Dallas Colleges: Mike Sherman

Why A&M has so much youth on defense

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
11:45
AM CT
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The words "youth" and "inexperience" are frequently used to describe the Texas A&M defense this season.

The struggles are significant. The Aggies rank near the bottom of the FBS in most defensive statistical categories. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the five teams that have allowed more yards per game than the Aggies -- New Mexico State, Idaho, California, Nevada and Indiana -- have a combined record of 8-27.

Texas A&M is fortunate enough to have a 5-2 record (2-2 in the SEC). It certainly helps to have one of the nation's most high-powered offenses and a reigning Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback (Johnny Manziel).

For defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and his staff, it has been a challenge from the start of the season. Suspensions, injuries and ineffectiveness are all to blame.

The Aggies currently have 11 freshmen in their defensive two-deep depth chart. Two true freshmen (defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne) are starting. The four defensive line first-team spots include Golden and two sophomores. At linebacker, a former receiver who moved to linebacker this offseason (Nate Askew) is the starter at strongside linebacker. Of the seven linebackers on the Aggies' two-deep, only one (Steven Jenkins) started a full season at the position before this year.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin's first signing class that was completely under his watch had 32 members, 18 of whom were on defense. Of those 18, a dozen have already played this season.

But how did the Aggies get to this point, playing this many freshmen and newcomers? There are some juniors and seniors on the field, but there aren't nearly as many as there were a year ago when the Aggies went 11-2 in their debut season in the SEC.

In 2012, the Aggies were fortunate to have the benefit of some good leaders on defense and others who were productive. At linebacker, Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart both provided leadership and production. Along the defensive line, Spencer Nealy made the move from defensive end to defensive tackle effectively despite not having the ideal size for the position. Steven Terrell was a steady and heady player at free safety. All four of those players were seniors and part of the 2009 recruiting class. So was Dustin Harris, who didn't always start but played plenty at cornerback and was the team's primary punt returner.

One defensive player still remains from that 2009 class: defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, who started last season and this year but suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sept. 28 against Arkansas. But last year's A&M starting defense was more than half made up of what turned out to be a solid recruiting class on the defensive side of the ball.

So to understand why A&M is in the position it is now, take a look at the recruiting classes on defense since then:
  • In 2010, the Aggies signed seven defensive players and two more that were offensive players but eventually moved to defense. Defensive end Damontre Moore turned out to be a star, but declared for early entry into the 2013 NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining. For a team that's lacking in its pass rush (only three FBS teams have fewer sacks than Texas A&M's seven this season) a guy like that could help. Of the remainders in that class, three are starting: Toney Hurd Jr. at nickel back, Gavin Stansbury at defensive end and Askew, who was recruited and spent his first three years at receiver, at strongside linebacker. Two others (defensive tackle Ivan Robinson and quarterback Clay Honeycutt, who's now a reserve safety) are playing but not starting. Nehemiah Hicks was considered to be either a defensive end or tight end and became a tight end. The other two players in the defensive class are no longer on the team.
  • The 2011 class -- the final class signed by former head coach Mike Sherman -- brought 13 defensive players. Deshazor Everett, a cornerback with ability to play safety, is currently the defense's best player. Safeties Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven and linebacker Steven Jenkins also emerged as starters out of that group. One of the big fish landed late in that class, defensive end Brandon Alexander, has rarely played. He's now getting some playing time at tight end. Linebacker Donnie Baggs entered this season as the starting middle linebacker but is now a reserve. Tyrell Taylor is rotating at defensive end. The rest of the group hasn't made any impact at all. Five players in that group are no longer with the program.
  • The 2012 class, the first one Sumlin signed after essentially two months on the job, had some holdovers that committed to the program under Sherman. It is a mixed bag. Four of those players are starting as either true sophomores (Julien Obioha at defensive end, Alonzo Williams at defensive tackle and De'Vante Harris at cornerback) or in one case, a senior (cornerback Tramain Jacobs, who was a junior college transfer). Defensive end Tyrone Taylor, brother of Tyrell, gets some playing time at defensive end. Edward Pope, who was a receiver/defensive back, is playing receiver for the Aggies. A car accident took away one member from that class -- defensive tackle Polo Manukainiu, who died in a crash in July and is being honored by the team every week this season. A spinal injury took away another member, linebacker Michael Richardson, who played as a freshman. He had successful surgery and was fortunate to not suffer any major physical issues, but is no longer playing football. Defensive back Kenneth Marshall, though on the team, was not part of the 105-man roster during preseason training camp. Linebacker Jordan Richmond transferred to Navarro College in the offseason and one player in the class, defensive tackle Edmund Ray, never made it to campus because of qualifying issues.

Instant analysis: Texas A&M 41, OU 13

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
10:46
PM CT


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Another Cotton Bowl, another bad loss for the Big 12. Excluding current SEC member Missouri's win back in 2008, the Big 12 has lost the Cotton Bowl to an SEC opponent in eight consecutive seasons. Johnny Football put on a show after a month away and showed zero signs of rust and a zillion signs of being an endless source of frustration for Oklahoma's defense.

The Big 12 finished 4-5 in its nine bowl games, and the SEC improved to 4-3 in its bowl games. Let's take a look at some instant analysis for Texas A&M's 41-13 blowout win over the Sooners.

It was over when: Facing a fourth-and-5 late in the third quarter, Manziel hit Ryan Swope over the middle on a short slant. Swope shed a tackler and raced 33 yards to put the Aggies up, 34-13. That capped a run of three Oklahoma three-and-outs to begin the second half and spelled doom for the Sooners.

