Friday, September 21, 2007

The Aggie Resurgance that Never Was

Five years into the Dennis Franchione era and Texas A&M is still searching for answers after a 34-17 drubbing at the hands of a Miami team that is not your typical Miami. This shouldn't be happening. The time for the Aggies is now. The resurgence of a program that fell from grace under RC Slocum should be well on its way towards Big XII titles and BCS bowls in year 5 under Dennis Franchione.

What exactly has gone wrong in Aggieland is even a more puzzling question. Since Franchione's arrival in College Station the Aggies have never finished with a better conference record than 5-3 ('04/'06), and those are the only two seasons that they have had winning records in conference. The Aggies have made only two bowl games in Franchione's four years, the Cotton in '04 and the Holiday Bowl in '06. Both, needless to say, were debacles, after losing to Tennessee 38-7 in '04 and California 45-10 in '06. During his four years he has amassed a 28-24 record, posting two winning seasons, a 6-12 record against ranked opponents (4 wins in his first two seasons, only two since), and a 1-9 record against Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.

The thing that makes this all the more of a mystery is A&M's recruiting classes during Franchione's tenure. According to, A&M had the #13 class and the #8 class in '04 and '05 respectively. However, they haven't been able to sustain that level with the #27 class and the #43 class in '06 and '07. Things do look better for '08 as they are currently rated at #13 for next year's class. But, you have to wonder what has happened to those first two top classes that are currently juniors and seniors. The players just haven't developed and the drop off in '06 and '07 don't show things getting any brighter in the near future.

A&M has appeared to have two turning points under Franchione, both of which were not sustained or built on. In his second season, A&M improved 3 games, notching wins over 3 ranked teams (Clemson, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech). The 7-5 mark looked to be a step in the right direction for Franchione. However, a loss in the Cotton Bowl (38-7), followed up by a 5-6 campaign in 2005, eroded any progress Franchione had made. Last season's win over Texas and a 9-3 record promised to be the re-birth of the program, but it appears that too is not going to be sustainable, as they followed the Texas game with a loss in the Holiday Bowl (45-10), two unimpressive wins in their first two games of 2007, capped off with a game that they were down 31-0 against a Miami team that hadn't shown any offense in 3 games thus far this season.

Unlike the 7-5 season in 2004, the 9-4 season in 2006 appeared to be more smoke and mirrors than actual substance. After having home and homes with Utah ('03 and '04) and Clemson ('04 and '05) both have fallen off the schedule in exchange for the likes of SMU and Texas State (2005), Citadel, LA-Lafayette, Army, and LA-Tech (2006), and Montana State, Fresno State (1-2), and LA-Monroe (2007). While the records have improved over the past two seasons, the quality of opponent has dropped off considerably, and it has come back to hurt the Ags in Big XII play. With road games at Texas Tech, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Missouri, 5-3 in the Big XII would be a major success for this current Aggies team, that is suffering from a range of problems.

The Aggies defense has always been shaky and suspect throughout the Franchione era, which is confusing considering his reputation for defense at TCU and Alabama. This year's defense looks even worse than in years past, getting torched by Fresno State and Miami through the air. The secondary looks confused and undisciplined. Though the secondary doesn't look anywhere as bad as the passing game. Featuring Stephen McGee, Javorskie Lane, and Michael Goodson on the ground makes A&M look like one of the most fearsome units in the country, but after the showing by McGee in the passing game, the Aggies will be facing 8 men in the box for much of the rest of the season. McGee was a very distinguished passing quarterback in high school, but he seems to have lost all confidence in his arm.

However, the most concerning problem with the Aggies is the coaching staff. The game plan for the Miami game was poorly conceived and executed. This is nothing new for the Aggies in big games, as was evidenced in the big bowl losses in 2004 and 2006. Franchione seems unable to put together a winning game plan, and play to his strengths, while attacking his opponents weakness.

While many are taking joy in the continued struggles of the Aggies, it's not good for Texas, or the Big XII. With a conference that features two national contenders (Texas is even questionable this season in that category) and not much else, the Big XII has fallen towards the bottom of the major conferences, clearly behind the SEC, Big East, Pac-10, and probably the ACC and Big Ten. The Big XII needs the Aggies to stabilize the conference, but it doesn't appear that will be the case anytime soon.

The Aggies have all kinds of problems, and depending on how this season plays out, Franchione may not have much rope left for that rabid fan base in College Station, or demanding Athletic Director Bill Byrne. You may or may not think Texas A&M deserves a winner, but the Big XII is in dire need of a national contender, and Texas needs another rival.

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