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Let's Go Bowling: Thoughts On A&M, Texas Football

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What did A&M's Thanksgiving Day victory mean for its bowl standing? Where does Texas go from here?

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If you weren't too groggy from all that turkey and red wine on Thursday and hadn't gotten tired of watching football after the Patriots walloped the poor Lions and Roy Williams made hundreds of Cowboys fans spit out their pecan pie, you might have seen a performance for the ages.

Well, maybe not the ages, but Cyrus Gray certainly put his stamp on Texas A&M's 24-17 victory over Texas Thanksgiving night in a nationally televised game. Gray rushed for 223 yards and two touchdowns, which was the highest number of rushing yards by an Aggie in a game since Leeland McElroy went for 229 back in 1995. It was also the most rushing yards for an A&M running back against Texas ever. There were plenty of other neat little trivia points about this game, but the big outcome for the Longhorns is that it denied them a bowl berth.

That's a pretty big deal in its own right, but we'll get to that in a minute. First, you may also be confused about just how that game affected A&M's bowl chances. At 9-3, the Aggies were already assured of a bowl bid, but with Oklahoma's late-game heroics in the Bedlam game Saturday night, A&M, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma finished in a three-way tie for the Big 12 South lead. Because A&M has a head-to-head edge over Oklahoma, who has the edge over Okie State, who has the edge over A&M, the tiebreaker falls to the BCS Rankings.

Oklahoma is ninth in the BCS, followed by Okie State at 14th and A&M at 18th. That means Oklahoma will play Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship this Saturday. Where does that leave A&M in the game of Musical Bowls?

Well, here's the breakdown: The Big 12 victor gets a bid in a BCS bowl, most likely the Fiesta Bowl. That could be either Nebraska or Oklahoma, but I'm leaning towards the Huskers because of Oklahoma's inconsistent play down the stretch (beating Baylor and the Cowboys doesn't count).

A&M doesn't have as many overall wins as Oklahoma State or Oklahoma (or Missouri for that matter). Each of those three teams could be chosen above the Aggies for a bowl, which would mean they could fall to the fifth-choice bowl in a worst-case scenario. That would pit A&M up against USC in the Holiday Bowl, but the Trojans can't go to a bowl this season as per their NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations under former head coach Pete Carroll.

That leaves the Pac-10 with only three bowl eligible teams and the Holiday Bowl scrambling for a replacement. I'm sure they'd make a big push for Utah, Nevada or maybe Hawai'i. This could be a interesting matchup, but the potential for a dud opponent is huge, since the Holiday Bowl won't get first crack at those teams mentioned. That leaves them picking the best of the at-large teams like Temple, East Carolina and Army.

Since they did win a share of the Big 12 South, it stands to reason that they'll get picked ahead of Missouri. That leaves them heads up with Oklahoma State for the third spot from the Big 12, which is the Alamo Bowl. Unfortunately, since Oregon will be appearing in the BCS title game, that bumps Stanford up a rung. At No. 4 in the BCS, Stanford should get an at-large spot in a BCS bowl, but that's not certain. The Rose Bowl is obligated to take TCU (No. 3 in the BCS) this season, but the Fiesta Bowl could add Stanford instead.

That leaves a 7-5 Arizona team as A&M's likely opponent in San Antonio. It's another uninspiring matchup, but the folks from the Alamo Bowl must really enjoy this one. A&M draws very well, especially in San Antonio, and they can probably expect a bigger crowd than if Oklahoma or Okie State land here.

Here's a big catch in this whole process. There is no set order for which school these bowls take. The Fiesta Bowl gets the Big 12 Championship game victor, but after that, the Cotton Bowl just has second-choice and is not obligated to take the second-best team. Which is why the Aggies could be Dallas-bound for the first time since 2005. The Aggies are arguably the hottest team in the Big 12 right now, having won their last six games. They've also beaten two nationally ranked opponents in Oklahoma and Nebraska, but has pesky losses to both Missouri and Oklahoma State. That could give them an edge over the Big 12 title game loser, but it's really too soon to tell.

On interesting fact is that A&M has played in the second-most Cotton Bowls ever with 11 appearances. Oklahoma State has played there three times, most recently last year against Ole Miss while Nebraska has been there four times. Oklahoma has only been to one Cotton Bowl in its long and illustrious history when it beat Arkansas 10-3 in 2002. The Alamo Bowl has never hosted the Sooners while the Huskers and Aggies are tied for the second-most appearances in the bowl's 17-year history. There is a good chance the Cotton Bowl would want A&M over either Nebraska or Oklahoma when this weekend is done. If that's the case, A&M could be facing off with either South Carolina, Alabama or Mississippi State. That's assuming Auburn beats the other USC this weekend and is joined in the BCS by Arkansas.

So, to recap: A&M's best case bowl scenario is the Cotton Bowl against defending national champion Alabama and the worst case scenario is the Holiday Bowl against either Army or a 5-6 Washington team. Do you see why more people aren't trying to predict bowl berths right now? My money is on the Alamo Bowl against Arizona, which would be a pretty decent matchup and good for recruiting inside the state.

Speaking of recruiting, let's break down the impact this season might have on the Longhorns. Richard Justice opined that it's all about the coaches, that Major Applewhite needs to take over the offense and the o-line needs upgrading. He's largely right, but does get some things wrong. See, his first point is that Texas has more talent than A&M or Baylor right now. That's probably not the case. Earlier this year, Lance Zeirlein quoted one of his scout friends saying that A&M has more talent than Texas does right now. Looking at how the Aggies won on Thanksgiving, i can see what he's talking about.

Texas excelled in two big areas over A&M in that game: pass defense and special teams. Those two should have been enough for the Longhorns to steal the victory and get bowl-eligible. However, they had some glaring weaknesses. First, a pedestrian running game crippled the Texas offense. They started three freshmen on the offensive line and had three more on their two-deep depth chart along the line. That's a very young unit and not one that you can expect to dominate consistently. Add to that a stable of running backs that looked very ordinary (though they do have the size to pound it inside), and Texas was ill-equipped to run this "run-first" offense.

Across the field, the Aggies had a similarly young offensive line. However, they didn't give up much pressure on Ryan Tannehill and they were able to spring Gray for some big runs. That's with both tackles starting as freshmen. Part of that is Gray himself. When Christine Michael went down with a broken leg, Gray was asked to move from part-time runner to workhorse and did so seamlessly. He's rushed for 100 yards or more in seven straight games and really illustrates the kind of depth Mike Sherman has been able to build at A&M.

Now, I'm not saying that Sherman has his team built better than Mack Brown does, because A&M really just caught the Longhorns in a retooling year. Once they get their offense experienced in this new style and some good runners to put behind that offensive line, they will do just fine.

As for recruiting, Texas will be hurt by not going to a bowl game this year, but the real shockwaves won't be felt in February. It'll be next year, or the year after before this season shows up. And, if Texas bounces back for a nine-win season in 2011? There won't even be a blip on the prospect train rolling into Austin.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.