Aggies vs. Horns - Title at Stake

A lot is on the line this weekend as the Texas Aggies battle the Texas Longhorns. Not only are bragging rights at stake, but potentially a Big 12 Conference champion could be come from this weekend. For the Aggies, lose the series and the title is gone. Win the series and the title is within their grasp.

Texas A&M vs Texas. Aggies vs Longhorns. Maroon vs Orange. The rivalry in May with championship implications all over the map.

Some would say that's the way it's supposed to be, which is a healthy conceit, but neither side particularly cares if the other is on top. In fact, both sides would probably enjoy themselves being at the top and the other being, well, not.

The state's two flagship schools are, however, entangled in this three game series that will have significant impact on several fronts. First, and probably most trivial, the Lone Star Showdown championship may hinge upon this weekend's result. Texas currently leads by a single point, with three points left to play (baseball, both mens and women's outdoor track). A&M is a heavy favorite for both track points, and winning those would guarantee a tie no matter this weekend's results, thus retaining the trophy for A&M – but Aggies would no doubt rather win it all on the field.

The Big 12 regular season title, and thus tournament seeding, is also in the balance. Two wins by Texas will eliminate A&M from winning the regular season league title, while two Aggie wins effectively do the same to Texas. A Longhorn sweep of the Aggies would move them to 18-8-1 in the league, and 18 wins will probably give them the title. An Aggie sweep would improve their record to 16-8, and put them in great position entering their final series with OU. Let's be honest, though, a sweep is unlikely here.

There are national implications here as well. For all intents and purposes, each team can eliminate the other from national seed contention. Most services currently have Texas sitting as a national seed, but RPI projections and past committee behavior suggest a 3rd place Big 12 team (which is probably where Texas finishes with a 2-1 series defeat) and an RPI of 10-12 probably won't get them a national seed. A 2-1 weekend certainly doesn't lock up one for A&M (though it does for Texas); they'll need even more success in the upcoming games for that to happen. A&M is currently penciled in, by most projections, as a first round host – but their foothold is tenuous at best.

To get a pair of wins, A&M will have to deal with a classic Longhorn offense – a smallball club that isn't going to light you up with their power but will beat you with the fundamentals nearly every time. Texas enters the weekend hitting .293 with just 26 homers, and averages 5.82 runs per contest. They average nearly 1.5 sacrifice bunts per game, and have swiped 59 bases in 78 attempts. Just four everyday starters are above .300, with just one (Brandon Belt at .346) above .315.

Another classic Longhorn trait that A&M must handle is their outstanding pitching staff, whose 2.45 ERA currently leads the nation. Their 3.28:1 K-to-BB ratio is outstanding, and will be a challenge for an A&M club averages seven Ks per game. Including unearned runs, opponents are scoring just 3.19 times per contest against Texas; A&M is averaging nearly seven runs per game offensively. Something has to give.

The biggest key to the weekend for A&M is winning the opener at Olsen Field. A&M has won just one series in the last five seasons when they've dropped the opening contest, and the Aggies most certainly can't afford to lose behind Brooks Raley (7-1, 1.96 ERA, 84 K, 19 BB in 78 IP). Raley will be countered by another sensational arm, Chance Ruffin (7-2, 2.78 ERA, 73 K, 15 BB in 81.0 IP). The Olsen Field crowd will be hopping, and these advantages must be used for A&M to win this series.

A final key could be for the Ags to somehow get into the Texas bullpen. The Longhorns' season numbers suggest that will be hard – and it probably will be – but they have just six pitchers who've thrown 20 or more innings this year. Those same six pitchers are the only ones who, in league play, have tossed over four total innings. The numbers of Texas' lesser used arms are still outstanding, so getting into their pen could be a lesson in futility, but the results are more likely to be positive.

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