Young Aggie team forced to grow up in a hurry
Texas A&M freshman running back Courtney Lewis
Texas A&M freshman running back Courtney Lewis
12thFan.com staff
Posted Sep 30, 2003


If you’ve ever drawn a poker hand of duece, six, nine, ten and a queen and turned that into a jackpot winner please contact Dennis Franchione immediately. Four games into the Coach Fran era it appears the Aggies’ hand holds too few aces. At least it seems too few of the aces he may be holding are ready to be played today.

If you’ve ever drawn a poker hand of duece, six, nine, ten and a queen and turned that into a jackpot winner please contact Dennis Franchione immediately. Four games into the Coach Fran era it appears the Aggies’ hand holds too few aces. At least it seems too few of the aces he may be holding are ready to be played today.

The Aggies success in 2003 likely rests on effective bluffing and lots of gamesmanship. With Big 12 play beginning this weekend at Lubbock it’s unlikely A&M will have a stronger hand than many of the teams remaining on the schedule.

Utah provided the first lesson that aces win. Brandon Warfield practically claimed Kyle Field with a second half performance that seemed tough to follow. Unfortunately, Virginia Tech’s dual aces, Kevin Jones and Bryan Randall, drove the point home even more emphatically. Last Saturday against Pittsburgh their pair of aces, Rod Rutherford and Larry Fitzgerald were more of the same.

With one-third of the season gone and conference play looming straight ahead, Coach Fran and staff have to regroup and play the hand they were dealt after the December, 2002 coaching change. A coach the caliber of Dennis Franchione didn’t arrive in Aggieland expecting to draw a royal flush. Had the deck been stacked that way, no coaching change would have been necessary to begin with.

The most optimistic of Aggie fans proclaimed nine, ten or even more wins possible with the arrival of a new staff, a new philosphy and a new commitment to return A&M to competitiveness. Those predictions, while still mathematically possible, were made looking through maroon tinted lenses.

A reality check shows the Aggies for what they are -- a team loaded with potential and a wealth of young, inexperienced players for whom the sky may be the limit. What the Aggies are not is a team full of proven, reliable players ready to line up against the top tier of Big 12 teams. The list of veteran A&M players is short and even some of them, Scott Stickane for example, have gotten most of their experience in prior season practice sessions or on special teams. For a team like Texas A&M the loss of experience is a double dose of bad fortune. Losing Jami Hightower to this point and Jared Morris from week two on puts added pressure on their backups, the coaching staff and the freshman struggling to learn the college game and adapt a new a new way of life.

Losing Jared Morris forced Coach Fran and staff to move Ta Ta Thompson to the fast track. Thompson is an immense talent and one of those the Aggies hope to restock with, but he’s about to be tested by fire, and the danger always exists that he’ll get burned.

The situation with Thompson, other freshman and young backup players serves to magnify the primary deficiency of this A&M team – quality depth with experience. If anyone needed reminding how the Aggies went from Big 12 Champions to also-rans in four short years, this deficiency is the telling point. Players the Aggies could have used as rebuilding blocks after the championship season now line up in Austin, Norman and Stillwater among others. Adding insult to injury is having to watch those same players help Big 12 opponents turn Kyle Field into just another place to play.

Make no mistake about it, recruiting matters. In spite of the numerous message board posts lambasting Mack Brown for failing to win anything but mythical recruiting championships, it’s clear he has led the resurgence of Texas past Texas A&M. When Brown arrived in Austin the talent distribution began to shift and dramatically so.

Questions of how Texas can be playing the number of freshman and sophomores it’s playing now, and with success, seems easy enough to answer. When Brown burns a redshirt he very likely lines that player up next to a proven player who not only pulls his own weight, but lessens the load for the freshman. With the lack of overall experience at Texas A&M today, the freshman (or other inexperienced player) being played is expected to stand on his own.

In College Station there’s an encouraging group of young players around whom Coach Fran will have to build. Are they ready today? For the most part the answer is incomplete, but probably no. Against Pittsburgh and it’s senior laden team, A&M couldn’t sustain it’s first half success. That was hardly news though as it continued a three week pattern.

For the Aggies to rebuild to the point of competitiveness for the Big 12 Championship, the young players now being force fed, and those standing on the sidelines using a redshirt season, will have to be joined by a steady stream of top notch talent year after year. Recruiting matters, and, it’s the key to the Coach Fran plan. It has to be.

To this point A&M has landed an impressive group of verbal commitments for 2004, but there are numerous aces still up for grabs. The most encouraging sign is that quality high school players have Texas A&M on their radar screens and are taking the time to visit. One feeling most of the visitors should have is that Texas A&M is place with abundant opportunity to play, and play sooner rather than later.

Keep in mind that this season Coach Fran is playing someone else’s hand. When he plays a low card against someone else’s ace rest assured he isn’t hiding anything better up his sleeve.



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