College Station, Texas The Mike Sherman era at Texas A&M; begins against the same opponent that the last coach faced in his first game.
The Aggies open the 2008 season on Saturday against Arkansas State, exactly five years to the date since Dennis Franchione started his stormy tenure with a 26-11 victory over the then-Indians. The school has since changed its nickname to the Red Wolves.
After that victory, A&M; won only three more games in 2003 and finished with its first losing record since 1982. Franchione never fully won over the A&M; faithful and resigned under pressure after beating Texas in last season's finale.
Sherman, a former assistant under the popular R.C. Slocum, was picked as coach less than a week later. Since then, the vibe surrounding the program has gradually changed for the better.
Preseason practices were open to A&M; students and faculty, the players warmed up to Sherman's NFL-tested system and fans in College Station are buzzing with optimism again.
All Sherman needs now is a validating victory against Arkansas State, a team that stayed close in a 21-13 loss to No. 4 Texas in Austin last season. Sherman was reassuring himself early in the week with the confidence that he's done everything he can to get the Aggies ready.
"I don't know if I'm satisfied," he said, "but I feel like we've put them in as many situations as we possibly could. They've been exposed from a football standpoint to a lot of different things that could come up in the ballgame and as a coach I think that's your responsibility, to prepare them."
Emotions aside, Sherman still has plenty of questions about his team that he'll finally get answered today:
¢ How has the young offensive line, with only one returning starter, come together?
¢ Will the Aggies generate a pass rush after recording only 18 sacks in 2007?
¢ Who will emerge from a mostly unproven group of receivers that's had to learn a brand new offensive system?
As long as the Aggies play with effort - and win - Sherman won't have too many complaints.
"When it's kicked off out there, it's a players' game and the players have to play to their level," Sherman said. "It's a huge responsibility on them to show up on Saturday and (there is) no reason they shouldn't play their hearts out."
There are many other things Sherman should be able to count on today.
Senior quarterback Stephen McGee has sparkled in fall practices running Sherman's pro-style offense, a system that McGee says is a perfect fit for his skills. McGee enters the season as A&M;'s career leader in completion percentage (58.8 percent) and needs 111 yards passing today to become just the fifth quarterback in school history to reach 5,000.
"The versatility of the offense and what we've been able to do so far, the way we can mix up stuff and move people around, it's really fun to be a part of a system like that," McGee said. "And the fact that you turn on the TV and Joe Montana is in the huddle from the 1980s and he's calling the same plays you're calling. That's pretty cool."