Texas A&M football is off to another great start in 2013. The Ags are 4-1 and ranked 9th in the country. If you had told me two years ago that we would be on our way to a second Top 10 season and have a reigning Heisman Trophy quarterback winner at quarterback, I would have told you to go back to the loony bin you just came from.
The offense has been everything it was expected to be, and more, averaging 49.2 points and over 586 yards of total offense a game. Manziel has bounced back from his off-season troubles and picked up right where he left off in 2012, averaging 62.8 yards rushing and 360.6 yds passing per game. Many expected the receiving core would take a big hit with the departures of Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, but stud receiver Mike Evans has made up the difference, hauling in 28 passes for a whopping 691 yds and 5 touchdowns. The ground game has been as shored up as ever, with senior running back Ban Malena leading the pack with 303 yards and 7 touchdowns. The only reason his stats aren’t more impressive is due in large part to the great play of Tra Carson, Brandon Williams, and Trey Williams behind him.
As you can see, the offense is running just fine. Clarence McKinney’s “score at all costs” mentality has paid off dividends for the Ags, hence why they’re second in the SEC in points scored.
But the big question has been, and will be, the Aggies' defense.
A&M lost junior All-American DaMontre Moore early to the 2013 NFL draft, and defensive tackle Spencer Neely and linebackers Sean Porter and Johnathan Stewart graduated. That’s a lot for a defense to bounce back from, and a lot of leadership roles left vacant.
Looking to lead in the middle was linebacker Steven Jenkins, who came on strong at the end of last season. However, an in-house suspension found him on the sideline for the first two games, along with starting defensive back De’Vante Harris and defensive end Gavin Stansbury. Add all of that to cornerback Deshazor Everett and safety Floyd Raven’s half-game and one game suspensions, as well as defensive tackle Kirby Ennis’ season-opener suspension for gun charges, and you’ve got more than half of your starting D riding pine.
Their absence was more than evident in the first two games, when the Aggies turned in lackluster performances by giving up 31 and 28 points to Rice and Sam Houston State respectively.
Luckily, all of the starters were back in time for ‘Bama (whew, cut that one close), but it takes time for a defense to gel, and that happens best in games, not practice. By the time the Aggies were at full strength for the Crimson Tide it was too late, as they gave up 568 total yards and 49 points in a shoot-out loss. As someone outside looking in, you can’t help but think that if the starters had been together from the start, we might have edged out the Tide.
Facing SMU the next week, the defense looked much better, surrendering only 13 points in a lop-sided 42-13 win. But that personal victory was short-lived, as the Ags gave up 483 yards to a struggling Arkansas team and just did edge out the Razorbacks in Fayetteville, 45-33. As if to add insult to injury, Ennis went down with a torn ACL and will be out for the rest of the season, opening up a huge hole on the defensive line.
You win games with offense, but you win championships with defense. Unless one of the young players steps in to a big-time role, like true freshman linebacker Darian Claiborne, (11 tackles vs. Rice, 8 vs. Arkansas), Texas A&M won’t become an elite team (at least not this year). But I’m a big believer in Mark Snyder, as is most of the 12th Man, and if anybody can turn this team around, it’s him. Granted, I’m looking at it through Maroon & White glasses, but I truly believe that if the Ags can get capable leaders on defense, they can win out and be at a BCS bowl in January.
Well, that was…interesting. That’s the about the only thing that can describe my feelings on the Texas Rangers’ season. A year that started out with a lot of promise, but one that saw the club miss the postseason for the first time in four years.
After an abysmal end to 2012, the Rangers were looking for a fresh start. Slugger Josh Hamilton, whose sloppy play down the stretch drew the ire of many Texas fans, signed with the division rival Angels over the off-season, freeing up GM Jon Daniels and the front office to sign other big free agents. Opting for a smaller fish, the Rangers signed brash backstop A.J. Pierzynski, shoring up a veteran presence on the field and in the lineup. They also made sure to keep their returning playmakers, signing hurler Matt Harrison and short stop Elvis Andrus to big contract extensions. It was a new look to a familiar team, one that would hopefully make a long run in the postseason.