Game ball goes to: Johnny Manziel. I mean, who else? He broke the Cotton Bowl record for total yards with 516 and accounted for four touchdowns. It could have even been five, too, if not for Malcome Kennedy's bobbling a pass in the end zone that was eventually intercepted by Oklahoma's Javon Harris.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma averaged 4.8 yards per play. Texas A&M averaged 9.6 yards per play. It was really that simple in this one. Johnny Football made the Aggies dangerous on what seemed like every snap. Oklahoma's offense played well in the first half, but it rarely looked easy, and Texas A&M prevented the Sooners from breaking big plays. It also clamped down in the red zone.

Unsung hero of the game: Texas A&M's offensive line. Get a good, long look at Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews serving as bookends on this line. They might be gone soon, cashing big-time checks as NFL first-round picks. Mike Sherman had well-chronicled struggles, but the offensive line guru left some big beef for Manziel and the Aggies offense to operate behind. It showed tonight. Oklahoma rarely blitzed, for fear of Manziel running loose in the second level, but he had all day to throw and little pressure on most snaps.

What Texas A&M learned: Heisman jinx, December distractions, coaching changes, whatever. It all seemed pretty irrelevant in this game. Johnny Football looked like his usual self, if not better. He broke loose for 47 rushing yards on Texas A&M's opening drive and didn't slow down from there. Kliff Kingsbury checked out as Texas A&M's offensive coordinator, but Clarence McKinney had a solid performance in his debut as play-caller. Manziel insisted he wasn't distracted and that the whirlwind of awards and television appearances after winning the Heisman hadn't changed him. His performance validated those claims.

What Oklahoma learned: Just like Kansas State and Notre Dame, the Sooners were incapable of beating the elite teams in college football this year. A 10-3 season isn't bad, but it's not good enough at Oklahoma. The Sooners might not have even been happy going 1-2 in those losses, but 0-3 will leave a very bitter taste in their mouths thinking back on a season that was very average by the Sooners' sky-high standards. Any notion that it had a formula for stopping or even slowing down the Johnny Football train went out the window. He had his way with the Sooner defense, which tackled poorly, too.

Aggies' upset no reason for Big 12 pride

November, 12, 2012
11/12/12
10:37
AM CT
Texas A&M, by letter of the law, owed the Big 12 about $27 million when it packed its bags and went to play with its new friends in the swamp and down on the bayou in the SEC.

Thanks to less than bulletproof Big 12 bylaws, it lost only $12.41 million in exit fees, a little less than half of what the league hoped it would owe.

The other $14 million plus isn't coming any time soon, but the debt may have seemed as though it was paid in full in Manhattan and across Big 12 country after Saturday. The Aggies knocked off No. 1 Alabama to put the SEC's string of six consecutive national titles in peril. The conference probably will require two total losses down the stretch from Oregon, Notre Dame or new No. 1 Kansas State to give the championship streak a chance to reach seven seasons.

Are the Aggies Big 12 secret agents sent to destroy the SEC from the inside out? Maybe. They're doing a bang-up job to this point, you've got to give them that.

Humor aside, the gut reaction might be to claim Big 12 superiority. Texas A&M, seventh-place finishers in the Big 12 a year ago, have morphed into a top-10 team in the SEC, owning an 8-2 record and a road win over the team many thought was invincible earlier in the season.

Not so fast, my friends.

These are not your father's Aggies. Second-half leads lost against LSU and Florida offer faint remnants of last year's team, but this is a whole different squad and I can guarantee you they'd finish a whole lot higher than seventh in the Big 12 this season. They probably would have finished between second and fourth at season's end.

They've got a new coaching staff with a whole new attitude and a confidence unlike anything the old staff had. Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury believe in this team, and that's not always what you sensed with the talented, but fatally flawed, Aggies squad from a year ago. Add in a solid defensive coordinator in Mark Snyder and cover the whole thing in an attractive aura of "cool," and you've got the new Aggies.

Oh, and there's that Johnny Football guy running around making crazy plays.

"No moment is too big for him," Sumlin said of redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who injected himself into the Heisman conversation.

Last year, no moment was too big for Ryan Tannehill to toss an interception, including a crucial turnover in the Aggies' heartbreaking loss to Texas. Tannehill tied for the league lead with 15 picks a year ago.

Texas A&M's win Saturday against The SEC-est Defense Of Them All was a win for spread offenses everywhere, a notch in the win column for the Big 12's endless "offense versus defense" debate with the SEC.

The Big 12's reputation as a whole shouldn't get a boost with the Aggies' win, but it will get a boost in the BCS race. For Kansas State, that's all it needed.

Mike Sherman: Texas in A&M's shadow

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
11:36
AM CT
During last year's realignment saga, there were plenty of murmurs that coach Mike Sherman wasn't on board with the Aggies' move to the SEC.

He says that wasn't the case, as long as it was for the right reasons.

"Some thought I didn’t want to go to the SEC," Sherman told the Houston Chronicle's John McClain on Thursday. "I didn’t have a problem going to the SEC as long as it was for the right reasons. I did have a problem with those Aggies who wanted to go to the SEC to get out of Texas’ shadow."

There were at least a few of those, but the Aggies moved for more reasons than that. Sherman, who was fired before the bowl game after going 6-6 last season with a team that started in the top 10, now is the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.

His starting quarterback this season is the same as last season, top-10 pick and former Aggie Ryan Tannehill.

Sherman doesn't think the "get out of Texas' shadow" excuse has any merit. In fact, he sees it the other way around.

