November 26, 2004
Texas Seeks Fifth Straight Win Over A&M
AUSTIN, Texas - Every year before the annual Texas-Texas A&M game, Longhorns students, players and coaches gather for the campus 'Hex Rally' to put the voodoo on the Aggies. Recent history bears evidence of some pretty strong magic.
When No. 6 Texas and No. 22 Texas A&M meet again Friday, the Longhorns will hold a four-game winning streak over their fiercest state rival. Texas (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) has so dominated the rivalry of late that many Texas fans place it behind Oklahoma as the biggest game of the season.
There's more to the Longhorns' success than a hex. The Longhorns have been the superior team the past four years, winning by an average score of 40-15. The Aggies (7-3, 5-2) would like nothing better than to change all that, and they believe they have found the way to break their losing spell.
"Maybe Texas thinks Oklahoma is more of a rivalry, their fans anyway, because they've had some success against us in the past years," A&M tackle Geoff Hangartner said. "But it's definitely a rivalry game. The players feel it and we know it."
After his 4-8 debut season ended with a 46-15 home loss to the Longhorns, A&M coach Dennis Franchione promised improvement.
Two of the Aggies' three losses this season have been to No. 5 Utah and No. 2 Oklahoma. A six-game winning streak over the first half of the season and the down-to-the-wire loss to the powerful Sooners helped renew respect. A win would solidify "The Fran Plan" as a complete success.
"I haven't beat Texas since I been here," A&M senior wide receiver Terrence Murphy said. "It would mean a lot."
Friday's game will be the 10th time in 111 meetings that both schools are ranked. And win or lose, the Aggies will be in their first bowl since 2001.
"They're a team on the rise," Texas tackle Justin Blalock said. "A win over Texas would validate their season. You don't want them to get that taste in their mouth. (But) it's good they're ranked high. If they were sorry, it wouldn't mean as much to win."
The biggest difference for the Aggies has been the play of quarterback Reggie McNeal. He returned from a rocky sophomore season to become a running and passing threat this year, accounting for 20 touchdowns in an offense that averages 32 points and 456 yards.
"You'd light Reggie's hands afire and I'm not sure he'd flinch a little bit," Franchione said. "He's been steady as a rock."
The Longhorns, meanwhile, discount the winning streak.
"We have not addressed it," Texas coach Mack Brown said of the streak. "We don't have to. Our guys know this is an even ballgame. In some ways there's more pressure on the team that's been winning."
Texas needs a win Friday to keep alive its fading hopes of one of the four big-money bowls of the Bowl Championship Series. Although the Longhorns are ranked fifth in the BCS standings, if the standings don't change, the two at-large berths will go to No. 4 California and No. 6 Utah.
That would probably leave the Longhorns playing in the Cotton Bowl if they beat the Aggies. An A&M win probably sends the Aggies to the Cotton Bowl and the Longhorns tumbling all the way to the Alamo Bowl.
Senior linebacker Derrick Johnson said the Longhorns have plenty to play for, even if the BCS proves to be out of reach.
"Pride," Johnson said. "If we were 5-5, we'd still have to beat A&M."
This also will be the last game in Royal-Memorial Stadium for senior tailback Cedric Benson, whose 5,305 rushing yards rank fifth in NCAA Division I-A history. He ran for 283 yards and four touchdowns against the Aggies last season.
"When he came here he was only compared to Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams, which were impossible comparisons, and I worried about it." Brown said. "Now leaving, he's going to be right in the middle of the group."