I savor checking rival histories in attempts to predict upcoming winners in
college football match-ups, even though the Wall Street types constantly assure
their clients that past results are no guarantees of future outcomes. How these
two phenomenas are related, I will that leave strictly to your imagination.
Nevertheless, this same activity ensues every day on the major sports networks
and in print; the mirage that an individual has somehow acquired sufficient
expertise to be 100 percent successful in the predictability of a future
It’s called “expert analysis,” and yes, a plethora of inside information
greatly valued by sports broadcast teams and their crack staffs is generously
included. These are essentially nothing other than legitimized guesstimates
provided for ‘informational purposes’ as one pundit attempts to out-gun his or
her competition. Once all the facts are in, they proudly announce the winners to
all the ‘blue boys’ and girls out there holding their breaths, anxiously
awaiting these expert opinions to begin flowing in to see if they correspond
with their own. Of course, these folks aren’t your casual fans flipping on the
tube to have a beer and watch a ball game. No, this is GAME DAY action!
As far as historical precedents go, Florida and Texas A&M hadn’t played
each other since the 1976 season in the Sun Bowl. Texas A&M and South
Carolina State had no history to gauge whatsoever. In fact, even the very rare
46-point spread found floating somewhere in cyberspace was deemed unusable in my
“braggin’ rights only” office pools I enjoy taking part in. Although they’re
picked only for fun, I won my first eight selections this past Saturday before
somehow dropping an over/under total that, at halftime, looked like a walk-off
winner and a clean sweep. It’s always preferential when holding a big lead to
continue to make plays until the final gun, as difficult as it may be in this
decidedly topsy-turvy sports world.
From a football perspective, it is quite the same. When you get someone down,
you’ve got to step on them. Fortunately for the 12th Man’s peace of mind, Texas A&M has kept the pedal to the gridiron these past two weekends. They rebounded (there’s that word again) twice in both games following the still-curious offensive coaching
meltdown shown against Florida. Yes, the Aggies have exceeded the experts’
expectations impressively, once again raising the hopes of all of Aggieland word
What does it matter that we trail Ole Miss in the league standings? It’s only
Since recruiting focus turned to African-American players back in the spring
of 1972, A&M Football has had 29 winning seasons, nine losing seasons and
two others that were dead even. These incoming freshmen in ’72 were eligible to
play varsity football for the first time since 1947, and as a result, this is
usually where I begin keeping track of my personal analysis of A&M football.
This time period was the dawning of the ‘level playing field’ in all of college
football, which, in my opinion, makes the school’s earlier accomplishments even
Even though A&M has always been a land-grant public institution, it had
many traditions and internal policies dating back to its origination that
relegated it to “private school” status competitively in athletics; things such
as mandatory membership in the Corps of Cadets and no girls on campus. At this
juncture in college football and American history, known as the early 70’s, this
sort of setup would have hindered anyone’s recruiting efforts.
Yep, good luck recruiting outstanding players to this environment at the end
of the Vietnam War. The country was sick of war and the Corps of Cadets
unfortunately reminded many of the tremendous loss of America’s wonderful youth
due to another conflict involving two countries on the other side of the world.
Remaining status quo at A&M would never allow equal recruiting to occur, and
any competitive aspects would surely be lost for decades had open minds not been
present within the administration. It became a “join ’em, or lose ‘em” quandary
which was ultimately properly handled with all its wonderful core values and
traditions well intact.
A quick glance at the number of private schools to win national championships
during this span only bears this out, with the last to be Lou Holtz’s Notre Dame
squad in 1989. And it wasn’t only the Aggies who were climbing on board to
recruit their first black football players in the early 70’s, but teams like
LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and so on. Texas A&M football, with the
assistance of its first two black football players (Michael Bruton and Jerry
Honore, recruited by Gene Stallings in 1971) then reached out to sign all eight
of the highest-rated players in the state of Texas. Administratively, someone
apparently had a “vision” and was able to incorporate all the new prerequisites
for creating a competitive edge into the program.
Success followed quickly, to the great delight of an avid alumni group and a
fast-growing student body. The escalating achievements of the mid-seventies
delivered the first of 35,000 additional new seats to a rather smallish
48,000-seat stadium. And during this interim, repleted with its all-time record
wins and overflowing crowds, A&M’s national championship chase was on.
The Arkansas Razorbacks and the Aggies have played in Kyle Field only ten
times during these past 40 years, with the Aggies winning in ’72 and ’74 and
before splitting the last eight. The previously mentioned Lou Holtz was the
first Razorbacks coach to break the Aggies’ modest home streak in 1977. It came
in a 26-20 thriller in Emory Bellard’s final game against Arkansas as the
Aggies’ head coach. Arkansas went on to post an 11-1 record and whipped the
Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl as a huge underdog, with their only loss
coming to the No. 1 team in the country prior to the bowl season, Earl Campbell
and his Texas Longhorns.
