Aggies go for Big 12 title vs. rival Texas

After winning the Big 12 Tournament title last spring, the Aggies' magic number to claim this year's Big 12 regular season title is down to two. Aggie Websider's Lanny Hayes takes a look at the match up between the seventh-ranked Aggies and the Longhorns.

Typically, Aggies need little additional motivation when they go head-on against the Longhorns in any event, but the realities of this weekend provide plenty of it.

The stakes have probably never been higher, at least on the A&M side, than they will be this weekend when the two clubs meet up. A conference championship hangs in the balance, and a national seed isn't far behind that, not to mention the ramifications for the Lone Star Showdown.

Texas A&M (42-11, 19-5) leads the Big 12 conference by 1.5 games over second place Nebraska. A&M's "magic number" is two, meaning that any combination of Aggie wins or Nebraska losses (at Missouri) that total two will give A&M the conference title. Oklahoma State is still mathematically eligible to share the league title with A&M, but needs a minor miracle (OSU sweeping Oklahoma, Texas sweeping A&M, and Missouri winning the series over Nebraska) to get there.

The A&M/Texas and NU/MU series both kick off Friday evening, but the Huskers and Tigers will play game two mid-day on Saturday, with the Ags and Horns to play that evening – making it possible that the Aggies could have the conference title in hand before taking the field on Saturday. Under that same token, if the first three games (NU/MU, A&M/Texas, NU/MU) do not go A&M's way, the Aggies will find themselves under enormous pressure. The most likely scenario would be that at least one of those first three breaks the Aggies' way, meaning a win at Olsen clinches a league title.

Winning the conference title outright will also pay dividends for A&M in next week's Big 12 tournament. The league winner is obviously the top seed and will hook up with the 4th, 5th, and 8th seeds in the round-robin affair. While no other seeds are locked in at this time, and it's possible that the conference rulebook may have to be busted out to break a huge potential tie at the bottom of the league, the top seed would afford A&M the easiest route to the Big 12 title game.

Much more important than the league tourney, though, is the seeding for the big one; the NCAA regionals. A&M's resume has taken a minor hit in the last five days, but winning the series against Texas all but locks up a Top 8 RPI. A combination of that high RPI, favorable breakdowns in other committee metrics, and a league championship should be enough to seal the deal and earn A&M the right, should they advance, to ensure that their path to Omaha never leaves College Station.

Perhaps more important to the fans than the baseball team is the Lone Star Showdown, the effective "All Sports" contest between the Ags and Horns. A&M needs to capture two of three events over the weekend, including baseball plus men's and women's outdoor track and field. Each Aggie sport will come into the weekend favored to win their respective contest, but no A&M/Texas matchup has ever been played on paper.

Being the favored team in the Lone Star Showdown's baseball series is not a recently enjoyed standing for the Aggies. A&M has been the clear underdog almost every time this decade, with the 2003 "toss-up" series marking the only exception. That series is also the only one that the Aggies have won since 1999. A&M has yet to defeat Texas under Rob Childress in regular season play; the Aggies were swept by Texas in both 2006 and 2007. A&M's last regular season victory was the final win for Mark Johnson, as Cliff Pennington took home on a wild pitch in 2005's Friday night contest.

Texas will be playing for far more than to be A&M's spoiler, as their 38 RPI, plus 31-19 and 12-12 marks leave them as a fringe NCAA team. They're very likely to get in if it all ended today, but a bad weekend versus A&M and a rough Big 12 tourney would place them in a precarious position. A pair of wins against A&M would totally lock an at-large bid up, not to mention potentially throwing a huge wrench in A&M's postseason plans.

The 2008 Texas squad is just as talented as many of their teams from years past, but has struggled to put it all together this season. Their measurable stats are not far from A&M's figures; with a batting average of .306 (.322 for A&M), 7.78 runs per game (8.08), .250 opponent batting average (.255), and 4.57 ERA (3.91). Despite that, the records aren't as comparable.

Friday night's pitching matchup will be a familiar one for at least the next two seasons, as true freshmen go head-to-head with Brooks Raley taking on Chance Ruffin. Another Aggie fish, Barret Loux, will throw against Austin Wood on Saturday, while Clayton Ehlert takes on a resurgent Kenn Kasparek in Sunday's finale.

Friday night's contest will be televised on Fox College Sports, and Sunday's game has been picked up by Fox Sports Net. Those interested in "scoreboard watching" will also be able to enjoy Sunday's Nebraska/Missouri game on FSN following the Aggie/Horn game.

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