! Blaine Gabbert bolted to the NFL early, and Missouri has a gaping hole a quarterback. The position, however, is surrounded by a lot of quality talent that likely makes the Tigers a Top 25 team. There's no understating the importance of the position for the Tigers, and that will begin to be decided in the spring. James Franklin, a rising sophomore, saw spot duty in 2010 as more of a runner, and may have the inside track on the job, but Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's younger brother, and Ashton Glaser should make it an interesting competition in the spring. If neither of them impress early, don't count out incoming freshman Corbin Berkstresser.
  • Here is the new secondary. Same as the old secondary? After years of pass defense being one of the Tigers' biggest weaknesses, it became a strength in 2010 behind the leadership of senior corners Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis. But the Tigers lose them and safety Jarrell Harrison. Rutland emerged as one of the team's most impressive players last spring, but was Missouri's success in the secondary a one-time thing or the beginning of a welcome trend?
  • Time to dominate the trenches? Missouri played without likely first-round pick Aldon Smith for much of the previous season, but the defensive and offensive lines for the Tigers were as good as ever in 2010. How will they look in 2011? Impact juco transfer Sheldon Richardson won't be enrolled by the spring, but the four returning starters on the offensive line should get some solid work against Brad Madison, Jacquies Smith and Terrell Resonno.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Spring practice starts: March 21

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Freshmen on display. Coach Bob Stoops hasn't been shy about saying his 2010 recruiting class was his best ever, but it could look even better after this spring. Two of his best emerging recruits, Justin McCay and Geneo Grissom, didn't even play in 2010, and could start to make an impact. The same goes for Corey Nelson, who will try to earn some more time somewhere backing up star Travis Lewis.
  • Is there a golden boot in Norman? Jimmy Stevens was much more accurate in 2010, finishing 19-for-23, but his attempts outside 45 yards were sparse. The good news is he missed none of his 53 extra points. Field goals have been a bit of an adventure for the past couple years, but continuing in the spring what he started last year would be a good sign for Oklahoma. The Sooners are strong everywhere and need good special teams play to reach their lofty title goals.
  • Are the Sooners' backs back? Roy Finch missed the Fiesta Bowl with a stress fracture, and his durability is certainly questionable entering 2011. When he's healthy, he looks like the next star in the Sooners' backfield, but they'll need some depth behind the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder. Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller and Brennan Clay have all looked good at times, but there should be some good competition from newcomers Brandon Wegher, an Iowa transfer who'll be in camp this spring and eligible next season, and blue-chip recruit Brandon Williams, who enrolled early.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Every piece of the offense. The spring in Stillwater is all about keeping or improving upon the status quo. Had it kept Dana Holgorsen, there'd be little doubt that would happen, but Oklahoma State must make the most of its five returning offensive linemen, quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. The opportunity for a historic season is there, but they'll have to pick up the nuances of the new offense quickly in the spring like they did last year.
  • What about the kicker? Dan Bailey won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2010, but he's gone. Oklahoma State needs to fill that role quickly, and we'll likely know who will get the nod after the spring.
  • Who steps up on the defensive line? The Cowboys lose three starters up front on defense, including All-Big 12 performer Ugo Chinasa and tackles Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka. Can senior Richetti Jones become a star in the Big 12? We'll have a good idea if he, or any of the Cowboys' other defensive linemen, can by the end of April.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

Spring practice starts: February 24

Spring game: April 3

What to watch:
  • New coaches and their students/players. Texas has five new coaches. Although it's hard to get a good read early on, how they relate with the players on the field, in the film room and around the facilities will have a big impact on how the 2011 season plays out in Austin. The young-blooded coordinators could serve themselves well by relating to players and the players will need to spend plenty of extra time learning new schemes and plays.
  • Quarterback competition ... or not? Mack Brown says the gig is open and it is, for now. Garrett Gilbert can close it with a strong spring. If Garrett struggles on the field or has difficulty grasping the new system, the door will be wide open for Connor Wood or Case McCoy to step in and close it. Gilbert didn't get much help, but he did very little in 2010 to inspire a lot of breathing room with McCoy and Wood clamoring for playing time.
  • And you've got to defend the pass, too. Texas loses its top three cornerbacks to the NFL, and only Carrington Byndom and A.J. White got much meaningful playing time last season. Younger players can earn some rare early playing time with a strong spring. Will anyone step up?
TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Spring practice starts: March 22

