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July 26, 2006

Big 12 Notebook: November key for A&M

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - No team in the country may have a tougher stretch of games than Texas A&M has in the month of November.

The Aggies will play Oklahoma (Nov. 4), Nebraska (Nov. 11) and Texas (Nov. 24) in a defining stretch that will decide their season.

''We've got a tough November ahead of us,'' Franchione said. ''Those three teams we play in November may all be ranked in the top 10 when we play them. That's just life.

''When they handed out the schedule a couple years ago and I saw that November, I said to myself that not too many years ago in the old Big 8 and Southwest Conference, nobody in the nation would play Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas in the same season, let alone the same month. That's just the way it is.''

However, the first nine games of A&M's schedule are much more favorable. Four of their first five will be in College Station. The other one will take place against Army in the Alamo Dome in nearby San Antonio.

First-year starting sophomore quarterback Stephen McGee knows that A&M's November stretch means everything.

''It's going to be huge,'' McGee said. ''Those last three games are what we're working for in our summer conditioning right now.''

McGee ahead of the curve

Speaking of McGee, Franchione seems to be very pleased with his progress - despite the fact he only has one career start under his belt.

''I don't know if I've ever had a redshirt sophomore take over the leadership that he has,'' Franchione said of McGee. ''He's made his impact across the board with our football team.''

Franchione shared a story about McGee and his leadership abilities from spring practice earlier this year.

Franchione said McGee was fired up and he wanted to do something that would rally the defense, because that's the type of leader he is.

''I don't know what I can do to lead the defense other than to make them mad,'' Franchione said McGee told him. ''Later that day all the quarterbacks wear black shirts, and Stephen breaks a run and comes down on the wrong end and Justin Warren comes over to tag up like he's supposed to do the quarterback. Stephen lowers his shoulder and knocks Justin down. Justin jumps up and I think he knocked Stephen down.

''From there it got into a little bit of a scuffle, but it was all in good feelings. I think the team responded well to it and it got everybody a little fired up and that was his way to sending a message to compete hard. That's the kind of impact he's made on our football team.''

A&M kicker forgoes senior year of high school

Texas A&M freshman kicker Matt Szymanski is part of an elite group. To Franchione's knowledge, Szymanski and current USC quarterback John David Booty are the only two players in college football history to completely forgo their senior years of high school to enroll early to college.

Szymanski, who played his high school ball at nearby College Station A&M Consolidated high school is considered one of the top kickers in the nation. This past year Szymanski kicked a 61-yard field in a game.

Szymanski turned down offers from Oklahoma, Arizona State, California, UTEP and Tennessee to play in his hometown. The decision to graduate high school early was something Franchione said he left up to Szymanski. The coach said he would support whatever decision Szymanski made.

''I didn't try to talk him out of it,'' Franchione said. ''I tried to make sure he was prepared to do this. Even the guys that leave today and come in January, I still think that they have to be ready to make this kind of move maturity wise, emotionally and physically.

''I think Matt is ready. Matt is a very intelligent young man and he's a very focused young man. It's pretty clear when you talk to him that he was ready to do this.''

McCarney gets no schedule breaks

Every year Iowa State head coach Dan McCarney comes into Big 12 Media Days with at least one interesting stat.

This year McCarney dropped a scary stat about the Cyclones' 2006 schedule. Nine of ISU's 12 opponents this year played in a bowl game, and six of them were bowl champions. Northern Iowa, who is also on Iowa State's schedule, finished runner-up to Texas State for the I-AA national title.

''It's well documented the caliber of the schedule we'll play this year,'' McCarney said.

The new dean of coaches

When Kansas State's Bill Snyder retired in November, it left McCarney as the dean of coaches in the Big 12 Conference.

McCarney will be entering his 12th season in Ames. He said it's almost hard to believe the ride has been this long.

''It is meaningful, and my wife will tell you I got bigger bags under my eyes, more wrinkles, less hair,'' McCarney joked. ''That's part of being the dean. But I'm very, very appreciative of this. I really am. And this is a profession where there's just all kinds of transition, and there's movement.

