Friday, May 18, 2012

A New Era of Respect

Over the past 5 or so years I have developed a very unhealthy dislike for rival schools such as University of Texas, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and TCU (although they were not yet in the Big 12).  I am not necessarily proud of my incessant disgust for those schools; it’s just the way it happened during my tenure at Texas A&M.  Sometimes it had to do with the university, sometimes it had to do with friends that attended the university.  In the end, the truth played out like this: the Aggies swam in the sea of mediocrity that of which caused me to be insecure in my fandom, which ultimately led to the manifestation of my antipathy.  Simple equation… negative results.

I would assume many Aggies fervently supported the Big 12 and desired to be a part of the strongest conference at any given moment.  I did not do that.  I wanted the teams named above to lose, and to lose badly, every weekend.  My blood boiled and there seemed to be no hope. 

Now I am not trying to act as if I am now above all the petty rivalry hatred; it would have undoubtedly continued if we remained in the Big 12, but fortunately I was given an out… the SEC.  I was given the opportunity to leave behind conference angst that once consumed me. 

One thing I loved about the Big 12 was its geographical advantages, everyone was neighbors; everyone had a friend at all the Texas schools.  But beyond the benefit of proximity, I became quite fed up with the Big 12.   Good riddance to your poor leadership, your lack of regulation, and your nonexistent accountability.  I am done with puppet commissioners and uneven revenue splits.  Take me to the ol’ South.  I most definitely think the grass is greener on their side.

Everyone I have encountered that is tied to the SEC genuinely LOVES the SEC.  They root for their respective team first, the SEC second.  Now I am sure there is still a large amount of unhealthy hatred (Alabama-Auburn for example) in various areas… no conference is above that, nor will they ever be, but as a whole I feel inclined to say the SEC treats each other right.  And (attempting to remove as much bias as possible here) I agreed when various people said the culture of Texas A&M fits well with the culture of the SEC.  I think a great deal of that notion revolves around the word “respect”.  Tradition supports and inspires respect, and we definitely aren’t lacking in the tradition category.  The SEC will see that quickly.

Confession: I am human, and, just like anyone else, am prone to irrational emotion.  After the insane conference realignment shenanigans, I am ready for a fresh start.  I am ready to respect my conference, respect my opponents, and respect the game again.  I don’t want to root for the demise of my conference counterparts.  I want to root for my team, and I want to root for something larger than my team!

I am fully aware that my idealistic tone will likely falter from time to time when Saturday afternoon football resumes.  No doubt, a sleazy coach or an arrogant player or a controversial call will set me off in a tizzy and infuse a new irrational disgust for the likes of say Mississippi State or Florida (hey, Florida already has Muschamp; that’s a start).  But hopefully I will have learned something from our time in the dysfunctional Big 12 and it will help to limit my loathing of other universities. 

I look forward to earning the respect of the SEC, and then respecting it back ten-fold.  And that starts on Saturday, September 8th when the Florida Gators come to Kyle Field.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Quiet Heroes Up Front

Back to the spring previews... The Offensive Line!

I consider it a true honor to praise the trench warriors.  Honestly, for the casual fan, the offensive line is probably the most difficult area of a football team to quantify/understand and therefore the least likely to receive its due praise.  No mainstream stats, no flashy awards… just big boys, doing a big job. 

I admit, I don’t watch the offensive line pave the way every offensive play… my eyes, just like everyone else’s, are glued to the football.  But when a big gain occurs, I immediately get warm and fuzzy inside thinking about a dominant offensive line. 

Time is of the essence in football.  The more time an offense has during a pass play, the greater the chance of success.  Quarterbacks have more time to scan the field and make an accurate assessment and receivers have more time to wiggle away from cornerbacks and safeties.  It is a true trickle-down effect… and it starts with the men up front.

Space is at a premium in football.  With twenty-two behemoths occupying very little real estate, carving out some space for your team (especially on offense) is a high priority.  Move your defender out of the way, and out shoots a running-back.  Get a running-back into the open field; let him reward you with big gain.  That’s the way it works on championship-caliber teams.

The Aggies may have the best offensive line in the SEC.  Seriously!  I sure do hope the rest of the team develops, because it’s not every day that you are given the gift of athletically talented, technically sound maulers.  I sure do hope Joeckel and Matthews and Patrick Lewis and Jarvis Harrison and Cedric Ogbuehi put the team on their back and lead the hungriest fan base in America to a bit more gridiron glory.

Without further ado, let’s get to the breakdown:

You could honestly say the most OR the least about our amazing offensive tackles.  You could rave about their talent and marvel that if everything goes as planned, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews could be first round draft selections when they leave College Station.  It is as simple as that.  We have two future NFL starters as our current bookends.  Matthews came to Texas A&M with a bit more hype, but it is Joeckel who has stolen the show from the moment he stepped on campus.  From day one he was the starting left tackle and not once has anyone doubted his ability to protect our Quarterbacks blindside with ease.  Any true football fan (or just a fan of The Blind Side and Sandra Bullock) knows that this might be the greatest blessing of all for our Texas A&M Aggies.  With the luxury of plugging Joeckel into the left tackle spot for as long as he will grace us with his presence, it allows Matthews to succeed in a SLIGHTLY less pressure filled spot on the right side.  Son of former NFL great Bruce Matthews, Jake Matthews has all the natural gifts needed to dominate on Saturdays and ultimately reach his goal of playing on Sundays.  As long as these two men are the Aggies’ starting offensive tackles, time and space will be abundant for the Aggie "skill" players.

Receiving even less praise than the bookend tackles, is the interior offensive line.  The truest of true, no glory job on a football team.  Lost in the chaos of nearly every play, they are rarely afforded an opportunity to rise above the madness and receive the praise that they deserve.  With the expected starting trio of Jarvis Harrison at left guard, Patrick Lewis at center, and Cedric Ogbuehi at right guard, the Aggies are in good hands.  Do these men have NFL caliber talent?  Ogbuehi no doubt does, but the jury is out on the rest of them.  Patrick Lewis was converted to center last year and put together a solid year, and he will be counted to be a leader in the new Sumlin offensive.  As mentioned earlier, Ogbuehi brings NFL talent and peace of mind to the right guard spot.  The left guard spot is the only with a question mark.  Jarvis Harrison had offseason shoulder surgery, so that could provide issues in the early going, but Shep Klinke will likely get the reps that Jarvis misses out on.  With the confidence I have in the other starting four, the left guard position doesn’t concern me in the least bit.  One last tidbit: keep an eye on the next member of the Matthews lineage.  Mike Matthews is on his way to College Station, and if his family has given any indication… he will find his way into that starting lineup within the next two years.

All in all this is one of the few areas of unbridled optimism for the Aggies.  The trenches is a commonly discussed theme during the Aggies transition into the SEC, and while the defensive trenches are the most pressing question mark going into the 2012 season, the offensive line gives Aggies fans one sure-fire thing to hang their hat on. 

Let’s hope the big men up front give Trey and Christine ample space to run, and Jameill Showers or "Johnny Football" time to make the right throw.