The Texas A&M football team opens the 2011 season against SMU at Kyle Field in front of a national television audience on Sunday. The Aggies are coming off a 9-4 season and will be playing a Southern Methodist team that has gone to two straight bowl games. Both A&M and SMU feature senior-laden lineups. A&M returns 18 starters and SMU returns 16 starters from the 2010 season.
June Jones has slowly built the SMU program back to respectability. After a stretch of 25 years where they did not qualify for a bowl, Jones has led the Mustangs to back-to-back postseason appearances. Jones turned around the Hawaii program and is well on his way to doing the same on the Hilltop.
Let's take a look at the matchups that will determine the outcome of the game on Sunday.
Kyle Padron is entering his third season as the starter at QB for the Mustangs. The junior completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 3,828 yards with 31 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2010. Padron is progressing nicely in June Jones' run-and-shoot offense, but still shows the propensity to turn the ball over at inopportune times.
Tim Deruyter is the second-year defensive coordinator for Texas A&M. In Deruyter's first year in Aggieland, the defense improved from 105th in the nation to 57th. The defense made the big plays to win big games that created the Wrecking Crew tradition at A&M. Deruyter excels at confusing the opposing QBs by bringing blitzes from all over the field.
Advantage: Texas A&M
Deruyter's scheme confuses the best of QBs, and now the Aggie defense has a year in his system under their belt. Expect the Wrecking Crew to force multiple turnovers against the Mustangs.
Cole Beasley and Darius Johnson lead the SMU WR corps. In 2010 Beasely caught 87 passes for 1,060 yards and six touchdowns. Johnson was second on the team behind 78 receptions for 845 yards and six TDs.
Freshman Kyle Guinyard is coming off a redshirt year he spent recovering from a knee injury suffered during his senior year of high school. Before the injury, Guinyard was one of the top WRs in the state. It will be interesting to see how he progresses.
The Aggies return their entire secondary from 2010. Seniors Terrance Frederick and Coryell Judie make up one of the best CB tandems in the conference. Trent Hunter, Steven Campbell and Steven Terrell all return after starting in the secondary last season. Junior Dustin Harris started at CB as a freshman and would start for any other team in the conference.
Because SMU's offense features four WRs on the field at all times, expect to see the Ags play a lot of nickel with Harris at CB and Frederick at the nickelback position as a base defense.
SMU has not played against a secondary as talented as A&M's. However, June Jones is a great offensive coach and the SMU WRs will find a way to get their yards.
Zach Line rushed for 1,494 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010. Line averaged an impressive 6.1 yds per carry. The only RB to rush for more yards in a season for SMU was Eric Dickerson. Line is a straight-ahead runner who is not going to make a lot of people miss. He is a 6'1" 230-pound north-south runner who will break tackles.
A&M still has question marks at ILB. Senior Garrick Williams return at the SLB spot but was ineffective during the last half of 2010. Junior Jonathan Stewart takes over for the departed Michael Hodges at MLB. Stewart was highly thought-of coming out of high school but has never lived up to his reputation.
Line is a quality big back and Jonathan Stewart has not done anything in his two years at A&M to prove he is a difference-maker.
Texas A&M will feature one of the top offensive lines in the nation in 2011. The Ags return four of five starters on the OL. Sophomores Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews are bookends at tackle, and both should be high-round NFL draft picks. Patrick Lewis has moved over to his more natural position of center. Sophomore Shep Klinke has held off senior Evan Eikie's push for Lewis' RG spot. Eike started in 2009 and 2010 before suffering an injury. The Ags OL unit may prove to be the best they have ever put on the field.
SMU returns all three of the starters on the DL in their 3-4 alignment. SMU probably features the tallest DEs in the nation with 6'6" 287-pound senior Taylor Thompson at one end and 6'8" 295-pound junior Margus Hunt at the other. Senior NG Marquis Frazier completes the DL for the Mustangs. SMU was tough against the run last year allowing only 3.7 yards per carry. Both Taylor and Hunt will play on Sundays.
This will be a good test for the interior OL of the Aggies. Will be interesting to see how they deal with the length of the Mustang defenders. SMU has not faced an OL this good in the past two years. Army was able to control the ball in the Armed Forces Bowl against SMU by pushing their DL around the field. A&M has a better OL than Army.
The OLBs at Texas A&M define the Wrecking Crew defense. Von Miller brought an elite level of play back to the OLB position for the Ags, and junior Sean Porter and sophomore Damontre Moore look to carry on that tradition. Moore had 5.5 sacks as a true freshman last year and will be counted on to replace some of the pass rush that Miller created the past two years.
Seniors Kelvin Beachum and J.T. Brooks will be tasked with slowing down the pass rush from Porter and Moore. Beachum and Brooks are both veterans with two and three years starting experience each. SMU allowed a total of 34 sacks in 2010.
The only team that really handled Moore last season was LSU. SMU does not have the OL that LSU does. Football fans are going to be surprised at how good of a LB Sean Porter is.
Texas A&M features arguably the best RB duo in the country in senior Cyrus Gray and junior Christine Michael. Gray rushed for over 1,000 yards with 12 touchdowns in 2010. Michael saw his season cut short due to a broken leg, but managed to rush for 631 yards and four TDs. Both Gray and Michael had a great offseason in the weight room. Michael gained 12 pounds and is up to 221, while Gray gained seven pounds and is up to 205.
SMU's best LB is junior Ja'Gared Davis who earned all-conference honors last year. The 6'1" 220-pound OLB led the Ponies with nine sacks in 2010. Junior ILB Taylor Reed is the other returning starter at LB for SMU, and he led the Mustangs with 145 tackles in 2010.
A&M has the best RBs that SMU will have faced in years. Expect Michael and Gray to combine for at least 150 yards rushing against the Mustangs.
Texas A&M has one of the top WR units in the nation. Jeff Fuller is a potential All-American. Fuller and Ryan Swope both had 72 receptions in 2010. Uzoma Nwachukwu and Kenric McNeal would start for almost any team in the country. Nate Askew and Malcome Kennedy are chomping at the bit to prove themselves on the field.
The SMU secondary will feature three starters from last year, led by safety Chris Banjo who has 92 tackles 6.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions in 2010. The SMU secondary allowed 208.1 passing yards per game, giving up 18 touchdown passes while snagging 10 interceptions.
Unless they play Alabama in a bowl game, the Aggies will have trouble finding a secondary that can match up to their WRs.
A&M features on of the top kick returners in the nation in Coryell Judie who averaged 30.1 yards per return with two touchdowns in 2010. Dustin Harris averaged 11.5 yards per punt return and returned one for a TD in 2010. Randy Bullock is a solid placekicker. The Ags have question marks at deep snapper and punter. Freshman Drew Kaser has been injured for the entire fall camp and his status is up in the air. The Aggies have had trouble with deep snapping in every scrimmage this fall.
The SMU special teams unit is probably the best in the country at blocking kicks. The 6'8" freak of nature, Margus Hunt, has blocked multiple FGs and extra points in his career. The Mustangs special teams unit is extremely well coached.
If A&M turns the ball over, SMU could well win this game with their special teams. Expect to see at least one kick blocked by SMU in this game.
Texas A&M should win this game with a score somewhere around 37-24. SMU will bring a veteran squad into Kyle Field and will not be intimidated. Expect SMU to score at least one touchdown of a blocked kick or a turnover.
A&M has too much talent and too much depth for the Ponies to contain them for 60 minutes. This game will present a good test for both teams in the first game of the season.