"I’ve never thought A&M was in Texas’ shadow. When they stood together, I thought Texas was in A&M’s shadow, but not enough (Aggies) realized it," Sherman said.

Well, I'm not quite sure about all this "shadow" talk, but both teams have pretty tall stadiums, I guess?

The bottom line: Texas has racked up a more impressive resume in the history of its program. The Longhorns have four national titles and a pair of Heisman winners, compared to Texas A&M's one of each. Texas' stadium seats 17,000 more fans than the Aggies', and Texas has 859 wins compared to Texas A&M's 681.

The Longhorns also have 32 conference titles to Texas A&M's 18.

That's a big gap.

Define "shadow" however you want, but Texas A&M's accomplishments don't measure up to Texas'. Maybe that changes in the SEC, but Texas A&M has a long way to go to catch up.
We're offering up grades for each team in the Big 12 after their seasons conclude, so here's a look at how the 7-6 Texas A&M Aggies graded out in 2011.

More report cards:
OFFENSE: The past two seasons, Texas A&M has had as much, if not more, offensive talent than any team in the Big 12 to begin the season. Yet, it never quite works out. Last season, Jerrod Johnson's shoulder was the biggest problem with an early-season swoon. This season, the late-game collapses didn't have a single culprit, but injuries to Jeff Fuller, Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray certainly didn't help.

Those weren't the biggest problems, though. Too often in the second half of crucial games the Aggies' offense sputtered. Every loss was something different it seemed. After scoring 20 points in the first half against Oklahoma State, it managed just seven in the second. A week later, a 35-point first half was followed by a three-point second half in a loss to Arkansas.

Ryan Tannehill's decision making, especially in those infamous second halves, was poor, and resulted in 15 interceptions for the season. Mike Sherman's play calling didn't help much, running the ball just six times in the second half of the OSU loss that started it all, despite rolling over OSU's defense in the first half.

The Aggies had a lot of firepower. That's hard to ignore. They finished fourth in the Big 12 (seventh nationally) in total offense and 11th nationally in scoring offense, with just under 40 points a game.

But it's impossible to ignore that when that firepower was needed most, it was mostly a dud. With the Aggies, you have to grade on a curve, considering the amount of talent on the field and the depth of offense in the Big 12.

GRADE: D+

DEFENSE: The loss of Von Miller was bigger than maybe anyone could have imagined. The Aggies' Wrecking Crew wasn't so fearsome this season, possessing a powerful pass rush, but doing so by bringing lots of blitzes.

The Aggies had 51 sacks in 2011, five more than any team in the nation. However, they gave up more than 275 passing yards a game, more than all but 11 teams in college football. When opponents passed on the Aggies, it seemed like it was always going to be a big play for at least one team.

Early in the season, the Aggies went 22 quarters without a turnover and finished the season minus-nine in turnover margin, forcing a Big 12-low 15 turnovers. That's unacceptable, and the coverage struggles in the secondary made the defense look hopeless at times, letting five quarterbacks set career highs for pass yardage throughout the season, including 510 yards to Arkansas' Tyler Wilson.

The Aggies were a fun team to watch, but defensively, were too often a mess.

GRADE: D

OVERALL: Well, its coach was fired, so you know this grade won't be a good one. Give the Aggies this, at least: They beat Texas at something. The Aggies were a far bigger disappointment this season than Texas in 2010, when the Longhorns went 5-7.

That was a young team with no proven offense. The Aggies were loaded on both sides of the ball, even without Miller. The pieces were there to win the Big 12 and maybe even the national championship. You don't lead by double digits in 12 of 13 games in the Big 12 without having tons and tons of talent. The Aggies had it.

They finished with seven wins, and only one (Baylor) was impressive. The second-half meltdowns were too much, and led to Sherman's firing after snatching the title of the Big 12's most disappointing team, and having an argument as the nation's biggest disappointment after starting the season in the top 10.

The losses piled up and ended with one final indignity: a loss to Texas that should never have happened. The program will have to live with that loss for decades at least, and perhaps forever. It'll go down as the most painful night in one of the most painful seasons in school history, and the defining moment in a season that Texas A&M would love to forget.

GRADE: F
The bowl season is over, and it's time to pass out a few awards.

Best offensive player: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. Blackmon went nuts against Stanford after the Cowboys were shut out in the first quarter against Stanford. His first two catches went for touchdowns, and he finished with 186 yards on eight grabs and his third three-touchdown game of his career. That was the first time he'd done that since the Tulsa game in 2010, the third game of the season.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThree of Justin Blackmon's eight catches against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl were for touchdowns.
Second-best offensive player: Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor. Ganaway ended his career in style, taking plenty of heat off his Heisman-winning quarterback, Robert Griffin III. He scored five touchdowns and ran for 200 yards, leading the way for three Bears 100-yard rushers in the 67-56 win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl.

Best defensive player: Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma. Passing? I think not, Iowa. Matched up with NFL-bound, Skycam-attacked Marvin McNutt, Fleming made seven tackles, returned an interception 21 yards and broke up three passes. Well done.

Best team performance: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys got the Big 12's best win of the entire season, knocking off a solid Stanford team and handing Andrew Luck a loss in his final game as a Cardinal. Maybe they got lucky with a missed 35-yard field goal attempt to force overtime, but the Cowboys played well after a shaky first quarter and beat the nation's No. 4 team on a neutral field. Well done.

Best play: Robert Griffin III's post-Heisman "Heisman moment." He somehow backpedalled out of a handful of Washington tacklers, escaped outside and galloped to the pylon, diving into the end zone as he took a big hit before scoring. A big-time play from the Heisman winner for a 24-yard score.