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • New linebackers in the running. Spring isn't so scary when you bring back nine defensive starters, but the two Texas A&M lost were the heart of its defense. Linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller are gone. Kyle Mangan didn't look fantastic when forced into action during the Cotton Bowl, but the time is now for Damontre Moore and Dominique Patterson, a pair of sophomores, to make their impact.
  • Tannehill's tuning things up. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played about as well as anyone could have hoped late last season, but he'll need it to continue his performance with a solid spring nailing down the timing with his receivers, who all return. He's already got a leg up on last year's quarterback, Jerrod Johnson, who was held out of team drills last spring after shoulder surgery that eventually derailed his senior season.
  • Christine's back. Christine Michael missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, giving way to Cyrus Gray's rise among Big 12 backs. It should make Texas A&M's depth at the position even more impressive, but we'll see how Michael looks coming back from the injury.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Spring practice starts: February 19

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Past defending that pass defense. Texas Tech had the Big 12's worst pass defense last season, but has a pair of big potential players at cornerback in rising sophomores Tre Porter and Jarvis Phillips. Starters LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, but if returning starters Cody Davis and Will Ford can continue to mature, the defense should improve in the area most important for success in the Big 12.
  • And they're off! There's a four-man quarterback derby set in Lubbock this spring between Seth Doege, Jacob Karam, Michael Brewer and Scotty Young. I don't expect it to be settled until midway through fall camp, similar to last season, but there should be a solid front-runner and more clarity after spring. Coach Tommy Tuberville was extremely impressed with Doege and Karam last spring after Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield went down with injuries.
  • Time to find new stars. Most of the big names on Texas Tech's defense are gone. Colby Whitlock, Bront Bird, Brian Duncan will all continue their careers elsewhere. The leaders on the defense will have to begin to emerge in the spring. Is it Scott Smith? Cody Davis? A younger, unexpected player? We'll find out. Sometimes these types of situations aren't as easy to predict as they might seem, like Missouri's strength in 2010 emerging in the secondary.
Tags:

Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, Baylor Bears, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Texas A&M Aggies, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Mack Brown, Von Miller, Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Taylor Potts, Garrett Gilbert, Steven Sheffield, Jerrod Johnson, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Weeden, Brian Duncan, Turner Gill, Jarvis Phillips, Will Ford, Phil Bennett, Travis Lewis, Justin Blackmon, Roy Finch, Ryan Tannehill, Jay Finley, Cyrus Gray, Collin Klein, Jerome Tiller, Paul Rhoads, Christine Michael, Quinn Mecham, Carson Coffman, Ahmad Dixon, Byron Landor, Jarred Salubi, Terrance Ganaway, Corey Nelson, Dan Bailey, Damontre Moore, Bront Bird, Cody Davis, Colby Whitlock, Michael Hodges, Kyle Mangan, Bill Snyder, Carl Gettis, Chris Donaldson, Franklin Mitchem, LaRon Moore, Shane Jarka, Tre Porter, Ugo Chinasa, Sheldon Richardson, Ashton Glaser, James Franklin, Tyler Gabbert, A.J. White, Aldon Smith, Alexander Robinson, Arthur Brown, Brad Madison, Brandon Wegher, Brandon Williams, Brennan Clay, Brock Berglund, Bryce Brown, Carrington Byndom, Case McCoy, Chris Cosh, Collin Franklin, Connor Wood, Corbin Berkstresser, Daniel Sams, Darius Darks, Darius Reynolds, David Garrett, Dominique Patterson, Geneo Grissom, Huldon Tharp, Jacob Karam, Jacquies Smith, James Capello, Jared Barnett, Jermie Calhoun, Jimmy Stevens, Jonathan Miller, Jordan Webb, Justin McCay, Justin Tuggle, Kevin Rutland, Michael Brewer, Prince Kent, Richetti Jones, Scott Smith, Scotty Young, Seth Doege, Shontrelle Johnson, Steele Jantz, Terrell Resonno, Tim Atchison, Toben Opurum, Tysyn Hartman

Recruiting needs: Big 12 South

January, 27, 2011
1/27/11
10:09
AM CT
Signing day is exactly a week from Wednesday, and it's time to take a look at who needs what in its 2011 class.

Some schools have addressed these needs with their current class. Some haven't. Others are still trying.

