SMU (0-0) at Texas A&M (0-0)

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By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN, STATS Senior Writer Wednesday, Aug 31, 2011 Kickoff: 7:30 pm EDT Sun Sep 4, 2011

Fans of Texas A&M and SMU can probably be forgiven if they are more focused on next year than their teams’ season opener Sunday night in College Station.

The eighth-ranked Aggies have announced that they plan on leaving the Big 12, and the Mustangs may eventually fill their spot as these former Southwest Conference rivals get ready to meet.

Although the new college football season is beginning, the dominoes continue to fall with news of teams shifting conferences. On Wednesday, Texas A&M told the Big 12 that it will leave by July if it is accepted by another conference.

“We are seeking to generate greater visibility nationwide for Texas A&M and our championship-caliber student-athletes, as well as secure the necessary and stable financial resources to support our athletic and academic programs,” president R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement.

The Aggies have made it clear they want to join the 12-member SEC. The SEC said Wednesday that it had not received an application from Texas A&M to join the league and that it would have no further comment.

SMU has already publicly campaigned for an invite into the Big 12 if the Aggies leave. The Mustangs, who are members of Conference USA, have noted that they play in the nation’s fifth-largest media market.

“I think we add stability to an (automatic qualifier) BCS conference, especially in our region,” athletic director Steve Orsini said. “So our goal is to return to the AQ, BCS status that we used to have. They didn’t call it that back in the old Southwest Conference, but our goal is to resurrect ourselves to get back there.”

On the field, Texas A&M is looking to challenge top-ranked Oklahoma for a Big 12 crown and live up to the expectations created by its first top-10 preseason ranking since 1999.

“We have a bunch of seniors on this team that will never play in that conference, and they really at this point could care less,” coach Mike Sherman said. “They’re concerned about winning this season, as are the rest of the guys on this team.”

Converted receiver Ryan Tannehill begins his first season as the full-time starter at quarterback. He threw for 1,638 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions last season.

Tannehill started alternating snaps at quarterback with Jerrod Johnson on Oct. 23 and became the full-time starter the next week. He guided the Aggies to a six-game win streak before they fell 41-24 to LSU in the Cotton Bowl to cap a 9-4 campaign.

It’s possible that SMU, however, has the better signal-caller. Kyle Padron set school records with 3,828 passing yards - the eighth-best total in the FBS - and 31 TD passes in 2010 in coach June Jones’ run-and-shoot offense.

The Aggies are in their second year under defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter and have compared the Mustangs’ attack to the one formerly used by Mike Leach at Texas Tech.

“Kyle Padron has had phenomenal success in the offense,” Sherman said. “You think about his numbers last year, I think he was over a 2-for-1 touchdown to interception ratio, I think he had 31 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, almost 4,000 yards passing.”

DeRuyter’s defense will have to adjust without All-American linebacker Von Miller, the only Aggie selected in the NFL draft at No. 2 overall by the Denver Broncos.

SMU split 14 games last season but went 6-2 in Conference USA to capture the West Division title for the second straight year. Three years ago, the Mustangs finished 1-11 in Jones’ first season.

These schools met annually from 1919-95 in the Southwest Conference, with the exception of 1987 and 1988. The Aggies won 66-8 in 2005 in the lone matchup since the conference disbanded in 1995.

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