However, baseball is a tricky game, and a lot can happen over 162 games. Harrison, an 18-game winner a year ago, was sidelined with an injury after just two starts, and Andrus found himself mired in a slump for most of the season. Pierzynski was able to fulfill his role quite well though, and the solid play of Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Yu Darvish kept the Rangers in it for most of the season.
But when July rolled around, reports surfaced that All-Star Cruz had received performance enhancing drugs from the now dismantled Biogenesis Clinic in Miami. The slugger confessed to taking the PED’s in late 2011-early 2012, and was hit with a 50-game suspension by the league. Suddenly, the Rangers were without their top home run hitter and leading RBI man.
But credit Daniels for picking up outfielder Alex Rios off of waivers from the White Sox. He proved to be a valuable player down the stretch, and I don’t think the Rangers would have even gotten a whiff of the postseason if it weren’t for him. That being said, he’s no Nelson Cruz, and the scoreboard showed it. The Rangers were missing their biggest power threat and dropped 15 of their first 20 games in September.
It was the same song, different verse; a promising start, only to see the team deflate and collapse in the end. But, unlike last season’s squad, this year’s Rangers were determined not to repeat history, rolling on to seven straight wins at the end of the season (four of those courtesy of Josh Hamilton and the Angels) to force a one game tie-breaker with the Rays. They lost that one 5-2, but you can’t help but admire the fight at the end of the season. However, if the Rangers had just taken care of business earlier in the season, they wouldn’t have had to worry about losing it in the 163rd game.
The starting 2013 rotation was a tough-luck story as well. Yu Darvish would have made a case for the Cy Young if it were not for awful run support, a problem that undoubtedly would have been helped with Cruz’s bat. The same goes for Derek Holland. While the lefty had an up-and-down season, his performance warranted a much better record than 10-9.
I think the number of headhunters calling for Ron Washington to be burned at the stake has dwindled, but Rangers fans are still hurting from the let-down of another under-achieving season. Hopefully, they can find the right pieces in the off-season to win a World Series Championship in 2014.
While skill is the first and foremost requirement for professional athletes, size is always a plus. You may be able to run like a jackrabbit, but if you’re only 5’5’’ and 120 lbs., then your NFL future looks pretty bleak. For some, they’re able to combine powerful size with top-notch skill to become the best athletes in the world. Here’s a list of the 20 biggest, brawniest and beefiest professional athletes, taken from bleachrreport.com’s Amber Lee article. The “Net Size” is based on a mathematical formula that takes into account the athlete’s height and weight.
20. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Net Size: 87.5
Rockets center Dwight Howard may not be one of the more intimidating personalities in the NBA, but he is certainly imposing by his physical presence alone. That being said, he's got five inches and 50 pounds on former Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant, yet he looks like a little boy standing next to him.
19. Glen Davis, Orlando Magic
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Net Size: 89.5
Magic power forward Glen Davis' nickname is "Big Baby," emphasis on the "big." He was named the SEC Player of the Year in 2006 and selected by the SuperSonics in the second round of the NBA draft in 2007.
18. Al Jefferson, Charlotte Bobcats
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Net Size: 94.5
Quite conspicuously holding the coveted title of "NBA Big Man," center Al Jefferson signed a three-year deal with the struggling Bobcats in July.
17. Shaun Rogers, New York Giants
Net Size: 95
The best NFL defensive tackles pair big, nearly immovable bodies with athletic ability belying the mass they're asked to move around a football field—Giants defensive tackle Shaun Rodgers has spent 13 years doing just that.
16. Marcus Cannon, New England Patriots
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Net Size: 95
It's a good thing Marcus Cannon is such a beast, because the Patriots are going to need all the help they can get in this season of transition. A few more injuries and this guy might be catching passes from Tom Brady.
15. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Net Size: 97.5
Grizzlies center Marc Gasol is just a shade bigger than older brother Pau, who plays for the Lakers. Must be something in those Gasol genes…apparently their boys only come in sizes "Large" and "Larger."
14. Kellen Heard, NFL Free Agent
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Net Size: 100.5
Free-agent nose tackle Kellen Heard has struggled to stay on an NFL roster since first being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Memphis by the Raiders in 2010. He has since had stints with the Bills, Rams and Colts.
