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Underachievers: Texas A&M has to prove it belongs in the SEC

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(David J. Phillip/AP)

It's Day 3 of Dr. Saturday's Underachievers series profiling teams that fell short of expectations a year ago and whether they're deserving of the praise and attention for 2012.

Notre Dame was the No. 5 underachiever after being ranked in the preseason polls and struggling to an 8-5 finish. Nebraska came in at No. 4 after failing to live up to the expectation of being the Big Ten's top team.

Now, we look at No. 3 and whether it will fare better in a different environment.

No. 3 Texas A&M
2011: 7-6 (4-5 Big 12)

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It was Texas A&M, not Oklahoma State that was supposed to challenge Oklahoma for the top spot in the Big 12 and a BCS bowl berth. Coming off a 9-4 season in which they won their final six Big 12 games, the Aggies returned nine players off an offense that averaged 441.9 yards per game. During that six-game stretch, the Aggies beat Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas. They appeared well on their way to turning a corner under coach Mike Sherman and becoming a major national player. So it was no surprise when the Aggies were ranked preseason No. 8 in the AP and No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, their first Top 10 rankings since 1999.
What Happened?
A&M's collapse started Sept. 24 against Oklahoma State. The Aggies had a 17-point halftime lead, appeared to be cruising, but slowly gave it all back as Cowboys' quarterback Brandon Weeden threw for 438 yards to give Oklahoma State a 30-29 win.

"We gave the game away," Aggies safety Trent Hunter said. "We didn't step up and play with the same passion we did in the first half. We weren't going out with that same fire and we weren't ready to fight. Regardless of what they did in the second half ... we just didn't go out and want to win."

That Oklahoma State game would be A&M's Groundhog Day.

The following week the Aggies led Arkansas 35-17 at half but lost 42-38. They led Missouri by 9 and lost in overtime; Kansas State by 10 in the fourth quarter and lost in four overtimes. And, despite a 16-7 lead against Texas, they were beat on a last-second field goal. The only loss A&M incurred that wasn't the result of lackadaisical second-half play was a 41-25 blowout against Oklahoma.

The Aggies were outscored 59-14 in the third quarter of their losses thanks to untimely turnovers and poor defensive depth.

Key Losses
No. 7 Oklahoma State 30-29; No. 18 Arkansas 42-38; Missouri 38-31 OT; Texas 27-25

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What Now?
It's almost like Texas A&M had it's chance to achieve greatness and blew it. There's no way to sugarcoat it. That's what happened. Now, Texas A&M has to try to get back to that high level with a new coach, a new quarterback and playing in the most difficult division (West) of the most difficult league (the SEC) in the country.

New coach Kevin Sumlin worked miracles at Houston by making the Cougars one of the premier offensive teams in the NCAA. He has the chance to have similar offensive success at A&M, but what's typically lacked with Sumlin-coached teams is the defense and in a league that prides itself on defense, A&M is going to take some knocks in 2012.

The Aggies' schedule is the eighth-most difficult according to Phil Steele. They play an upstart Louisiana Tech team in Shreveport, La., before hosting their first SEC game against Florida. They have tough road games against SMU, Auburn and Alabama and also have to play Arkansas and LSU.

Should You Believe?
Believe it or not, Texas A&M could easily have been 12-1 last year, but turnovers and mental lapses doomed the Aggies into one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory.

However the fresh start — new league, new coach, new quarterback — and the low expectations might be good for A&M. Make no mistake, this is going to be a learning year. There are going to be some tough moments and A&M is going to get blown out here and there. The most important thing for the Aggies is not to let last year's failures dictate this year. The Aggies return 13 starters, including star receiver Ryan Swope and running back Christine Michael. There's talent there, but putting it all together with the schedule and the past stacked against the Aggies will be a challenge.

Of the two new teams joining the SEC this year (Missouri) Texas A&M will struggle the most. It's easy to look at the schedule and see the Aggies revert back to the team they were in Sherman's first year in 2008. A&M fans are going to have to be patient and give Sumlin a chance to put his mark on the program it blazes its trail through the SEC. This season has the potential to be ugly at times, but it won't be a complete wash.

2012 Prediction: 6-6 (3-5 SEC)

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