''Going into our 12th year at Iowa State hopefully that brings some type of respect and honor and success to the program that people can be proud of. This isn't about popularity contests, but it's about hopefully success and honor and integrity and doing it the right way. And we're going to continue to try and build on that.''

Cyclone defense has questions to answer

Iowa State's offense is good enough to go against anybody in the country. It's the Cyclone defense that has to answer several questions this fall.

McCarney must replace eight of 11 starters - including All-Big 12 defensive end Jason Berryman, who was kicked off the team over the offseason for violating team rule.

''Absolutely,'' McCarney said when asked if his defense is a concern. ''First of all, if you're going to have a good defense you have to have the talent to play in this league. And we can have planning, systems, motivation, teachings, togetherness, chemistry, all these things sound good, and that's part of it. But if you don't have the talent, all the other stuff isn't going to matter a whole lot.

I think we've got good, Big 12 talented kids. But what we do lack in experience, and we will in a lot of positions, those things don't matter if you have talent.''

Double trouble at tight end

No team in the country can probably say their two most highly decorated players are tight ends. For Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel, that's the situation he finds himself in with Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman.

The duo combined for 90 catches for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns in 2005. Pinkel expects them to play a bigger role in the Tiger offense this season.

''Certainly, in our offense, we can put those two guys anywhere we want to put them,'' Pinkel said. ''And we can pretty much match them up to a certain degree against anybody. But I think what advantage they have, first of all, they can make big plays. They can make the tough catch. That separates any receiver from another receiver, and they've proven they can do that.

''They're pretty imposing figures. I mean, I think T Ruck's 6-5, he would probably tell you 6-7. Chase Coffman is maybe a little taller. Those guys are big guys. They're out in space. We move them all over the place and I think it fits for our offense. It's a real plus for us. It sets us up to put them in position so they can make plays.''

Daniel not your typical first-year starter

Missouri sophomore quarterback Chase Daniel has some big shoes to fill. However, Pinkel has done his best to prepare him for what he's about to face this season.

In 2005, Pinkel played Daniel in 10 of the Tigers' games. Daniel led them to an overtime victory against Iowa State when Brad Smith left the game with a concussion.

''That was something that was real important for us,'' Pinkel said. ''I think that experience hopefully was huge for him, because he played in absolutely every game.''

OU hopes to answer offensive line questions

On paper it appears Oklahoma has every ingredient it takes to win a national championship - except an experienced offensive line.

The play of the line was a major question in spring football, and head coach Bob Stoops said it continues to be a work in progress.

''I think getting a couple guys back that missed a spring will make a major difference, guys like J.D. Quinn and Jon Cooper are going to make a big difference,'' Stoops said. ''Those guys played a lot last year and had a lot of experience last year. I believe in the end we'll have seven or eight guys we're used to having that have a chance to be really good.

''That will be the key to which ones are starting and playing the most. It will depend on who does the best here through two-a-days. But what I like is there's really good potential there.''

The nation's best defense?

Maybe the strongest overall unit in the Big 12 Conference this year is the Oklahoma defense. The Sooners return nearly every piece of last year's defense. Stoops said the young players that saw time last year have made great strides in the offseason.

''It has a great potential,'' Stoops said of his defense. ''Defense always begins with the guys up front, and we have a chance to be really good in our front four. Then the linebacker position, we have a couple of seniors that play awfully well. I think the biggest jump we can make from a year ago is our secondary. We were awfully young and inexperienced as we started the year and finished playing awfully good through the season.

''I saw great improvement through the spring, so we'll see. We've got a chance to be really good.''

Adrian Peterson on Reggie Bush

Former USC running back Reggie Bush captured the Heisman Trophy in 2005 and there's a very good chance OU running back Adrian Peterson will find his way to New York in 2006.

Peterson was asked to give his take on Bush as a running back.

''He's an unbelievable talent,'' Peterson said of Bush. ''He's got a gift. He's one of the best I've seen.''

Even better than you Adrian?

''That's for you guys to decide, not me'' Peterson said smiling.

Click here for more coverage of 2006 Football Media Days.

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