Bill Frisbie, Lead Writer – As I walked out of Memorial Stadium following Texas A&M's drubbing of the Horns in 1994, I spotted my favorite UT journalism professor in the stands.
"It's just not our decade," I told him.
Indeed, the Aggies had taken 10-of-11 from the Horns at that juncture. (Try telling that to one of today's UT students; they'll take your keys from you and call you a cab.)
What a difference a decade makes! Longhorn coach Mack Brown looks to up his mark against the Farmers to 8-2, and both A&M wins this decade have clearly been aberrations (the 1999 bonfire tragedy combined with QB Major Applewhite's stomach virus, last season's injury to Colt McCoy combined with the poorly kept secret that backup QB Jevan Snead and DC Gene Chizik were opting for other pastures). Now, A&M is looking to replace its head coach for the second time in six seasons. And the Aggies are playing like they want a new coach – with one notable exception. QB Stephen McGee is a gamer, a class act and Coach Fran's most vocal supporter. Having said that, no one (but no one!) has more incentive Friday than Texas QB Colt McCoy. The reason he added 10 pounds of muscle during the off-season is for this game.
Neither defense can defend the pass, but the Aggies can't throw consistently (NCAA No. 106,171.3 ypg).
The X-factor in this game is unlikely to be Franchione's last stand nor the added incentive of a possible berth in the Big 12 Championship game for Texas. Instead, it is the playcalling of offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who keeps it close to the vest at College Station. Texas, of course, needs to jump on A&M early. Look for McCoy to hook-up with TE Jermichael Finley early, reminiscent of David Thomas' long score on Texas' opening drive in 2003.
No one can predict turnovers, but the six combined giveaways against Kansas State and OU was the difference in those two ballgames. If Texas holds onto the ball and Davis learns to relax in College Station, then Texas wins by two scores. Texas 30, Texas A&M 17.
Ross Lucksinger, InsideTexas.com Editor – It's all quite simple. Texas needs this win. Texas A&M needs this loss.
Last year's aberration in Austin was a game that few people walked away from happy and that includes the Aggies. Many Texas A&M fans were placed in the odd position of adulation over finally beating the sips after so many years, but distaste of having Dennis Franchione as their head coach for at least another season.
Now, the Aggies are on the verge of jettisoning Coach Fran from College Station, but the final nail must be placed. It'll happen on Friday.
Texas A&M is all over the place, mentally. The players say they support their coach, but Martellus Bennett never gets the ball and it seems like he knows. Stephen McGee is being systematically regressed as a quarterback by Aggie coaching and it seems like he doesn't know. The coaches are busy preparing their resumes instead of putting 100 percent into game preparation. There's too much distraction for all the Aggies to be on the same page on T+1.
The Longhorns, on the other hand, are finally on the same page. This is a completely different football team than the one we saw trot out against Arkansas State and almost lay an egg. This is a team that has a solid offensive line and can run the football. This is a deep team with legitimate backups that have stepped right in for starters that has shown the toughness to survive staggering adversity. Essentially, all major problem areas have turned into strengths... well almost all.
The pass D is, statistically anyway, one of the worst in the country and the starting linebackers are still the starting linebackers. The first area won't be much of an issue because A&M doesn't have the receivers to hit the Horns where they're weakest and Franchione seems to have forgotten that the tight end is an eligible receiver. But the second area could be a major issue. The Aggies' option attack befuddled the Longhorn 'backers last season and those same linebackers will be starting again against Texas A&M.
But match-up-wise, the A&M defense will not be able to stop Texas, especially in the run game and that'll make the difference. A weakened Colt McCoy had last year's game placed on his injured shoulders when the Horns couldn't run the ball. This time, Jamaal Charles goes for 200 – that's right 200 -- and the Longhorns roll.
Before the season I picked this game as an upset road loss for the Horns. Midway through the season I maintained that prediction. But after Oklahoma State, this has become a different football team and the result will be very, very different. The Aggies will get a couple TDs, but the Texas O will run rampant at Kyle Field on Friday.
