Texas A&M finished in a three-way tie for the Big 12 South title last year in coach Mike Sherman's third season. The Aggies return 18 starters from a 9-4 team. A&M might be ranked in the top 10 nationally in some preseason polls.
During Tuesday's Big 12 post-spring teleconference, Sherman singled out safety Trent Hunter, center Patrick Lewis, wide receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu, linebacker Sean Porter and freshman defensive back Clay Honeycutt as A&M's top players this spring and answered questions on the upcoming season:
Is the program on track to what you envisioned?
We've had a steady climb. We struggled my first year and got better with some incoming freshmen my second year. We played 18 of them. I think we've taken the necessary steps. The key to any program is the ability to sustain it and have consistency. This year will be a real test for us to prove that we've taken that step, a team that's built its foundation and can have success above and beyond what we had last year.
Are expectations as high as they've ever been?
When we first got here we were rebuilding the program and (expectations) were high. I don't ever remember them not being high. That's as it should be. I'm glad I'm at a school with high expectations. That makes it a lot more fun and challenging. (Expectations) being higher than they've ever been, I assume that they are. Our players understand the more games you win, expectation levels certainly increase.
Do you coach any differently with such high expectations?
You have to understand the psyche of each team and play to that. When we had all those freshmen playing a couple of years ago, my coaching style was a little different than it will be this year. You had to kind of coddle them a little bit and bring them along. This team is a lot more resilient and can handle things better. You bear down harder on a team that has the maturity to handle criticism when things go poorly. It was evident this spring. You notch it up.
Are you concerned about replacing Von Miller at inside linebacker?
If you asked me that two weeks into spring ball I'd probably have answered it very nervously, that it's a work in progress. But as we culminated the spring I feel very comfortable someone will emerge that will be a very good player for us. There was a lot of competition. We definitely have the right people there. It's defining who will start and who will be the backup. They made a lot of progress.
What are you thoughts on the round-robin schedule?
It worked well for the Big Ten for so many years, so I don't see why it can't work for our conference as well. ... The fact the North and South are combined and everybody has to play everybody will determine a true champion. It's going to be hard to go through all those games and not stumble at some point. You hope you don't. You work and play and coach that you don't. But you really have to make sure all I's are dotted and all T's are crossed for every game because every game is so significant. There's no chance for a comeback with a playoff. You have to win them all. That's obviously very difficult in this conference.