Here's our look at the South, after running down the Big 12 North earlier this morning.

BAYLOR

Defensive tackle: The Bears are loaded on offense and have a ton coming back, but anyone who watched Baylor in 2010 knows the big problems are on defense, starting with the front four. Phil Taylor is headed to the NFL and Nicolas Jean-Baptiste will be a senior next year. Reserve Chris Buford is gone, too. The Bears need to fill out some depth up front to avoid a repeat of their Texas Bowl debacle defending the run against Illinois.

Punter: Derek Epperson was rock solid as a four-year starter for the Bears, averaging near 44 yards a punt for his past three seasons. He's gone now, and the Bears will need a replacement. The good news is Baylor's offense with Robert Griffin III doesn't make the position nearly as important as it used to be.

OKLAHOMA

Receiver: Ryan Broyles, a senior, and Kenny Stills look ready for big years in 2011, but senior Cameron Kenney is gone. Trey Franks, Dejuan Miller and Joe Powell could contribute in 2011, but beyond that, another big-time threat across from Stills would certainly help. One of the Sooners' top 2011 commits, Trey Metoyer, could become that player.

Safety: Both starters, Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson, have graduated, and the Sooners will try to replace them with Sam Proctor, who has started plenty of games, and Javon Harris. The Sooners are pretty well-stocked about everywhere, but more depth in the secondary is always welcome.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Defensive line: Three of the Cowboys' four starters are gone, and it's always necessary to fill in some depth behind them. Shane Jarka, Chris Donaldson and Ugo Chinasa all had good years in 2010.

Offensive line: Oklahoma State brings back all five starters for 2011, but four will be seniors. That means replacing them in 2012, which will be a lot easier if those replacements don't end up being true freshmen. Oklahoma State kept offensive line coach Joe Wickline, a candidate for the same job at Texas, and his development of the line last year with four new starters was a big reason for the Cowboys' success. He'll need to do it again in 2012.

TEXAS

Running back: Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson will both be seniors in 2011, and Tre Newton's career is over because of issues with concussions. Texas would be well-served if its top 2011 commit, Malcolm Brown, can come in and be effective immediately as a true freshman.

Cornerback: Aaron Williams left early. Curtis and Chykie Brown graduated. Texas needs help at corner and will have big problems in the near future if they don't get it.

Linebacker: Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson will be seniors in 2011, and Dustin Earnest and Jared Norton already graduated. New talent behind them will help prevent a drop-off in 2012 after Acho and Robinson split.

TEXAS A&M

Kicker: Randy Bullock will be a senior in 2011, but Texas A&M is already hoping his spot is filled by incoming freshman Taylor Bertolet, the nation's No. 2 kicker who won the Under Armour All-American game with a last-second field goal earlier this month.

Linebacker: Michael Hodges and Von Miller have graduated, and Garrick Williams will follow them in 2011. The Wrecking Crew was pretty stout for most of 2010, but filling those holes in a four-linebacker front will be key in ensuring things stay that way.

TEXAS TECH

Secondary: LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, so Texas Tech will be breaking in some new blood in the secondary for new coordinator Chad Glasgow and cornerbacks coach Otis Mounds. Freshmen cornerbacks Jarvis Phillips and Tre Porter made plays in 2010, but they also allowed offenses to make a few of their own. Stopping that will be a big step in Texas Tech getting things rolling under Tommy Tuberville.

Receiver: Texas Tech already needs to replace Detron Lewis and Lyle Leong, and Tramain Swindall and Jacoby Franks will follow suit after 2011. Alex Torres was hampered by a back injury all year, but the Red Raiders will need some depth around him at receiver to keep the offense humming.

LSU runs all over A&M Wrecking Crew

January, 8, 2011
1/08/11
12:57
AM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- LSU knew what it wanted to do, or needed to do, rather.

Texas A&M finished its season as the Big 12's best rush defense, reclaiming the "Wrecking Crew" nickname in the process.

"We had to mix it up," said Tigers offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. "We felt like if we could loosen them up with some big passes, we'd be able to run the football."

Few figured the Tigers would have the kind of success they did doing both, but they did. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson had thrown four touchdown passes in 12 games entering Friday's Cotton Bowl, including just two in his past 11 games.