Craziest play: North Carolina's Bryn Renner whipped a strike to Dwight Jones, but a hit jarred it loose. Somehow, it ended up on Jones' shoulder and rolled across his back, staying there long enough for Missouri LB Zaviar Gooden to sprint over and slide in to intercept the pass before it hit the ground.

Scariest play: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa. McNutt was minding his own business in the Iowa huddle. Then the Skycam at Sun Devil Stadium came crashing down and sent McNutt into a panic. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but it was memorable incident. The camera was grounded for the Fiesta Bowl later in the week.

Best out-of-nowhere performance: Colton Chelf, WR, Oklahoma State. Starter Tracy Moore was reportedly suspended, and Chelf filled the void well. He caught just 16 balls in 12 games, but hauled in five for 97 yards in the win over Stanford, including a 24-yarder in overtime that was ruled a touchdown before being reversed and giving way to a game-winning field goal.

Worst performance: Kansas State. It was shocking to see. The Wildcats made too many early mistakes that they hadn't made all year. There was a fumble to give Arkansas an easy three points, a handful of dropped passes, a wave of penalties and an ill-advised punt to Joe Adams that swung the game in favor of the Hogs. Not good, and K-State didn't give itself a chance in the 29-16 loss.

Best handling of distractions: Texas A&M had to deal with the loss of senior offensive lineman Joey Villavisencio, who died in a car crash on his way home for Christmas. It fired coach Mike Sherman earlier. Interim coach Tim DeRuyter left for Fresno State, but stayed to coach the bowl game. The team was prepping for a move to the SEC and playing its bowl game in the home of its new coach, Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies, though, played pretty well against Northwestern and controlled most of the game in the 33-22 win.

Best atmosphere: Cotton Bowl. For a second consecutive year, this bowl takes the cake. K-State and Arkansas fans absolutely packed Cowboys Stadium and cheered loudly from an hour before the game through the entire matchup. A big-time atmosphere for what should be a big-time game.

The Big 12's top 10 moments of 2011

January, 12, 2012
1/12/12
10:25
AM CT
As quickly as it arrived, the Big 12 season is gone.

Alas, here's a look at the 10 moments we'll remember most from the 2011 season. These aren't necessarily the best or worst moments, but simply that: memorable. When we look back on 2011, this is what will stick out.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackRobert Griffin III, Baylor's first Heisman winner, had a season for the record books.
1. Heisman moment? Take your pick. There were plenty of them in Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III's run to an "unbelievably believable" Heisman win. What about his only reception of the season (that resulted in him getting the wind knocked out of him) on a dramatic final drive to beat TCU in the opener? What about a 21-point comeback in the fourth quarter of an overtime win over Kansas? The best on-field moment was probably his 39-yard TD pass to Terrance Williams in the final seconds to beat Oklahoma for the first time and thrust himself back into the Heisman race, despite three losses. And after beating Texas: "I think Baylor just won its first Heisman tonight," he said. Yep. It did.

2. Iowa State storms the field ... and bowl season. Oklahoma State looked headed for a showdown with Oklahoma to play for a national title, but Iowa State had other things in mind. Jared Barnett topped 375 yards passing and 75 yards rushing in just his third start to give the Cyclones a win over a top six team for the first time in 58 tries. It set off a party on the field at Jack Trice Stadium and put ISU into its second bowl in three years.

3. Texas A&M and Missouri say adios, muchachos. The Aggies had enough of Texas and wanted some of Alabama. Missouri had enough drama and wanted some stability. Texas A&M made it official in late September and Mizzou followed in early November. Texas A&M called it a "100-year decision."

4. The Big 12 says hello to two new friends. With Texas A&M and Missouri gone, expansion was the obvious necessary step. The Big 12 took it by welcoming Southwest Conference expatriate TCU home into the Big 12 on Oct. 11. And 17 days later, West Virginia followed, announcing its plans to help expand the Big 12's footprint wayyy, wayyy east.

5. The Aggies sound like a broken record. Shattered record, maybe. Texas A&M started as a Big 12 title contender with a top-10 ranking. It led 12 games by double digits. It lost six games. How'd it happen? Nobody knew, and as a result, coach Mike Sherman was fired. Over and over, it was the same story. The 20-3 and 35-17 halftime leads over Oklahoma State and Arkansas evaporated. The Aggies blew big leads over Missouri, Kansas State and Texas, too.

6. Oklahoma State finds new life ... twice. Most were resigned to Alabama and LSU meeting again for the title, but OSU made it interesting with a satisfying 44-10 embarrassment of Oklahoma, putting late pressure on voters and finishing behind Alabama by the slimmest margin in BCS history. And once OSU was in its bowl game, Stanford's Jordan Williamson yanked a 35-yard kick to send the game into overtime, where the Cowboys capitalized in a 41-38 win.

7. Texas grabs Lone Star Showdown bragging rights for...ever? The Longhorns were the underdogs in a veritable powder keg that was Kyle Field on Thanksgiving night. Then Colt, er, Case McCoy got loose for a 25-yard scramble that set up Justin Tucker's game-winning 40-yard field goal that gave Texas bragging rights in the now-defunct rivalry for as long as it would like. The Longhorns say they have no plans to continue the rivalry after the Aggies leave for the SEC.

8. The Little Apple hosts a classic. You never know when the longest game in Big 12 history is going to show up. Kansas State and Texas A&M played it. The Aggies led by 10 midway through the fourth quarter, but Collin Klein rallied the Wildcats and got the 53-50 win on — what else — a QB sneak for a game-winning touchdown.

