IT's A&M Game Picks

IT's Bill Frisbie, Michael Pearle and Clendon Ross give you their picks, and the reasoning behind those picks, in Friday's game between Texas and A&M.

Frisbie -- Texas A&M would desperately love to land its first Cotton Bowl bid since the 1997 season while Texas would be just as desirous to avoid its fourth post-season trip to Dallas in seven years. The Horns, of course, are pinning their BCS hopes on Cal's contest at Southern Miss on December 4. ("It's a long way from Berkeley to Hattiesburg," coach Mack Brown told reporters. The Deep South's football culture, not to mention culture shock, are the 12th Man for the hosts in that one.)

What is less obvious is the collective unconscious of the men in Burnt Orange these days. No sooner did media darling Utah and its run-up-the-score head coach nail down its BCS-busting No. 6 spot in the BCS was I asked if Texas would be so deflated that they would come out flat against the Aggies. Surely, the Horns have learned something from these past couple of come-from-behind games about the dangers of leaving your heart in the locker room until halftime. The players continue to say all the right words about 'taking this one game at a time' and not being concerned about the BCS. Of course, they were saying these things before trailing Oklahoma State by 28 and before the near-train wreck in Lawrence by scoring the game-winning TD with 11 seconds remaining.

It's also hard to gauge the 'anger' factor among Aggies. My favorite Darrell Royal-ism is the one where he said, "Trends are bunk. Angry men win football games." How angry are the Ags after dropping seven of nine to their hated rival, including four straight? Suffice it to say, A&M should field angrier men this week than do the Horns.

BCS 'style points' are less meaningful Friday than the long-term impact of the game. In the eyes of those five-star recruits, an Aggie win solidifies the perception that the program is on the rise; a Texas loss not only reinforces the notion that the Longhorn program has plateaued under Mack Brown but also is starting to give ground to its country cousins. The Horns need to send a strong message to the Aggies: you are improved, but you are still not The University-of-by-God Texas.

The past two ball games have tested every last nerve in every last Orangeblood, but it also revealed the intestinal fortitude of this team. We've seen other UT squads lay down and die when the odds were not stacked nearly as high. The heart that the Horns have shown the past two ballgames serves notice to opponents that no lead is safe. You have to believe that these hearts will be pumping Burnt Orange the moment the Aggies come goose-stepping into Royal-Memorial Stadium.

This is one of those games where, if it's close in the fourth quarter, it will come down to which quarterback is the biggest playmaker. There is no doubt in my mind that A&M's improvement has to do with the emergence of QB Reggie McNeal. (As much as I hate to say it, this is what it looks like when a QB gets 'coached up' from one season to the next.) But there is no better running QB in college football than Texas' Vince Young. Young has thrown for nearly 600 yards the past two ball games and is finally earning respect as a dual-threat. Once he gets those obligatory first half INTs behind him and gets his groove on, there are very, very few D-I athletes who can take the game over as can VY.

This game would be scarier if it was in College Station. And I hate the thought Texas' spotty special teams play may give up a score Friday. But it's Senior Day in Austin, Texas. And the thought of sending the likes of RB Cedric Benson and WLB Derrick Johnson out on a losing note is unthinkable. It won't be the 30+ routs we've seen the past couple of seasons, but it should be in the neighborhood of Texas 33, A&M 20.

Pearle -- I have believed all season that Texas would crush A&M on T+1 with the game in Austin, but as the game draws nearer and I look at the teams more closely, my confidence in a Texas win has gotten shaky.

The Horns have played dominating football at times since the OU game in reeling off five straight wins. They have looked like the best team in the country in a couple of those games, particularly against Texas Tech in Lubbock and in the second half against Oklahoma State. That was a juggernaut of a Longhorn team in those games, playing as beautiful a brand of football as I can remember a Texas team playing, grinding opponents to pieces behind the running of Cedric and Vince.

But then there is the Texas team that walked to the edge of the abyss in the first half against OSU before rallying, and the group that dozed through most of the Kansas game before awakening to pull out what almost has to be considered a miracle victory, relying as it did on a 4th and 18 conversion to keep the winning drive alive. In the last two games, Texas has flirted with disaster, only to find the magic at exactly the right time to stave it off.

