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Texas A&M head football coach Mike Sherman doesn't like to use the term "arrived" for his team. Because, as is the nature of college football and personnel turnover, it's hard to "arrive" when you have an entirely new team every four seasons.
"Every year," he said, "is a new set of challenges."
But many want to use that term, and suffice it to say expectations have changed in his three seasons in College Station -- with good reason.
In his first season, Sherman was still trying to get players, most of whom he didn't recruit, to buy into his system and his coaching staff. In his second season, he played 18 freshmen, making the Aggies one of the youngest teams in the country.
Last season, however, certainly looked like the start of an upward swing. Despite a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season, someone flipped a switch with the Aggies right after a tough home loss to Missouri. The result was a six-game winning streak to close the season, giving A&M a share of the Big 12 South title after big, late-season victories against Oklahoma, Baylor, Nebraska and Texas.
After the bowl season, the Aggies stood at 9-4 and were the first team since 1990 to beat the Sooners, Cornhuskers and Longhorns in the same season. Though one strong season doesn't allow any team to "arrive," factor in the Aggies' 10 returning offensive starters and eight returning starters on defense, and it's easy to see why they are among the preseason favorites to win their division in 2011.
"The biggest change was the mentality of the players," Sherman said. "It changed to the extent where they expect to win football games now."
They should expect to win games now, because not only are they loaded with returners, they are loaded with skill across the board. The season-changing quarterback returns, as do both game-changing running backs and arguably the best receiving corps in the Big 12.
But maybe the most pleasant turn for A&M fans in 2010, and an area where they expect to be even better in 2011, was on the defensive side of the ball. A program once known for being among the nation's top defensive units returned to excellence last season, sparked by new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter and his 3-4 scheme.
The engineer of that defense doesn't think scheme is necessarily the reason as much as attitude. Whatever the reason, the Aggies went from last in the Big 12 in total defense in 2009 to 5th in 2010, cutting nearly 70 yards per game off their average.
"We played with a swagger," DeRuyter said. "We played fast and we were physical. I think scheme sometimes gets too much credit. If you are playing with the right attitude, you have a chance to be pretty good."
Head Coach: Mike Sherman (Central Connecticut State '77)
Record at school: 19-19 (3 years)
Career record: 19-19 (3 years)
• Tim DeRuyter (Air Force '85) Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator
• Tom Rossley (Cincinnati '68) Senior Assistant/Quarterbacks/Passing Game Coordinator
• Jim Turner (Boston College '88) Offensive Line/Running Game Coordinator
• Randy Jordan (North Carolina '93) Running Backs
• Charles McMillan (Utah State '95) Defensive Backs
• Dat Nguyen (Texas A&M '98) Inside Linebackers
• Nick Toth (Ohio '99) Outside Linebackers/Special Teams Coordinator
• Troy Walters (Stanford '99) Wide Receivers
• Terrell Williams (East Carolina '95) Defensive Line