13. Andrew Bynum, Cleveland Cavaliers
Net Size: 102.5
Newly signed Cavaliers big man Andrew Bynum is so lanky looking and has such fragile knees that I was actually surprised to learn he tips the scales at nearly 300 pounds. He certainly carries it well. As far as I could tell, this makes Bynum the third-largest active player in the NBA…or darn near.
12. Hasheem Thabeet, Oklahoma City Thunder
Net Size: 106.5
Hasheem Thabeet is one of countless players in the NBA chosen ridiculously high in the draft because he is ridiculously tall. Assuming someone is going to be great professional basketball player because he's tall is a stereotype costing NBA teams millions of dollars each year. Thabeet lasted less than two seasons with the Grizzlies before being traded to the Rockets…and then the Trail Blazers…and then he signed with the Thunder in 2012.
11. Michael Jasper, NFL Free Agent
Net Size: 107.5
Free-agent lineman Michael Jasper was drafted by the Bills out of Bethel in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL draft. If there's anything such as too big in the league, this guy is it. Jasper spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad before being activated in late December. He was released by the Bills the following summer and has since been dumped by the Titans, Omaha Nighthawks and Giants.
10. Eddy Curry, Zhejiang Golden Bulls
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Net Size: 107.5
Believe it or not, before Eddy Curry's epic 100-pound weight loss in 2011, his overall size (157 net size) would've put him somewhere between the second and third athletes on this list. Which will be pretty freaking epic once you see who those guys are. Curry's current size is much better for his career—not to mention his health.
9. Leonard Davis, NFL Free Agent
NFL Photos/Getty Images
Net Size: 107.5
For a man of his impressive girth, free-agent guard Leonard Davis had a very impressive career in the NFL. Drafted by the Cardinals No. 2 overall in 2001, the three-time Pro Bowler played last season with the Super Bowl runner-up 49ers. An even more positive spin would be calling the Niners the "NFC Champions," which Davis' Wikipedia page does.
8. Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Net Size: 110
Roy Hibbert, the 26-year-old Pacers center, has always been a sizable presence on the court. But look for him to be even more sizable this upcoming season, having spent the offseason training with ageless (giant) wonder Tim Duncan.
7. King Dunlap, San Diego Chargers
Net Size: 110
King Dunlap is the rather giant offensive tackle currently tasked with protecting the blind side of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Having played his first five years with the Eagles, Dunlap became an unrestricted free agent in 2013 and signed a two-year deal with San Diego.
6. Phil Loadholt, Minnesota Vikings
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Net Size: 111.5
Vikings offensive tackle Phil Loadholt is positively massive, exactly the kind of guy you want blocking for MVP running back Adrian Peterson. An unrestricted free agent this past offseason, Peterson's public support had to have played a significant role in the decision to re-sign him.
5. Bryant McKinnie, Baltimore Ravens
Net Size: 116
Ravens offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie may be one of the largest players in the NFL, but that doesn't mean he's "fat or sloppy." So says McKinnie, who recently expressed his displeasure with the constant barrage of criticism he faces for how much he weighs.
4. T.J. Barnes, Jacksonville Jaguars
Net Size: 117
Former Georgia Tech defensive tackle T.J. Barnes is a rookie who struggled a bit through training camp but ultimately made the final roster for the Jaguars.
3. Terrell Brown, NFL Free Agent
Net Size: 151.5
During this past offseason the Rams signed undrafted free agent Terrell Brown out of Ole Miss because coach Jeff Fisher said they were trying to "add size" to their offensive line. Well the added size was short-lived, as Brown was waived following an injury in July.
2. The Big Show, WWE
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Net Size: 172.5
They don't call him the Big Show for nothing. The WWE superstar's name isn't an ironic nickname like "Little Kevin" (God rest his soul) from The Wire, who was called little but was actually quite large. The Big Show is, in fact, quite big.
1. Emanuel "Little" Yarbrough, Sumo Wrestler
Net Size: 240
Obviously this whole list would've been occupied by sumo wrestlers if we'd gone that direction—thankfully we didn't. One is enough when you've got Emmanuel Yarborough, the Guinness World Record holder for the largest athlete. Keep in mind—this is him after losing 100 pounds.
