College football countdown: No. 21 Texas A&M

Monday, July 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Aggies seek to atone for last year's flop

R.C. Slocum entered the offseason with his mind churning through question after question, and not all of the questions pertained simply to replacing lost starters. The Aggies suffered a downward turn last season, falling from Big 12 contention early and settling for an 8-4 finish.

How effectively A&M can replace a plethora of lost starters, particularly on offense, will have a lot of say in whether the program can position itself to regain some of what it lost a year ago.

Slocum even took things a step further in spring drills, opening many incumbent jobs to competition, as well.

The question of who exactly will fill all those holes - the most important being quarterback - remains unanswered. Sophomores Vance Smith and Mark Farris and redshirt freshman Colby Freeman settled nothing three months ago.

"I don't think that is necessarily bad," Slocum said. "We'll see who works the hardest in the summer, and we'll continue the competition in August."

Slocum also must replace two offensive linemen, and injuries during the spring prevented any final decisions.

About the only sure thing with regard to the Aggies offense is that it has some talented running backs. Ja'mar Toombs has returned to fullback, while Joe Weber and Richard Whitaker have shown hints of greatness at tailback.

Last season taught this team all about potential, though. The team learned that potential alone doesn't count for much on Saturday.

Despite the fact that the Aggies return their entire front seven on defense, several jobs were opened to competition last spring, including both inside linebacker positions.

The major area of concern is the secondary, where Slocum and his staff must replace three starters.

"It's always a transition period when you lose guys like Jason Webster, Brandon Jennings, Sedrick Curry - guys who have started a lot of games for you," Slocum said. "You may be able to replace them with talented athletes, but you can't just plug that type of experience into their heads."

That transition period can't last long on offense, either. At least not if the Aggies intend to rebound strongly.

Schedule- Sept 2 at Notre Dame; Sept. 9 Wyoming; Sept 30 Texas Tech; Oct. 7 Colorado; Oct 14 at Baylor; Oct 21 at Iowa State; Oct 28 Kansas State; Nov 4 at Oklahoma State; Nov. 11 Oklahoma; Nov. 24 at Texas.

Texas A&M Aggies Capsule

COACH: R.C. Slocum (102-31-2 in 11 seasons at Texas A&M and overall).

LAST YEAR: 8-4, 23rd AP, 20th USA Today-ESPN.

OUT: In addition to so many new offensive faces, the Aggies also must replace Shane Lechler, who has handled punting duties the past four years.

IN: Slocum made two offseason coaching hires: Larry Kirksey, who will serve as assistant head coach and work with receivers, and Pete Hoener, who will coach offensive linemen.

BIG PLUS: The Aggies' entire front defensive seven returns, which is good. This remains a league in which a team largely must stop the run first and foremost.

BIG MINUS: After playing rather soft nonconference schedules in the recent past, A&M opens at Notre Dame, then plays host to Wyoming the second week. A young and inexperienced offense will be put to the test.

NATIONAL TITLE IF: Things click early. After Notre Dame, the Aggies don't have a difficult road schedule until finishing at Texas.

BOTTOM LINE: The Aggies must regain their swagger, not to mention their running game.

So Far
25. Clemson
24. Mississippi
23. Southern Miss
22. Utah
21. Texas A&M