With this bit of history behind us, let’s talk about blowouts, since this is
the second successive week the Aggies have had. Last Saturday’s was 70-14,
matching the winning margin of South Carolina State’s previous week’s opponent,
the Arizona Wildcats. Arizona then took its haughty 56-point shutout victory,
533 total yards advantage and 43-8 dominance in first downs to Oregon for a big
conference showdown. The team was crushed by the Ducks, 49-0. I’m thinking this
was a rather sobering event after all the revelry of the previous week. Arizona
gained less than half the yards against Oregon and surrendered three times as
many as it had against South Carolina State. Stats flew out the window, along
with many perceptions concerning the Wildcats’ overall quality of craftsmanship.
The obvious question is, “How did the Wildcats benefit from the romp over the
To suggest the A&M game against South Carolina State was a textbook
replica of a 5-A school hosting a 2-A school in Texas prep football may not be
exaggerating the situation, with no disrespect intended for the players and
coaches comprising the Bulldogs’ program. They fought hard for every yard to the
very end and assuredly will be the team attaining maximum benefit from its D-1
experiences as their schedule plays out.
Statistical analyses from an A&M standpoint are utterly useless in
determining their worth, yet Dustin Harris and his punt-returning acumen are
certainly worth noting after an SEC record 246 yards. This glider through heavy
traffic led the nation last season and is well on his way to another banner
year. Harris returned one punt 96 yards for a touchdown (aren’t players taught
to let it go into the end zone when it’s that close?) and finished the game just
22 yards shy of the all-time NCAA single-game record.
Uzoma Nwachukwu made both of his catches count with TDs on receptions of 37
and 9 yards.
The Aggies are currently ranked 11th nationally in scoring, 12th in points
allowed and 13th in yards allowed per game. Even with all the fireworks the Aggs
have been displaying of late, they only rank 37th nationally in total offense.
Perhaps the other 35 teams have played even daintier light-weights than the
Aggies have, or perhaps haven’t pulled their starters as quickly. Or haven’t
played Florida. Regardless, most stats this early in the season are for old men
sitting around drinking coffee in the early morning, somewhat similar to
Everything else statistically should go into the ‘on hold’ file waiting for
further evidence, with one primary exception: Johnny Manziel is a slick,
trigger-happy madman who has yet to see his first interception or lost fumble.
This is truly a rare accomplishment considering the number of opportunities he
gets handling the football while orchestrating the
jet stream offense of the Southeastern Conference.
His vision alone would probably set records in contests involving the Magic
Eye 3D images of the 90’s. He sees things others can’t in a fraction of the
time. His running and passing thus far have provided the Aggies 7.3 yards per
play. In the other 100 plays void of his direct involvement, they have averaged
4.85. Hey, all good for sure, but I think you know where I’m coming from. This
guy can do it all. I predict there will soon be an enormous trend among the
young kids in Texas to ask their coaches for the No. 2 jersey in years to
Yes, for once in our lives, it’s very cool to be No. 2.
Arkansas hasn’t visited this part of the Brazos Valley (Baylor owns the other
part) since 1991. Both schools resumed the “rivalry” in Arlington because Jerry
Jones felt inclined to host it. For both Jerry and the Hogs, it proved a very
successful venture and may have been instrumental in securing Arkansas’ vote to
allow the Aggies into the Southeastern Conference.
“Sure thing! Come on aboard!”
Prior to the first game played in Dallas Cowboys Stadium/Jerry’s House, the
airwaves were full of interviews recapturing the legendary stories of old times.
One I recall in particular was with former longtime Arkansas coach, Frank
Broyles. Coach Broyles’ topic of conversation was the Hogs’ big 1975 second-half
destruction of A&M in Little Rock that knocked the offensively inept Texas
Aggies out of the No. 2 spot in the nation with a 31-6 pounding.
The game created a three-way tie for first place in the SWC. Because the team
that hadn’t been to the Cotton Bowl in the longest time was deemed the REAL
champion by league rules concerning tie-breakers, the Razorbacks went to put the
hurt on Georgia. A&M slumped off to Memphis to get pounded by a USC team
which had lost its previous 5 games and was about to lose head coach John McKay
to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. No. 1 Ohio State then fell to UCLA in the Rose Bowl
and the 10-2 Aggies have been nowhere close to ascending the throne ever
Now in 2012, Arkansas trudges back to Kyle Field rather humbled at 1-3,
relegated to a two-touchdown underdog by most professional collection agencies.