[+] EnlargeDan Beebe
AP Photo/Cody DutyThe Big 12 saw a lot of transition over the course of 2011, including commissioner Dan Beebe's ouster.
9. Texas Tech ends Oklahoma's epic streak. The night began with ominous thunderstorms that delayed the game, but the Sooners struggled against Texas Tech's slip screens, and let Alex Torres go wild for three touchdown catches. The four-touchdown underdogs walked into Owen Field and became the second Big 12 team to ever beat Bob Stoops on his home field, and first since 2001. The Red Raiders also became the first team since 2005 to win there, ending the Sooners' 39-game home winning streak. The problem: Tech didn't win another game the rest of the season, and finished with the first losing season since 1992.

10. Dan Beebe gets the ax. The damage was done. Beebe was seen as someone who ceded to Texas at all costs, even if he did it as a last option to keep the Big 12 together in the summer of 2010. That hurt the league, and Oklahoma called for Beebe to be removed. He was, and replaced by interim commissioner Chuck Neinas, who had helped many of the league's ADs hire coaches. A permanent replacement still hasn't been named.

Honorable mention: OSU FB Kye Staley and Texas TE Blaine Irby score touchdowns in emotional returns from catastrophic knee injuries, K-State runs out of time in a near upset over Oklahoma State (and an earthquake followed), Kansas State becomes the first team to intercept RG3 and stays undefeated in an "upset" of Baylor, RG3 has his version of the "Immaculate Reception"; Missouri QB James Franklin goes beast mode on a 20-yard touchdown run in a win over Texas A&M; Missouri coach Gary Pinkel "ices" his own kicker in a loss to Arizona State; Kansas reaches a new low and trails Oklahoma State 56-7 at halftime; Ryan Broyles' career meets an unfair end with a torn ACL.

Four Aggies sign up for the Senior Bowl

January, 9, 2012
1/09/12
3:48
PM CT
Four Texas A&M players will suit up for the Senior Bowl on Jan. 28 in Mobile, Ala.
Cornerback Coryell Judie was also invited and accepted, but he won't be able to participate after breaking his wrist in Texas A&M's 33-22 win over Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

They'll join three Baylor players in Mobile for the week.

The game is big, but really, the Senior Bowl week is most about the practices, while scouts flood to Alabama to see NFL draft talent go head-to-head in rep after rep for the week of practice. Those, like the game, are televised on the NFL Network.

Draft stocks can rise and fall during the week just as much as they can during the combine.

Their NFL futures offer even more reason to be disappointed with the 2011 season. The talent was obvious, especially in these four, who are just about as good as anyone at their position in the Big 12. The Aggies' 6-6 finish after warranted preseason hype cost Mike Sherman his job.

Tannehill, Gray, Fuller and Bullock will get a chance to show what they can do at the Senior Bowl, and I'd expect them all to have solid careers at the next level. Judie, too.

But there's no forgetting what could have been -- and wasn't -- in 2011.

Instant analysis: Texas A&M 33, NU 22

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
3:19
PM CT


After a rough season that included the death of teammate Joey Villavisencio last week and the firing of coach Mike Sherman, the Aggies got a bowl win. It's been an emotional year at Texas A&M, but it will end in fine fashion with a good win over Northwestern.

The Aggies did it without top rusher Cyrus Gray, too. Gray missed his second consecutive game and the final game of his career with a stress fracture in his shoulder that he suffered early in a win over Kansas.

Here's some instant analysis.

How the game was won: Texas A&M was the better team and proved it for the first three quarters, but like we've seen all year, the team swooned in the second half. This time it came in the fourth quarter. The Aggies survived via two huge third-down catches from Uzoma Nwachukwu and Jeff Fuller to keep the ball out of Northwestern's hands in the final minutes. This season, the Aggies blew leads of 18 (Arkansas), 17 (Oklahoma State), 14 (Missouri), 13 (Texas) and 10 (Kansas State). They avoided a sixth loss in extravagant fashion this season with a clutch late drive to close out the Wildcats.

Turning point: Trailing 7-3, Texas A&M scored on its final three drives of the first half, highlighted by a vertical, 26-yard touchdown catch by Jeff Fuller from Ryan Tannehill. The Aggies took control and the Wildcats weren't able to get within realistic reach the rest of the game. The Aggies scored the first 10 points of the second half for a 30-7 lead.

Player of the game: A&M receiver Ryan Swope. Swope continued his tear this season with eight catches for 105 yards and broke a few tackles on a 37-yard catch-and-run to set up an early touchdown that put the Aggies ahead for good. Fuller had a huge catch late to seal the game, but Swope kept the A&M offense humming in the first half while it built the big lead.

Unsung hero: Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter. He spelled what looked like a gimpy Dan Persa and ran for 65 yards and a touchdown in a nice performance.

What it means: One epic bowl losing streak ended while another lives on. Northwestern had lost five bowl games going back to 1949 and made it a sixth. Texas A&M ended its eight-game bowl losing streak dating back to 2001. The Northwestern streak was represented on the sidelines by a monkey wearing a No. 63 jersey, the number of years since the Wildcats won a bowl.

Well wishes: Coryell Judie. The Aggies' kick returner and cornerback finally returned to full health against Texas on Thanksgiving after missing a handful of games with a hamstring injury. However, he suffered a fractured wrist during his final collegiate game. It's a rough break for a huge talent, but he'll hear his name called next April in the NFL draft.

