2004 Record: 7-5, 5-3 Big 12
Coming off of an ugly 4-8 maiden season at Texas A&M in 2003, Dennis Franchione and his staff had modest goals for the 2004 season: a winning record, become competitive in conference play again and make it to a post-season bowl game. Known for his second year revivals, Coach Fran did not disappoint, putting together a winning season capped off by a New Year's Day bowl appearance in the Cotton Bowl against Tennessee.
With wins over three teams who were ranked in the top 25 when they played them, A&M showed they were competitive on a national level again. An upset loss to Baylor, and losses to Oklahoma and Texas in November showed A&M still has some work to do before it can reclaim a spot atop the Big 12 South, and compete for the Big 12 Conference Championship. With 16 starters returning on offense and defense, A&M looks like they may have the returning depth and experience to do just that.
Fall Offensive Preview: Everything on offense started with Reggie McNeal in 2004, and that was both a blessing and a curse. It was blessing in that Reggie was phenomenal, setting school records for rushing yards by a QB in a season, passing yards by a QB in a season and total offense for a QB in a season. The whole offense ran through Reggie, and few played the position better than he did last season.
It was a curse in that the defensive gameplan to stop A&M became stop to Reggie at all costs. This meant that teams that had the personnel to crush A&M's offensive line and flood the backfield with blitzers (like Texas and Tennessee) were able to shut down A&M's offense, and the results were two ugly losses. If A&M is to take the next step and win the Big 12 South and compete for a conference title, they need to show a balanced offense, so teams do not focus their whole defense on stuffing McNeal.
Helping make the Aggie attack more balanced will be Courtney Lewis, who battled through an injury-plagued season to finish with 742 yds rushing after posting a 1,000 yard rushing season in 2003. With a fully healthy Lewis, and some improved line play, Lewis will break the 1,000-yard mark again this season. We will see redshirt freshman Jay Lucas split some time with Lewis at TB. Lucas was highly sought after coming out of high school, and looked very good during Spring practice.
Starting at fullback should be Chris Alexander, a redshirt sophomore. While only used sparingly to run the ball last season (14 carries for 45 yds), Alexander is a very good blocker. During the Spring Game, Alexander came out of the backfield, and exposed the middle of the defense in the short passing game. Unfortunately, he dropped several passes, so it remains to be seen if he'll be a pass-catching FB in '05.
At the X WR position, starter DeQawn Mobley returns. The 6'2, 200 pound senior looks to improve on his numbers from last season (16 receptions, 294 yds, 3 TDs). DeQawn showed himself to be a nice deep threat last season, and looks to have stepped up his game in the Spring.
At the H WR position, A&M returns Earvin "Magic" Taylor, a true junior. Somewhat overshadowed by his brother in his first two seasons at A&M, Earvin has shown reliable hands and a penchant for big plays. He was a favorite target of Reggie's in 2004 (his 22 receptions was third on the team, second among returning starters). Look for him to be the short-to-mid range passing target of Reggie's in 2005.
At the Y WR position, the Ags return both Jason Carter and L' Tydrick Riley. Carter's return is contingent on him graduating by August, so he will be granted a 5th year of eligibility, restoring the year he lost due to his partial qualifier status. Utilized mainly in 5-WR sets and coming out of the backfield, Carter is a dangerous threat on slants and in the short passing game.
Although he didn't start a game last season, the backup for Terrence Murphy, true sophomore Kerry Franks quickly became a fan favorite. Leading all returning WRs with an average of 23.2 yds per catch (12 receptions for 278 yds, 2 TDs), Franks quickly made a name for himself with his blazing speed and sure hands. As the starter at the Z WR position this season, look for Franks to pick up where Murphy left off, and continue the A&M tradition of stellar WRs.
At the Y TE position, senior Boone Stutz returns. Serenaded by fans chanting "Booooooooooooooooooone!!!!", Stutz was a beast in the running game, opening up holes for the backs. He was also a dangerous pass receiver, with 11 receptions for 142 yds and 1 TD. He was adept at exposing the soft underbelly of opposing zone defenses, a fact the offensive staff seemed to forget when A&M played Texas and Tennessee at the end of the season (one pass to him, one reception, to the outside, not to the middle of the field, for 4 yds, in the Cotton Bowl). Hopefully, the coaches will remember that Stutz is out on the field this year.
Now, we come to the area of the offense that generated the most consternation during last season, and was the biggest concern during this offseason -- the offensive line.
At QT, A&M returns 5th year senior Jami Hightower, who tipped the scales at 355 lbs on his 6'4 frame last season. Hightower is the most talented returning lineman, making honorable mention All-Big 12 for both the coaches and AP teams. He has dedicated himself to losing weight this offseason, with a goal of getting down to 325 lbs. If he makes his goal, he is a potential first round draft pick in the 2006 draft, he has that much talent. While his is a great story, having come back from an ugly staph infection contracted before the 2003 season, I think I'm not alone in wanting to see him dominate this season, and become the lineman we all know he can be. Returning at QG is redshirt sophomore Kirk Elder. While he struggled at times in '04, I'm hoping another year in the weight room and more experience will help him in 2005.
At C, the Aggies return redshirt sophomore Chris Yoder. Fran liked Yoder so much, he moved all-conference and potential All-American Geoff Hangartner to ST before last season. However, during Spring Practice, Fran moved redshirt freshman Cody Wallace to the top of the depth chart at C, and moved Yoder to second string. As the forefront of the OL in 2005, if the Ags want to get the strong running game going, the center needs to step it up. The blocking by the guards and center is everything on short yardage, an area A&M struggled in last season.