It seemed like everyone and their mother came to College Station last weekend for the big game against ‘Bama. Thousands upon thousands of fans (and non-fans) invaded Aggieland to attend what they believed was going to be the college football party of the year. And it was.
If you were one of those who braved the masses to tailgate or go to the game, then you witnessed one of the biggest events in Texas A&M history. If you weren’t, then you missed out on something truly historic. If the latter was you, then allow me to give you a little photographical insight into how Gameday went, both as a sports reporter and as a member of the 12th Man.
My first stop was at the Zone 1150 broadcast tent near the Former Student Association Center. Louie and the gang were doing their usual thing, shooting the “good bull” and chatting about the up-coming match-up. Hard to believe they get paid to do this.
Next, I took a nice little stroll down Houston Street. And by stroll, I mean I pushed, poked and prodded my way through a mass of maroon and white. Tailgates and people surrounded me on all sides. To the right, Spence Park, where white tent tops and banners stretched as far as the eye could see, and to the left, Lot 48, where tailgaters had set up shop on the sidewalk.
After managing to awkwardly rub up against only a few dozen people, I made the turn around the ruins of what used to be G. Rollie White and headed through the MSC to Simpson Drill Field, where I came upon this.
Keep in mind, this was 9 O’clock in the morning, more than 5.5 hours away from kick-off. Many in the crowd had camped out all night in hopes of getting caught on the ESPN Gameday camera.
Once I got my super-duper secret ESPN credentials, I snuck back stage (which is really front stage) to the camera perch in front of the Gameday set. I had gotten to stand in that spot for last year’s game against Florida, but this time it felt different, probably because of the magnitude of the game. Watching Corso, Fowler, Herbstreit and Howard haggle over the picks for the day is something great to witness in person.
Even better were the Gameday signs. I saw everything from “Nick Saban listens to Nickelback,” to a lovely picture of Paul Finebaum dressed as a clown.
Gameday wrapped up around 11, and then I trudged across the field to our hospitality tent on Joe Routt behind The Zone. On the way, I ran into some flamboyant Aggie and Tide fans; some attractive...
...and some not so attractive.
By the time I got to the tent, it was a bustling city, with street teamers and employees running around, making sure all the guests had refreshments and food; especially Congressman Bill Flores.
In the midst of it all, I still somehow managed to call in to the West Virginia Radio Network for a couple of pre-game updates. Even though the game didn’t start for another 2.5 hours, there were still plenty of things to talk about. I could tell just by the tone of their voices that the folks in West Virginia were jealous of my seat at the game, especially since tickets were going for the cost of a house payment.
After milling around the tent and snapping a few pictures, it was time for me to make my way to the press box. Kevin O’Connor, a.k.a. “Boss Hogg”, and I walked over to the alumni side of the stadium where the elevators were waiting take us up. As we made the turn, I saw the line and stopped me dead in my tracks. It snaked all the way down the sidewalk, almost to the gate, and men and women stood crowded together, melting in the sweltering heat. Luckily, the working press gets a few privileges at the game, and we were able to sneak up to the front of the line. I could feel the eyes burning into the back of my head, but luckily, the crowd’s average age was around 72, so all I had to worry about was a stray cane wacking me in the calf.
Once we got into the press box, I started to set up my stuff. Lap-top; stat sheet; everything was in place. I tried to contain my excitement, because you’re supposed to be “strictly professional” when working the game, but it was difficult to do.
A few minutes passed and then the band started cranking up the Aggie War Hymn. Now, one thing I had heard of, but never actually experienced before this season, was the top level of Kyle Field moving when we “saw varsity’s horns off”. I’ve been to plenty of games, both as a student and on the alumni side, but I’ve always been moving with the crowd, so I’ve never been able to feel the effects of it while sitting still. Needless to say, if you’re not expecting it, it’s something that would make you soil your shorts.
The starting line-ups were announced, the players made their way onto the field and we were ready to start. I tried to contain myself throughout the game, but I might have let a few cheers and groans slip out. Thankfully, we were allowed to go down to the field for the last 6 minutes of the game, and I was finally able to yell.
The rest, as you know, is history, but the game and the time leading up to it was something very special for me and every Aggie. If you weren’t able to make it, I hope this helped you get a little bit of the feel of last Saturday. Granted, the experience of actually being there could never be duplicated in writing.