So what Horn team is going to show up Friday afternoon, the Burnt Orange Juggernaut or the Comatose Kids? The fact is, if Texas comes out flat against the Aggies and thinks it can wait around until the fourth quarter for Vince to save their collective chili as they have the previous two games, a dangerous, confident, physical A&M football team will ruin Senior Day in Austin as sure as the sun is coming up tomorrow. If on the other hand the Horns take care of the football, throw in a few wrinkles on offense, execute their gameplan, and ride the wave of emotion generated by what should be a frenzied DKR crowd, they will beat the Aggies by 7-10 points. So which will it be?

For some reason, I feel like A&M has the emotional and mental edge in this one. They have to believe that for the first time in years, really, they can match Texas talent-wise. A&M's defense looks big, physical and fast, and they have played great run defense, giving up only 119 yards on the ground per game this season. Their secondary ain't so great, but then Texas' strength offensively is not in its passing game. Obviously, to beat the Ags, Texas will have to run it effectively, and it won't be easy. But it can't just be a running offense -- Greg Davis will have to show some creativity in this one and find ways to spread the ball around and get it downfield to keep the Aggies from selling out at the line of scrimmage. A conservative, OU-style gameplan will get the Horns beat on Friday.

Offensively, the Aggies are explosive behind Reggie McNeal, Courtney Lewis and Terrence Murphy. These guys gave Oklahoma and everybody else they played all they wanted and more. Horn DC Greg Robinson has proven he can line 'em up and stop anybody the Horns have faced this season, but he will be supremely challenged to keep this trio in check on Friday.

So what's it gonna be? Though I think the Aggies have a mental edge coming into the game, I still think Texas, as the game wears on, will rise up behind the senior leadership of Cedric Benson and Derrick Johnson and play focused but emotional football, and will answer everything that A&M throws at them, which will be plenty. In a gut churning, roller-coaster ride of a game that will go down to the last play, Texas will pull it out and await its BCS fate. Texas 31, A&M 27.

Ross -- A&M has its best squad since probably '98, Mack Brown's first in Austin. Texas (arguably the inferior team, at least based on the rankings) jumped on the back of soon-to-be Heisman winner Ricky Williams and a freshman QB named Major Applewhite for a 26-24 win. In '99, the Aggies (the inferior team) rode the emotion of the Bonfire tragedy to a 20-16 come-from-behind win. Since that game, Brown's superior teams have four wins over inferior A&M teams with an average margin of victory of over 25 points (and by four TDs in the two wins in Austin).

The question Friday in the Capital City is, will this be another of those games where the underdog pulls the upset or will it be a repeat of the last four years. In answering that question, I think it's instructive to remember Brown's attitude shaped by that '99 game.

Back in '99, after what Inside Texas dubbed the Aberration in College Station game, I wrote that Mack Brown should bottle the emotion he felt after the way he and his team were treated in Aggieland (late night phone calls, no breakfast, etc. despite a very public, official Longhorn outpouring of sympathy following the Bonfire tragedy) and unleash it every year when his team faced A&M. Literally and figuratively, no more taking a knee (as the Horns did in '99 coming out of the lockerroom early, losing every ounce of momentum witnessing the end of the halftime tribute to the fallen Ags), regardless of circumstance. And since that day, the evidence suggests Brown has indeed consistently had his team more ready to play A&M than versus any other team on the schedule. Off the field distractions have been left off the field. Texas has come to win.

Despite lingering BCS issues, that's exactly what I expect to see from UT at DKR Friday. I believe this game is similar to the one on the second Saturday of October, with the Horns taking the opposite role than the one they play in the Cotton Bowl against the Sooners. Brown prepares his team such that they know they will perform up to a winning standard, not just hope for it to happen. Like Texas-OU, the names on the back of the jerseys matter far less than the ones on the front.

Yes, the Longhorn players must execute, particularly Vince Young. The success, and the failure, of the Texas O is on his broad shoulders more than any other player in the Burnt Orange. Actually, the more his success stays below the shoulders -- specifically, on his legs and feet -- the closer to zero the Ags' chances of winning become. If Vince runs, and Cedric runs, and Vince runs, and Cedric runs and runs and runs -- you get the picture -- the less chance Vince's arm will put A&M in position to steal this one through turnovers. He'll need to pass, of course, but the closer his attempt number is to 15 rather than 30 the better.

So, Texas' soon-to-be Heisman finalist and its sophomore QB runs, soon-to-be Butkus winner Derrick Johnson leads as Greg Robinson's D defends the A&M run, and Reggie McNeal, whose developed into a very, very good QB, simply can't do it all himself to overcome a still superior Longhorn team. Texas 34, A&M 22.


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