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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

P.S.R. Op-Ed

Oklahoma, A&M Eying Longhorns

Jerrod Johnson and Texas A&M have their sights set on upending Texas.

For Texas, it’s no secret that the Oklahoma game will decide the season. It does so every year, after all. The winner of the game, more than likely, will take the Big 12 South. The lone exception to this rule: 2008, when U.T. upended Oklahoma yet finished behind the Sooners in the final conference standings. Let’s not get into that argument again. Here’s what we know about 2010: Oklahoma will be far better, Texas destined to take a step back. And don’t forget about the Aggies, with the Lone Star Showdown potentially deciding second place in the South. One thing is clear: the Big 12 South’s final year of existence is bound to be an exciting one.

Texas A&M nearly had its coming-out party under Mike Sherman last November, when it hung tight with the eventual Big 12 champs in a 49-39 defeat. The lone issue, of course, was with the defense; as good as Jerrod Johnson was in that game against the Longhorns, he couldn’t do it alone.

Should the Aggies view this season as their best shot at taking down the Longhorns? Well, remember that A&M had a strong level of success against its in-state rival even during the woebegone Dennis Franchione days, taking two straight in the series from 2006-7. Sherman has been unable to match that success, losing by 40 points in 2008 before coming close a year ago. The one constant, of course, has been the A&M defense.

Sherman has made a change on his defensive coaching staff, hiring Tim DeRuyter from Air Force to coordinate his attack. He’s given DeRuyter free reign, with the former Air Force assistant installing the same 3-4 look run to great effect with his Falcons.

Oklahoma has no real issues to address: injuries are the only concern. They caused this team’s downfall a year ago, with a string of bad luck beginning with Sam Bradford’s shoulder injury and spreading throughout both sides of the ball. Again, only a similar period of misfortune could push O.U. into irrelevance; the Sooners know this, recalling the unfortunate circumstances that led to last season’s slide.

Until the games are played, however, the division — the conference as a whole, in fact — goes through Texas. The Longhorns are the defending champs, a 13-0 Big 12 powerhouse that rumbled through conference play with only two slight bumps: Oklahoma and Nebraska. Perhaps the 10-point win over A&M could be considered a momentary blip, though let’s remember that the Aggies received a healthy boost from the faithful in College Station.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the same Texas team. While talented, Garrett Gilbert is no Colt McCoy — not yet, at least. The Longhorns have holes to address on both sides of the line. It will be nearly impossible to match last season’s performance in rush defense, particularly with the overwhelming youth present on the interior of the defensive line. Texas hopes to recommit itself to the running game lining up in power sets — with a lead blocker, no less — in order to help increase its production on the ground.

While the line is experienced, with as many as four senior starters, it is nevertheless a question mark.

Oklahoma is in the hunt every year: 2010 will be no different. Its road to a conference title and potential national championship run will be made somewhat easier by U.T.’s slight step back, of course. For the Sooners, it’s a perfect confluence of events: they’re better, deeper, more experienced; Texas, well, is none of those things.

The big story to me is A&M’s shot at a second-place finish in the Big 12. A&M won’t outplay Texas; I don’t think the Aggies will finish 7-1 in conference play, Texas 6-2. The Aggies still have a year or more of development to undergo under Sherman before being considered a genuine Big 12 title challenger. Yet A&M could certainly take down the Longhorns in the season finale, thereby giving it the head-to-head tiebreaker.

This will be a one-year letdown for Texas. The pieces are in place for another title run in 2011, should a few juniors opt to return for their senior campaigns, the team remain injury free and develop at the projected pace. Oklahoma will back for more in 2011. Will A&M progress enough over the next 12 months to keep pace with Texas?

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  1. Noefli says:

    Texas beat OU in 2006, but the Sooners ended up winning the South that year as well.

  2. Clint says:

    I would argue that the injuries last year started with Jermain Gresham who was injured shortly before the season started.

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