Texas A&M Football: Does Dustin Harris Hold the Key to the Aggies' Season?

Michael TaglientiFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2012

HOUSTON - DECEMBER 31:  Wide receiver Christian Jones #14 of Northwestern Wildcats has the ball go off his fingertips as defensive back Dustin Harris #22 of the Texas A&M Aggies defends on the play at Reliant Stadium on December 31, 2011 in Houston, Texas. Harris was called for pass interference.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

During the offseason, various pundits around the country analyze all college football teams and try to predict how each team will perform in the fall. These analysts are failing to recognize how important Dustin Harris is to the Aggies' success in 2012.

Most fans agree that the Aggies will win between seven and eight games during their inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference. In the best conference in the country, the difference between winning and losing can come down to one play in each game. The difference between the Aggies making a bowl game and having a losing season can come down to a handful of plays.

As the team's punt returner, Harris can have a huge impact on every game he plays. Special teams can swing the momentum of a game in one play. Whether those plays are positive or negative will help determine whether the Aggies' first season in the SEC is deemed a success or a failure.

Harris is a senior cornerback who has been a part-time starter during his career. He was a high school quarterback who was recruited by Mike Sherman to play on the defensive side of the ball. He started 10 games as a true freshman at cornerback, earning freshman All-Big 12 honors.

At 6'0" and 175 pounds, he has the size that pro scouts salivate over. He runs the 40 in under 4.4 seconds and can compete with Ryan Swope for the title of fastest Aggie.

Harris has all the physical attributes you would look for in a starting NFL cornerback. The issue with Harris has always been his lack of consistency. Harris can be brilliant at corner, as he was in 2009 when he held then-true freshmen A.J. Green to only 57 yards on six catches in the Independence Bowl.

He can also blow coverages at the worst time, as he showed in 2011 against Kansas State. The Aggies had a 10-point lead with less than five minutes left in the game, and Harris allowed a long touchdown reception that let the Wildcats back in the game. KSU came back to win the game in four overtimes.

As a punt returner, Harris can be a true game-changer, as he was against Kansas in 2011 when he had three returns for 162 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown return. He led the nation in punt-return average with 18.6 yards per return. He can also frustrate fans with his inconsistency, as he did with a muffed punt in the Texas game.

Harris has the talent to play at the next level, but his inconsistent play has prevented him from achieving his potential. With the razor-thin margins of victory in the SEC, the Aggies need more consistent play from Harris if they want to be successful in 2012.

Harris will be counted on to return punts in 2012. He had a very solid spring where he did not drop any punts. If he can continue to display those kinds of hands then he will be a huge asset for the team.

Right now, Harris is in a competition with Deshazor Everett and Otis Jenkins for the cornerback spot opposite Floyd Raven. Everett is the likely starter unless the Aggies coaches are not happy with the play at free safety. 

Everett spent the last week of the spring at free safety. He impressed the coaches with his play. If Steven Terrell does not seize the job, then expect Everett to step in there. That will mean either Jacobs or Harris will be the starting cornerback. Even if he is not the starter, Harris will see a lot of playing time as the third corner. 

Although the SEC is not a pass-heavy league, Harris will still see plenty of playing time against all the three-receiver sets the Aggies will face.

You will see articles in magazines, newspapers and on the Internet about how the Aggies' season depends on the quarterback or the defense. The truth of the matter is that whether or not the Aggies end up in a bowl game can come down to the play of the senior cornerback from Livingston, TX.