Editor’s Note: Christian Alexander's college football selections can be purchased weekly on VegasInsider.com. Click to win!
Matchup: Texas (6-4, 3-4) at Texas A&M (6-5, 4-4)
Venue: Kyle Field (Natural Grass)
Date: Thursday, Nov. 24
Time/TV: 8:00 p.m. ET - ESPN
Line: Texas A&M -7.5, o/u 53.5
No question in my mind that this is the best week in college football’s regular season. From the Border War to the Backyard Brawl, the Civil War to the Egg Bowl, the Iron Bowl to the Apple Cup – this week is chock full of great rivalries. (By my count, there are 15 of them and I’ll have a selection with key analysis on each and every one in my Friday and Saturday picks this week).
Although it doesn’t have a catchy name, the Texas/Texas A&M rivalry is right up there when it comes to great college rivalries. (According to Wikipedia, some people call this game the “Lone Star Showdown” but I had never heard that) Hopefully, Texas A&M’s move to the SEC – or any other conference realignment - won’t bring an end to this great game or any of the other storied rivalries.
It’s been an up and down year for the Texas Longhorns. Coming off a very disappointing 2010 season which saw the ‘Horns finish 5-7, the pressure was on coach Mack Brown to get things headed back in the right direction. And yes, Texas has improved from last year, but the rabid Longhorn fan base is far from satisfied.
Brown’s program bolted out of the gates 4-0 and it looked like Texas was back to being a Top 20 team. And while some of those initial wins came against decent programs – BYU, UCLA, Iowa State – the Longhorns clearly weren’t up to the challenge when it came to the meat of their Big 12 schedule. More specifically, the Texas offense wasn’t ready to keep up in the weekly shootouts with the big boys in its conference.
After that 4-0 start, Texas has dropped four of its last six games. Setbacks to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Kansas State all had a familiar refrain. They often weren’t that close – the average margin of defeat was 16.5 points – and Texas had problems scoring points – they averaged 15 points a game in those four losses.
The struggles on offense can be traced back to one central problem, one that has yet to be solved. Texas doesn’t have a solid starting quarterback and is still flip-flopping between two players – never a good sign. There is true freshman David Ash, who has flashed great potential at times this year but has also shown that he is far from a polished college player. Even more worrisome, Ash seems to be struggling more as the season goes on and he's only completed only 20 of 45 passes for 197 yards in the last two games – both losses (Missouri and Kansas State).
Then there is sophomore Case McCoy – younger brother of Texas legend Colt McCoy. Primarily due to the struggles of Ash, McCoy has gotten a chance this year but has rarely looked up to the task. For instance, in the loss to Mizzo, McCoy was just 3 of 7 for 13 yards. Even Tim Tebow has better passing stats than that!
The issue at QB has slowed down the entire Texas offense and in the Big 12, where the scoreboard operator is typically very busy, the Longhorns just can’t keep up. Coach Brown said earlier this week that Ash and McCoy will split snaps in practice this week in order to figure out who gets the start against the Aggies. I’m sure that news is a confidence builder for the Longhorn faithful.
As much as the Longhorn offense has disappointed, the defense has over-performed. Considering that Texas has faced four of the top 15 offenses in the country and is still ranked 10th in the country in total defense tells you just how good this unit is. By my estimation, this Longhorns defense is definitely one of the top five in the country and make no mistake, if Texas wants to win this edition of the “Lone Star Showdown,” the defense must again carry the day.
Slowing down the Aggies is no easy task – certainly not in 2011. Texas A&M has the sixth ranked offense in the land and has only scored less than 28 points one time all year (25 vs. Oklahoma). The one piece of good news for the ‘Horns is that Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray could miss this game after sustaining a stress fracture in his left shoulder against Kansas. Most reports have hime listed as 'out' but he could still be a game-time decision. Without Gray, the Aggies would have to turn to sophomore Ben Malena or freshman Will Randolph, neither having much experience at all.
That said, even if Gray can’t play, the Aggies offense still has plenty of weapons. QB Ryan Tannehill continues to pile up the yards – he is now over 3,000 passing yards in 2011 – and with targets like WR Ryan Swope, might not miss much of a beat without a solid running game.
While Texas is 75-37 all time vs. the Aggies, this rivalry has been very close over the past 40 years, with Texas holding a 21-19 record in that time frame. Lately the Aggies have been on top, winning three of the past five, including a 24-17 win in 2010.
Texas is 5-5 against the spread
The Longhorns are 1-2 both SU and ATS on the road
The ‘under’ has gone 5-4-1 for Texas this season
Texas A&M is 3-8 against the spread
The school has gone 3-2 SU and 2-3 ATS at home
All three wins were by double digits
The Aggies have watched the ‘over’ go 7-4, which includes a 3-2 mark at home
The road team has won four of the last six in this series
The last two meetings in College Station saw 88 and 68 combined points posted, both ‘over’ winners