Returning at SG is Aldo De La Garza. While I love his enthusiasm and his work ethic (strongest player on the team, he's a monster in the weight room), Aldo's play on the field often leaves something to be desired. I'm hopeful he can pull it all together for his senior year, but if not, Cody Wallace, a redshirt sophomore, may replace him. If he cut down on his penalties alone in 2005, that would be a big improvement.
At QT, A&M suffered its only loss on the OL from '04 with Geoff Hangartner moving on to the NFL after using up his eligibility. Look for Corey Clark, Hang's backup in 2004, to take the job, although don't be surprised to see some shuffling of assignments, and have someone else end up here.
The Aggies will be successful on offense if: the offensive line gels, giving the skill position players in A&M's backfield time to produce. A strong offensive line could lead to an unstoppable offense for A&M.
Defensive Preview: This is Year Three in Carl Torbush's system, and the team made great strides from Year One to Year Two. This is the year to expect to see a return to the old defensive dominance Aggie fans are accustomed to.
Changes in Scheme: While A&M runs a multi-faceted defense, Torbush favors an over-under 4-3 scheme. Fans will see more of this scheme this season, with the improved depth on defensive line. We should only see a base 3-4 defense when A&M plays spread-style offenses, like Texas Tech or Clemson.
At weakside DE, we return 6'5, 269 pound Chris Harrington, who finished 2004 with 15 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks backing up Mike Montgomery. After one season as a backup, look for big things form Harrington in 2005.
Harrington will be backed up by Michael Bennett, a second-year freshman who dominated during the annual Maroon & White Spring Game. Bennett is an outstanding talent who will give us needed depth at DE. At 6'4, 250 pounds, he has the size and speed to be a force on the outside, especially with his speed rush. At DT, we return John Jolly, 6'4 and 307 pounds, who had 45 tackles last season, including 3.5 tackles for loss. Jolly excels at stuffing the inside run game.
Starting at NT is a returning Freshman All-American, 6'4, 316 pound redshirt sophomore Red Bryant. With 34 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks, Bryant was a dominant force inside. A force on the field, and a team leader off the field, Bryant is a favorite of the coaching staff, and the leader of the defense.
Bryant is backed up by redshirt freshman Will Morrissey and second-year freshman Kellen Heard. Heard excelled in the Spring Game, clogging up the middle and stopping the inside run game. He will see significant playing time in 2005.
Our strongside DE is 6'4, 276 lb Jason Jack, who had 48 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks in 2004. Jack made some Freshman All-American lists along with Bryant. The skills are there for Jack to dominate, so a big year is expected from him in 2005. Backing up Jack are Marques Thornton and redshirt freshman Chris Smith.
The returning starter at SLB is Archie McDaniel, who finished 2004 with 57 tackles and 1 interception. Playing inside in a 3-4 defense in high school, McDaniel has made the transition to playing outside in the 4-3 at A&M.
Junior Justin Warren returns as the starter at MLB. After moving from OLB to MLB in the Wyoming game, Warren excelled in 2004, finishing with 58 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception returned for a TD, and 1 forced fumble. At 6'3, 234 lbs, Warren is a wrecking ball in the middle, with the strength to shut down the inside running game and speed to pursue sideline-to-sideline.
At the WLB position, seniors Lee Foliaki and Renuel Greene will split time as it stands right now. Both played extensively in 2004, and excelled. Foliaki had 63 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks last season. A JUCO transfer, Foliaki came in and immediately made an impact. Greene had 24 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery last season. He was slowed by injury during the spring, but should be ready to go during two-a-days. Greene and Foliaki are backed up by Nathan Haile.
At RCB, A&M returns redshirt sophomore Broderick Newton, who had 24 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 4 passes broken up, and 1 forced fumble in 2004. Ronald "Ray-Ray" Jones and Trey Brooks provide depth.
At LCB, Erik Mayes started in 2004, racking up 69 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 interception. Mayes was passed in the spring by redshirt freshman Danny Gorrer, a 6'0, 175 lb cover corner. Gorrer is a shutdown corner who locked down his side of the field during the Spring Game. Mayes will back up Gorrer in 2005.
At FS, Jaxson Appel returns after an all-conference season in 2004. At 6'0, 196 lbs, Appel is a run-stuffer that hits like a jackhammer. After leading the team in tackles in 2003 (never a good sign for a safety), he finished 2004 with 85 tackles, 3 pass break ups, and 1 forced fumble. Jordan Chambless, a converted QB, and John Ray provide depth. At SS, 5'11, 196 lb sophomore Japhus Brown returns. Brown had 62 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 3 interceptions last season. He is a ballhawk who excels in pass coverage. Melvin Bullitt provides depth.
A&M will be successful on defense if: defensive line depth is the difference this season, a consistent pass rush will make the cornerbacks jobs easier. A&M now has the corners to go man-to-man with Big 12 wide receivers; whether or not they do that this season is up to Torbush.
Schedule outlook: Road schedule it tough but not unbeatable, with trips to Colorado, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech. Probable road loss is at Oklahoma. Home schedule is set up for an undefeated run; biggest game is Texas in November.
Key Games: Oklahoma and Texas. If A&M wins both games, they will be playing for all the marbles in January.
Season Prediction: 10-1, 11-1 after the postseason bowl game.
A&M Spirit Onlilne