[+] EnlargeLSU's Terrence Toliver
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezLSU softened the Texas A&M defense with long passes to Terrence Toliver, who finished with a three touchdown catches. The Tigers then ran for 288 yards.
He threw three on Friday, and two were longer than 40 yards, softening up the Aggies defense exactly as planned to help beat Texas A&M 41-24 in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic in front of 83,514 fans at Cowboys Stadium.

"I thought he threw the ball about as good as I've seen him throw on tape," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "He was decisive, aggressive and accurate."

With Jefferson keeping the Aggies honest, LSU rolled over the Wrecking Crew for 288 rushing yards. Running backs Stevan Ridley and Spencer Ware both topped 100 yards, and Jefferson made a handful of plays with his legs, extending drives on third down on plenty of occasions and finishing with 67 yards on 12 carries.

"For our run game, I thought we were doing a really good job of dominating the line of scrimmage," Crowton said.

Early on, the Aggies were up 10-0, but with one torque of a knee they were down a leader. Senior linebacker Michael Hodges suffered a sprained ACL in the first quarter, and Texas A&M's leading tackler never returned.

"He is the heart and soul of our defense in many ways," Sherman said. "At the same time, you can't use that as a reason why we didn't perform the way we should have been capable of performing. ... One guy gets hurt, another guy has to step in and make the play."

His replacement, Kyle Mangan, managed just four tackles, the same amount Hodges had already accumulated in the first quarter.

"I think Kyle, put in the situation he was in, he played well," defensive end Lucas Patterson said. "You can't replace a player like Hodges."

With Jefferson having one of his best games of the year, and the Aggies patching together a run defense that often looked out of character, there was little expectation after Texas A&M's 10-0 lead had evaporated that chants of "Wrecking Crew" would make an encore in Cowboys Stadium.

Early on, it might have. Jefferson's first deep pass -- and the Tigers first attempt to soften the defense -- was interecepted with one hand by Coryell Judie. But Jefferson's first of three connections in the end zone with senior receiver Terrence Toliver assured an end to the Aggies' six-game winning streak.

"I came back with the next deep ball call when we got in the right situation," Crowton said. "Jordan stood in there, took a big hit, but got the touchdown. I knew we'd be alright from that point on because we were going to run the ball. We pound it in there."

The Aggies had no answer for the majority of the night. Gaps went unfilled and runners sliced through wide lanes. The Tigers ran the ball 55 times, and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

"Our offensive line came to play," LSU coach Les Miles said. "Our offensive line said this is a challenge they wanted. I think they played to that challenge."

Instant analysis: LSU 41, Texas A&M 24

January, 7, 2011
1/07/11
11:25
PM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The only matchup of the bowl season between the Big 12 and the SEC goes to the SEC. After LSU's 41-24 win over Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, the SEC has now won six of the past seven.

How the game was won: LSU ran all over Texas A&M's defense for 60 minutes, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill tossed three interceptions, equaling his total from the past six games of Texas A&M's season, when he moved from receiver to starting quarterback. The Tigers easily topped 250 yards on the ground, and hit on a pair of deep balls for touchdowns.

Turning point: Michael Hodges' injury. It was hardly the only reason why the Aggies couldn't stuff the run, but Texas A&M lost its leading tackler and middle linebacker to a right knee injury early in the game, and never regained the physical defensive play it became known for during its six-game winning streak.

Stat of the game: LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson threw three touchdown passes. The Tigers had thrown seven touchdown passes in 12 games this season entering the Cotton Bowl.

Player of the game: Terrence Toliver, WR, LSU. The 6-foot-5, 203-pound senior went out in style, hauling in three touchdown catches to tie an LSU bowl record, including a pair of deep balls over the middle for 41- and 42-yard touchdowns.

Record performance: Friday's crowd of 83,514 was the second-most in Cotton Bowl history, behind the 2009 game between Texas Tech and Ole Miss, the last Cotton Bowl game in the Cotton Bowl stadium.

Record performance II: Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray became the first Aggies running back since Darren Lewis in 1988 to rush for 100 yards in seven consecutive games.

What it means: Texas A&M's big finish to the regular season won't end with a bang, but they do finish 9-4 despite the loss. The Aggies won nine games for just the second time since 1998. The Big 12, meanwhile, finishes an underwhelming 3-5 in bowl games after a favorable draw. Of the five ranked Big 12 teams playing, Texas A&M was the only one matched up against a ranked opponent.

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