The guesstimators of our favorite pastimes are generally predicting a 38-25 ball
game. In essence, this would make the 12th Man
and its hand-picked coaches and scholarship-worthy players deliriously happy
first-time SEC winners, and at home no less.
Side note: Do odds-makers use computer programs and human polls like the BCS
does, or do they use Play Station simulations like the rest of us?
Anyway, at this point in A&M history, any winning margin should suffice
for anyone wearing Game Day Maroon and White. We Aggies are far from greedy
after continuously having various combinations to our vault so easily breached
by the opposition. The day will surely come when Butch and Sundance no longer
feel quite so comfortable as they boldly ride into College Station. And who else
would the Aggs rather have as their initial SEC “notch on the belt” other than
the Arkansas Razorbacks? Will this be some sweet revenge, or what? Hey, what
does winning cure? All ills.
Still, who could have envisioned A&M would actually be favored
in each of its first two SEC games? This is astounding stuff, probably based in
huge part by the pre-season No. 8 team simply falling apart in a losing trifecta
(Smile, damn it! I’m John L. Smith!) and also an underestimation of the overall
prowess of the Florida Gators as a road team (see Tennessee). However they
figured it, we are the favorites. Now, if only we could coach and perform like
Can the Aggs make the odds-makers prophets? As a rule you don’t see many
two-touchdown favorites lose games at home, but it seems to happen to someone
every weekend. The coaches, players and officials (see Packers vs. Seahawks) on
the field determine the outcomes, assuredly with a little help from their
friends in the stands. Overconfidence is a demon coaches constantly work to head
off psychologically. Although this should be an unmerited concern considering
A&M’s recent unsteady history, the Aggies must remember that Arkansas is a
team that went 21-5 under Bobby Petrino the past two seasons, and the entire
coaching staff was retained following his abrupt departure after the wheels came
The Aggies’ world-renowned 12th Man support group has maintained a steady .500 pace since the 2000 season, producing a 25-25 home record in its last 50 conference games. Known as one of the most vivacious home crowds in college sports with its tremendous atmosphere, the 12th Man’s intensity must be at a fever pitch and
reverberate on down to the opponents’ sidelines for it to once again become the
dominant force of yesteryear. This was once done with only 50,000 die-hards in
the stands, so surely we can do it with 85,000 strong. With the expansion plans
now in place, it’s time to become a real factor once more, not only in the SEC,
but nationally as well.
Arkansas’ only hope this Saturday will be a short memory. The team has blown
two double-digit leads (sound off, one-two!) and suffered a perfunctory
thrashing from Alabama in its last three games. Actually, going totally
brain-dead may be a better prescription. Apparently its opening game win over
Jackson State didn’t help it in the “getting better” department either.
“Stat-fests” are lots of fun and normally drama-free for the fans, unless you’re
an Arkansas playing Louisiana Monroe or a Michigan playing Appalachian
Speaking of stat-fests, will Arkansas’ ultra-talented quarterback, Tyler
Wilson, get well this Saturday against the A&M defense? Hey, he only threw
for 510 yards en route to a 42-38 victory in his previous effort against the 2011 Aggies. Team record aside, his yards and TDs per attempt are ahead of last season but his
interception ratio is up, too. After suffering a game-turning concussion while
holding a 28-7 lead at Louisiana Monroe, Tyler sat out the Alabama game
altogether. Losing the next one to Rutgers with Wilson at the helm had to be a
major shocker to the Hogs’ faithful. Rutgers is 4-0 though; nothing to sneeze at really, except its previous schedule.
So the Hogs are reeling, and now it’s comeback time for the Razorbacks.
Wilson’s best game is definitely ahead of him. Three straight wins over the boys
wearing the throwback vertical shoulder stripes will certainly pick the team’s
spirits up in practice this week, and winning in Kyle Field is no less than a
50-50 proposition – at least for the Hogs’ most recent modern-day ancestry.
Senior running back Christine Michael ran 32 times for 230 yards and three
scores for A&M in last year’s game but has seen little action this season.
One would surmise his 13 carries for 33 yards against Florida and ensuing
suspension for the SMU game haven’t exactly put him in the driver’s seat for the
remainder of this season. Strange things happen behind closed doors. Then in
mop-up duty, Michael gained only 3.7 yards per carry with one score against the
backups from South Carolina State, a far cry from his previous 3-year career
average of 5.4 yards on 441 carries. Michael has certainly fought through some
dreadful injuries to earn the right to stay in the mix in this new offense
behind a special group of linemen, but as always, production ultimately dictates
– provided the program is run with the integrity expected of it.
The Aggies have a real shot at being 5-1 overall and 2-1 in conference when
LSU hits town Oct. 20. Should LSU continue to find its patented escape routes as
the season progresses, that day could be a momentous one for the SEC and both
institutions. This Saturday’s game marks the spot.