Record performance: With his first field goal midway through the first quarter, kicker Randy Bullock broke Texas A&M's single-season scoring record set back in 1927. The Lou Groza Award winner surpassed Joel Hunt's record of 128 points and finished the season with 139 points after making three field goals and three extra points on Saturday.

Car Care Bowl: Three keys for Texas A&M

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
9:45
AM CT
Texas A&M and Northwestern will kick off the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas on Saturday at 11 a.m. CT at Reliant Stadium in Houston, but here's a look at what the Aggies have to do to grab the win.

1. Be extra careful in those third quarters. It seemed like a fluke at first. Clearly, it was not. Every time, it seems like it's been something different. The common denominator in most of the second-half meltdowns, though, has been turnovers. Limit those in the second half, and Texas A&M should be fine. The Aggies are the better team here. Take care of business, and they win.

2. Make sure Dan Persa is one-dimensional. Persa's a good quarterback, and hasn't run nearly as much this year as he did in 2010 before he suffered a torn Achilles tendon. Still, the Aggies have plenty of speed at linebacker to keep Persa contained, and his arm won't be better than ones the Aggies have already seen, though they've struggled against some. Brandon Weeden, Tyler Wilson, Landry Jones, Robert Griffin and Seth Doege all have better arms than Persa, and all but perhaps Doege have better teams around them. Making sure Persa's legs are a non-factor should be enough for the defense to get the job done.

3. Play with a purpose, whatever that is. It's easy to see this game doesn't have much meaning for the Aggies. What could have been a season for the history books became a forgettable one very fast. At 6-6, the Aggies would seem to be the team that doesn't want to be here. There's plenty to play for, though. A loss would be one final indignity before leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, and a losing season with one of the most talented teams in College Station in a long time. Additionally, these guys could play as a tribute to a well-liked coach, Mike Sherman, especially the seniors. Maybe younger players can play to impress new coach Kevin Sumlin. Teammate Joey Villavisencio was killed in a car accident last week, too. He'd want nothing more than to see his team play its best game of the year. There's no reason to not give 100 percent in the preparation and in-game performance, even if that might seem like the case. If the Aggies show up and play like they're capable of playing, they win this game.

Car Care Bowl: Texas A&M-Northwestern

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
9:00
AM CT
Texas A&M and Northwestern will kick off the New Year's Eve action in Houston with a noon ET kickoff at Reliant Stadium in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

Here's a bit of what to expect:

WHO TO WATCH: Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M. The Aggies' backfield has been banged up this year, and it already lost top back Christine Michael to a torn ACL. Gray was sorely missed in a season-ending, heartbreaking loss to Texas after suffering a stress fracture in his shoulder against Kansas. Gray is expected to return, and he's at his best when his team has to use him as the lone featured back. That will likely be the case in this one, and we'll see if he's back to 100 percent after the injury.

WHAT TO WATCH: Texas A&M's second half. You have to, don't you? The Aggies haven't played since Thanksgiving night, but a promising season was ruined by five losses in which the Aggies led by double digits, including early season losses to Oklahoma State and Arkansas in which the Aggies led by 17 and 18 points, respectively, and lost. Coach Mike Sherman was fired because of those losses, and Tim DeRuyter is temporarily in charge before leaving, but we'll see if this season-ruining trend ends.

WHY TO WATCH: Who knows what's going to happen with this team? The talent gap between these two teams is enormous, but the Aggies have underachieved all year. With a month off, a coach gone, another coach leaving and their new coach, Houston's Kevin Sumlin, roaming around practice, it's anyone's guess how this unpredictable bunch responds. It should be a fun one.

PREDICTION: Texas A&M 31, Northwestern 21: The Aggies are shaken up, with one coach (Mike Sherman) fired and its interim coach (Tim DeRuyter) getting ready to take over at Fresno State. The Aggies' talent takes over in this one, and Cyrus Gray is expected to return. The Wildcats rebounded later in the season to reach a bowl game, but have only one quality win all season: Nebraska. Texas A&M's talent takes control, and this big lead is safe.

What to watch in the Big 12 bowls

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
9:35
AM CT
Here are a few things to keep an eye on in the bowl games involving teams from the Big 12 this season.

1. The headless Aggies. A team playing in a bowl after firing its coach is a bit of a rarity, but that's where the Aggies are as they prepare to face Northwestern on Dec. 31 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Defensive coordinator and interim head coach Tim DeRuyter is leaving to become the coach at Fresno State. Former coach Mike Sherman served as their offensive coordinator, too, and it'll be interesting to see what Texas A&M looks like without him. Cyrus Gray is questionable, but Northwestern's defense is a lot different than Texas'. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill should be able to win this game, but will Texas A&M look like it's playing for anything, and will it show it has fixed the second-half woes?

2. Oklahoma State on the big stage. Oklahoma State has played in a lot of big games over the past two years, but the two biggest -- Oklahoma in both years -- were played in its home stadium. The Cowboys never played in a Big 12 title setting and never played in a huge neutral-site game against a team suited to beat them. The Jan. 2 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, opposite Stanford, will be all new for the Cowboys. Will the team look the same after a week unlike anything it has experienced before?

3. Sooners stopping a swoon? Oklahoma finished the season with two losses in its final three games and now will be without Jaz Reynolds in the Dec. 30 Insight Bowl against Iowa. Landry Jones will be missing his No. 1 and No. 3 receivers, and the Hawkeyes' offense will take on a defense that struggled late in the year against Baylor and Oklahoma State. Iowa is closer to Iowa State -- Oklahoma's only victory in the final three games -- but the Sooners had better show up in this one, or this season will get even more forgettable.

