Big 12 Preview: Texas A&M Aggies

Texas A&M enters 2004 looking to erase the painful memories of 2003. This year's team should provide Aggie fans with a brighter glimpse of the future. The key words for the A&M this fall: youth and potential.

Aggie Offense
Although the Aggies amassed 4,678 yards of total offense last year, they only scored 304 total points on the season (73 against Baylor). But the Aggies return nine starters on offense, so look for these numbers to climb in 2004.

Texas A&M runs a multiple offense, utilizing both run and pass-based elements. Last year the Ags often ran multiple wideout sets as well as the basic I-formation. With players like QB Reggie McNeal, RB Courtney Lewis, and WR Terrence Murphy, head coach Dennis Franchione has several options.

Strengths: Three starters return on the offensive line, including OT Jami Hightower, who missed all of last season. Also returning is RB Courtney Lewis, who rushed for 1,024 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2003. Joining Lewis is WR Terrence Murphy, considered to be one of the top wideouts in the Big 12. QB Reggie McNeal also returns for his second season as a starter. After a rough first year, look for McNeal to rebound as more talent and experience surrounds him.

Weaknesses: While Texas A&M has solid starters on offense, depth is a major issue. The Aggies lost two top backups in QB Dustin Long and RB Derek Farmer. Both transferred at the end of last season. The Ags will have to rely on a redshirt and true freshman to shoulder the backup load at both positions. Wide receiver is also inexperienced. This is a large and talented group, but there is little on-field production experience outside of Murphy.

Key players: QB Reggie McNeal, RB Courtney Lewis, WR Terrence Murphy, OT Jami Hightower

Texas A&M will be successful on offense if they find reliable backups to McNeal and Lewis, and if the young wide receivers make plays opposite Murphy.

Aggie Defense
As many as six new faces could be seen in ‘04, as A&M tries to revive the Wrecking Crew. Youth and inexperience will be the order of the day. With the influx of youth, however, comes an influx of speed and athletic ability lacking from last season.

The Aggies run out of the basic 4-3 defensive alignment, using multiple defensive fronts. Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush has forged his reputation on a blitzing, aggressive style of defense; however, A&M lacked the talent last season to run his defense effectively, managing only 19 sacks.

Strengths: With immediate help from JUCO-transfer linebackers and redshirted defensive linemen, A&M should be far more athletic and faster. The secondary returns four starters. With several athletic backups, this unit should be much stronger. New faces on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps should bring great speed to the defensive.

Weaknesses: Experience. As many as 13 first-year players could appear on the two-deep roster. This lack of game day familiarity could be a major Achilles heel for a team that faces two top-20 teams in its first three games. The talent level will rise, but it will take time for new faces to gel.

Key players: CB Byron Jones, DT Red Bryant, DE Mike Montgomery, JUCO linebackers

Texas A&M will be successful on defense if the new players quickly come together and if the rebuilt defensive line and linebackers generate a solid and consistent push against both the run and the pass.

Key Games
At Utah, at Oklahoma State, Texas Tech.