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You can read the entire Texas A&M preview in Athlon Sports' 2011 Big 12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#11 Texas A&M
Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mike Sherman, 19–19 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Sherman | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tim DeRuyter
When first-team All-Big 12 receiver Jeff Fuller decided to return for his senior season, it gave A&M nine returning starters on an offense that averaged 441.9 yards per game. The Aggies were very good offensively last year. They expect to be much improved.
After his stellar performance down the stretch, strong-armed Ryan Tannehill enters 2011 as a legitimate candidate to become the first A&M quarterback to earn first-team all-conference honors since 1991. While the media focused on Tannehill’s role in A&M’s six-game winning streak to conclude the regular season, equally important was Cyrus Gray’s emergence in the second half of the season. The powerful and explosive Gray rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the final seven games.
With Fuller back, A&M features an exceptional group of receivers. Fuller, a physically imposing, game-altering force, became the first Aggie to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season in 2010. Ryan Swope is also a sure-handed, big-play receiver who matched Fuller last season with 72 receptions.
One of the main reasons for A&M’s second-half surge was the development of highly talented true freshman offensive tackles Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel, who flashed All-America potential as the season progressed. Talented guard Patrick Lewis has moved to center, where he’ll be flanked by Brian Thomas and Shep Klinke on a potentially dominant front.
Texas A&M is the best team in the state of Texas.
Replacing pass-rushing phenom Von Miller may be next to impossible, but the Aggies do return Damontre Moore, who did a nice impersonation of Miller at the Joker position, as well as Caleb Russell, who may have moved ahead of Moore in the spring. The defensive front should be solid, as senior ends Tony Jerod-Eddie and Jonathan Mathis and senior tackle Eddie Brown return to anchor a line that helped A&M tie for fourth in the Big 12 with 30 sacks.
Garrick Williams (112 tackles) should have a big senior season. Sean Porter is also a proven, versatile performer. But the Aggies really need a few unproven linebackers to emerge — Jonathan Stewart, Charlie Thomas, Kyle Mangan and Donnie Baggs are the candidates — in order for the defense to continue to evolve.
Everyone on last year’s secondary two-deep returns, including senior cornerback Coryell Judie, who may prove to be the best man-to-man coverage corner at A&M since Sammy Davis departed A&M in ’02. Fellow senior cornerback Terrence Frederick also possesses lock-down skills, while senior free safety Trent Hunter is the vocal leader of the group.
Jeff Fuller, WR First A&M receiver in school history to surpass 1,000 yards in a single season will leave Aggieland with virtually every receiving record.
Ryan Tannehill, QB Emerged last year as a tremendous leader, beginning his career as a starting quarterback with a 5–0 record.
Coryell Judie, CB/KR Explosive playmaker who can take an opposing receiver out of the game or break open a game by taking a kickoff back for a touchdown.
|Sept. 24th||Oklahoma State|
|Oct. 1st||Arkansas (Arlington, TX)|
|Oct. 8th||at Texas Tech|
|Oct. 22nd||at Iowa State|
|Nov. 5th||at Oklahoma|
|Nov. 12th||at Kansas State|
While the punting position is somewhat uncertain, the special teams appear to be in excellent shape elsewhere. Kicker Randy Bullock hit 76.2 of his field goal attempts last year, and he has connected on a school-record 120 consecutive extra points. Judie could be an even better return specialist than cornerback. He returned kickoffs for touchdowns last year against Baylor and Oklahoma. Kenric McNeal ranked among the top two punt returners in the Big 12 last season.
After ranking 114th nationally in total defense in 2008 and 105th in ’09, A&M took a major step toward respectability in 2010, ranking 55th. If the Aggies can continue to improve defensively and maintain their high-powered offense, this is a team that could win the school’s first outright league title since 1998.