Mudhole. Texas 45, Texas A&M 17.
Michael Pearle, Co-Publisher – I am disinclined to believe the hyped storyline of this game, that Texas remembers last year's championship-busting loss and the cheap shots suffered by Colt McCoy, and will come out Friday with fire, using the revenge motive to fuel an angry butt-kickin' of A&M. We all remember how well the revenge factor played into the Horns' anemic effort against Kansas State this season. Poor pass blocking and shoddy tackling will trump revenge every time.
On the other hand, this Texas team has improved a ton since losing to K-State. The offense, led by McCoy's running and passing and Jamaal Charles' evolution into a confident, decisive runner, has been explosive over the last several games. The defense, while continuing to give up miles of yardage through the air, has done enough when it had to to allow Texas to outscore its opponents. The question for me in this game is, can Texas continue this trend?
I believe A&M will move the ball all day against a Texas defense that hasn't shown that it can stop anybody for two quarters, let alone four. The Aggies will run the option on Texas to its heart's content, and will hit Martellus Bennett repeatedly, allowing them to run the clock and keep McCoy & Co. off the field. The Texas offense will need to make the most of its opportunities, because it won't see as much of the ball as it normally does. The offense will find the going rough, because although the A&M defense is mediocre, it will be pumped up by the frenzied crowd.
But with Colt McCoy and his array of talented receivers healthy, and with Charles and Vondrell McGee giving Texas a suddenly potent ground game, Texas will score just enough to stay ahead of Stephen McGee and the Aggies, who will be hot on Texas' heels all afternoon. Look for kicker Ryan Bailey to be Mr. Clutch again in this one. When the sun sets Friday, Texas will be standing 10-2, with all eyes focused on Norman, Oklahoma… Texas 27, A&M 24.
Clendon Ross, Co-Publisher – Texas has every incentive to whip the mediocre Aggies Friday. But much the same could have been said last year when a similarly mediocre A&M squad ended the Horns' Big 12 title and BCS bowl hopes with an uninspired effort in front of a predominantly orange-clad crowd at DKR.
So what makes this year different? Well, I've got to agree with Pat Culpepper that Colt McCoy is the critical difference. Not only that the Longhorn signal caller is healthy this year, but that he's also developed into a legitimate running threat. That, coupled with the resurrected abilities of Jamaal Charles, means that the Texas offense will not be the one-dimensional (relying on a severely dinged up quarterback at that) group that stunk up the joint and contributed greatly to last year's loss. McCoy also has a couple of Kellen Heard- and Michael Bennett-delivered ‘favors' to return to the Aggies. McCoy, being the classy player that he is, won't resort to A&M-like cheap shots – nor would I expect any other Longhorn to do so – but he and his teammates most certainly remember.
I also believe there is another factor at play. Sometimes it takes a good, strong smack upside the head to eliminate complacency. The Aggies delivered that blow to Texas last November. Before that day, not a single player on the '06 team knew what it felt like to lose to A&M. Wins over the Aggies had become a birthright rather than something to be earned. With that complacency gone, I expect a more focused, intense performance from the guys in Burnt Orange. It also helps that the game is on the road, where Mack Brown's UT teams have often turned in their best, most-inspired performances.
I'm concerned about the Texas defense (the linebackers who last year couldn't contain the A&M run game will again be on the field Friday; prayer for an epiphany from the Texas coaches that gets Kindle, Norton and Muckelroy more snaps than the starters), but the Horns' saving grace is that the worst unit on the field Friday will be the Aggie offense. And the best unit will be the Texas offense, which should allow the Horns to outscore the hosts.
Given the turmoil in College Station, I believe if the Horns come out and punch the Aggies in the face, Texas will control this game. I expect that to happen. Texas 34, Texas A&M 17.
Average of IT Members Picks: Texas 37, Texas A&M 20.