4. A finale for RG3? At Baylor, 2011 has been unforgettable. The Bears already have nine wins, a third-place finish in the Big 12 and the school's first Heisman winner. Quarterback Robert Griffin III has become must-see TV, but the Valero Alamo Bowl against Washington on Dec. 29 might be the last time we see him in green and gold. There's no guarantee on either side, but what's Griffin got in store for the finale?

5. Did the Longhorns learn? Texas lamented its holidays at home last year, with players saying they never wanted to experience the feeling again. Several said they couldn't even watch the bowls. Well, the Longhorns are back. How much will they relish the Dec. 28 Holiday Bowl meeting with Cal? Texas should be back to health by then, and a big win in this game might produce big results next fall for a young offense that needs good vibes heading into the offseason.

Ranking the Big 12 bowl games

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
11:22
PM CT
Bowl season approacheth. Two games featuring Big 12 teams will be as good as any this postseason, especially with the impending rugby match that we'll tentatively call the BCS National Championship.

Here's how the Big 12 games rank from top to bottom.

[+] EnlargeWeeden
Richard Rowe/US PresswireOklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden could be a second-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
1. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 2: No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 4 Stanford - Just imagine if the opponents were switched and these two took on SEC opponents in national semifinals as part of the college football Final Four. Oh, what could have been. Either way, Brandon Weeden and Andrew Luck assure us that this will be a tight, cleanly played game with two of college football's best passers. Outside of the SEC rematch for the title, this is the best bowl game of them all.

2. AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 6: No. 8 Kansas State vs. No. 6 Arkansas - The Wildcats have played heart-stoppers in what seems like every week. They're 8-1 in games decided by fewer than seven points. Why change now? This will be just the second Big 12 vs. SEC matchup this year, and both games have been in Cowboys Stadium. Texas A&M allowed a Hogs comeback, but Arkansas' potent offense will be nothing new for Kansas State, which has been compensating for them all year. The Wildcats nearly beat OSU and beat Baylor this year. Expect a wild finish.

3. Valero Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29: No. 12 Baylor vs. Washington - Beware of fireworks. Baylor's first Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III, will take the field for perhaps the final time, and expect tons of points in this one. The Huskies and Bears combine to average 75 points and give up an average of 69 points. QB Keith Price keys a good Washington attack with running back Chris Polk, who burned Nebraska for 177 yards in the Holiday Bowl last season.

4. Insight Bowl, Dec. 30: No. 14 Oklahoma vs. Iowa - The storylines are rich in this rare Big Ten meeting for the Sooners. Last year, Stoops cheered on the Hawkeyes in the Insight Bowl against Mizzou. Oklahoma will take on Stoops' alma mater this year in the warmup game for the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. The Sooners will be without receivers Jaz Reynolds and Ryan Broyles, but Landry Jones will try and bounce back from a Bedlam blowout.

5. Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern - The Aggies will take on QB Dan Persa and the Wildcats in nearby Houston, where the crowd should be heavily maroon. Running back Cyrus Gray is questionable, but it'll be interesting to see how A&M looks without coach Mike Sherman and a new man running the offense. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter will serve as interim coach, and this will be the last time Ryan Tannehill throws to receivers Jeff Fuller and Ryan Swope.

6. Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, Dec. 28: No. 24 Texas vs. California - Texas should be mostly healthy by the time this one kicks off, and running back Malcolm Brown could carry some nice momentum into his sophomore season with a big day. After numerous bowl practices leading into this one, it'll be interesting to see what Texas does at quarterback, too.

7. New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 30: Iowa State vs. Rutgers - Last year's Bronx Salute was an ugly end to a classic, but the picturesque setting in Yankee Stadium still has a big novelty factor for fans watching and in attendance for this one. The 8-4 Scarlet Knights are fourth in the Big East and should offer an interesting contrast to the eighth-place team in the Big 12. We'll see how Iowa State's offense is impacted by a maturing freshman quarterback in Jared Barnett. But it will be an offense playing for the final time with offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who will join Urban Meyer's staff at Ohio State after the season.

8. AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl, Dec. 26: Missouri vs. North Carolina - The 7-5 Tigers, like 6-6 Texas A&M, didn't go to the SEC in the fashion they would have liked. But even if it's a middling bowl game, don't underestimate the momentum that can be established by a win. Ask Oklahoma, which grew up a lot in a win over Stanford in the 2009 Sun Bowl before winning the Big 12 in 2010. That's especially true for a team returning a lot next year like Mizzou, even if it will take on a whole new schedule.

How would you rank the bowls?

New A&M coach Sumlin has plenty to prove

December, 10, 2011
12/10/11
6:13
PM CT

Texas A&M has its man.

Kevin Sumlin is ready to get started in College Station, but he'll have to get his hands dirty very early.

Sumlin's become one of the hottest names in coaching after a 12-1 season in 2011, but he'll have a laundry list of things to prove during his first big-time job after leaving Houston.

The Cougars were his first head coaching job after stops around the Big 12 at Texas A&M, his new home, and in a variety of positions in five seasons at Oklahoma under coach Bob Stoops, including as offensive coordinator.

Every coach with a resumé comparable to Sumlin's faces the same question: Can that small-conference success translate into a bigger pond with bigger fish?

For Sumlin, it's tough to imagine a more difficult scenario for a coach taking over a major program for the first time, especially as a coach that has yet to guide a team to a conference title.

Texas A&M will head into the torture chamber that is the SEC West, where Arkansas went 10-2 with both losses this season to teams that will meet for the national title and finished third in the division.

Mississippi State? It won nine games in 2010 and finished fifth in the division.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipKevin Sumlin spent four seasons guiding the Houston Cougars in Conference USA, and now he'll tackle the SEC as Texas A&M's newest head coach.
Sumlin knows Texas. He's recruited it for a decade and will continue to do so at Texas A&M, where he'll go head to head with former Big 12 rivals Texas and Oklahoma to convince players to help the Aggies ascend the SEC totem pole after going 6-6 in their final Big 12 season.

Sumlin's a man with spread sensibilities, though. He'll have to prove he can adjust that system as necessary to succeed in the SEC.

Success in the SEC, as national title participants Alabama and LSU can attest, correlates with defensive success, with rare exceptions for 6-foot-5, 250-pound Heisman winners/No. 1 picks at quarterback who can throw for 30 touchdowns, run for 20 more and rack up 1,400 yards rushing.

Sumlin's job in that department will be finding the right man to coordinate his defense. Current interim coach Tim DeRuyter could certainly stay in that role, despite a rough 2011 season in which the Aggies at one point went 22 quarters without forcing a turnover and finished 66th nationally in total defense and 76th in scoring defense.

The Aggies' linebacker-rich roster suits DeRuyter's 3-4 scheme well, and is better suited to defend the power running games in the SEC versus the pass-happy quarterbacks' league that is the Big 12.

If DeRuyter's not the right man, Sumlin better find the right one.

Can he carry over his success without Case Keenum? He threw an outlandish 45 touchdowns to five interceptions this year, including one game with nine scoring tosses.

Two of those interceptions came in the conference championship game loss to Southern Miss, where Sumlin was denied a league title for the second time in four seasons. Last year, when Keenum tore his ACL, the Cougars went 5-7.

The Aggies brass believed Sumlin could succeed without Keenum, and now, Sumlin will have to convince plenty of others.

Sumlin's personnel will look much different at Texas A&M. In the immediate future, his best player on offense will be former blue-chip recruit and 221-pound power back Christine Michael, who packs plenty of speed but will be coming off ACL surgery on his knee in 2012.

Sumlin will have a first-year starter at quarterback and loses his most physically gifted reciever, Jeff Fuller, while he'll retain his most productive receiver, Ryan Swope.

Defensively, the Aggies will lose top talents like four-year starter at safety, Trent Hunter. Cornerbacks Coryell Judie and Terrance Frederick will be gone. Defensive linemen Tony Jerod-Eddie and Eddie Brown will say goodbye, too.

Sumlin will have to adjust his wide-open passing attack at Houston that shredded Conference USA defenses to life amongst speedier, more instinctive SEC defenses.

He'll have the resources at Texas A&M, which built some recruiting momentum under Mike Sherman and will welcome a top-10 recruiting class in 2012 to some of the best facilities around.

Sherman proved that facilities and lots of talent don't equal wins. The Aggies were 1-5 in games decided by less than a touchdown in 2011.

Sumlin will set out to prove he's the right guy to fix that number and lots of others.

It won't be easy.

Season recap: Texas A&M

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
4:00
PM CT
TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Record: 6-6 (4-5)

Through all the rough moments for the Aggies in 2011, the lasting image will be the ecstatic Longhorns sideline emptying onto Kyle Field to chase down Justin Tucker, who kicked a game-winning field goal to beat A&M in the final iteration of the Lone Star Showdown. Texas might come to College Station again at some point before the end of the world, but with an ending like that, it could be awhile. The Aggies are headed to the SEC, but did it with one of the most disappointing seasons in school history, which resulted in coach Mike Sherman's postseason firing.

By now, the numbers are well known. The Aggies were good enough to lead 11 games by double digits and bad enough to lose six of those games. It was truly maddening. Texas A&M was so, so much better than 6-6, and stocked with as much talent as any team in the Big 12, and maybe the country. Why were there so many second-half meltdowns? Sherman and everyone else involved never figured it out, and the Aggies will try and bring in a coach to fix it.

Offensive MVP: Ryan Swope, wide receiver. This is a bit of an upset, but the only other option is going with Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael as a shared option. Both could be replaced by the other and missed key games, but Swope was consistent most of the year, and played his best in conference games. He finished with a team-high 81 catches for 1,102 yards with 11 touchdowns. He was one of only four Big 12 receivers to top 1,000 yards receiving. Even with his year, the former high school running back might be the most underrated player in the Big 12. Without him, Texas A&M's passing game wouldn't have been functional, and without that, what happens to the running game?

Defensive MVP: Sean Porter, linebacker. Porter's production slowed a bit late in the season, though he did notch 2.5 tackles for loss against Texas. Even still, he had one of the best years of any defender in the Big 12. He led the team with 16 tackles for loss and had 8.5 sacks. He finished with 73 tackles.

Turning point: The loss to Oklahoma State. That's the game that started it all and was the first of many blown leads. The 20-3 halftime lead was gone before the end of the third quarter, and the 30-29 loss cost them control of the Big 12. That didn't matter long, of course. A&M blew another lead to Arkansas a week later, but the three-game losing streak to Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas State officially made the 2011 season a wash.

What’s next: They'll be walking into the SEC West with a yet-t0-be-determined coach and lots of new faces. The first year in the SEC could be rough. Tannehill is gone, Gray is gone, Jeff Fuller is gone after an underwhelming senior season and four of the top eight tacklers are gone. That's a whole lot of production. A new quarterback, likely Jameill Showers, will have to adjust to much tougher defenses in a new league. The Aggies will rely on a very experienced offensive line and power back, Michael.

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