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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The young and the restless

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Bryan Johnson — THE BATTALION Freshman Speedy Noil, who leads A&M in all-purpose yardage, is tackled Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe.

It’s been a rough few weeks in Aggieland. After coming out guns blazing, the Texas A&M football team’s hype train has slowed to a glacial pace. Losses to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama and a way-too-close win over ULM have Aggie fans reeling.
But before you jump off the bandwagon and try to return your No. 2 jersey, let’s a take a minute and appreciate what a good season this has been.
Yes, I said “good season.”
No, this hasn’t worked out the way ESPN wanted you to believe after one win against a just-as-unproven South Carolina team, but this season has been impressive and should give Aggies everywhere all kinds of hope for next season.
Do you remember when every football expert was questioning how A&M could recover from losing three incredible leaders with first-round talent in Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews? Turns out those were valid concerns. It is hard to win a college football game. It is even harder to win an SEC game — just ask Arkansas. It is even harder to win in the SEC West; just turn on any sports station and wait for them to tell you a hundred times. Combine all of the that with the fact that A&M is essentially fielding a freshman/junior varsity squad and you should be impressed that the Aggies have won anything at all this season.
That is not a knock against A&M. I am honestly impressed. It was not too long ago that a true freshman starting for a Division I college football team would be front-page news; this year A&M has already had 14 true freshmen see action. Fourteen! If you include redshirted players, the Aggies have had 22 freshmen play this year.
Think about that for a minute. Those are 18- and 19-year olds — kids who lived with their parents less than a year ago — lining up against grown men knocking on the door of professional football.
There is a reason these kids are playing. Look no further than Myles Garrett, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound, 18-year-old man-child who has terrorized opposing quarterbacks since he first took the field, already recording 11 sacks in just nine games. Garrett is rewriting record books, setting A&M and SEC freshman single-season sack records. With four games to go, he is well within reach of Von Miller’s historic 2009 season when he recorded the second-most sacks in NCAA history and set a school record with 17.
Speedy Noil, the nation’s top athlete recruit from a year ago, has been nothing short of fantastic this year. The receiving, punt and kick return triple-threat has racked up 985 all-purpose yards despite having knee surgery in the middle of the season and only averaging 5.3 touches in his first three games. With sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill suspended, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said Noil, a former high school quarterback, would serve as a backup to Kyle Allen when the Aggies face No. 3 Auburn on the road this Saturday.
Speaking of Kyle Allen, the top-rated quarterback recruit last season made his first career start last week and is now faced with the all-but-impossible task of marching into one of the more hostile college football environments in the country and attempting to derail Auburn’s hopes for a national championship. This time last year, Allen was tossing passes to 16-year-olds and presumably deciding who he would take to the Homecoming dance.
When A&M takes the field Saturday, they will do so with 27 freshmen and sophomores on its two-deep depth chart. That’s 27 teenagers set to line up against a team that won the SEC and played in the national championship last season. Auburn will start just six underclassmen, all sophomores, on Saturday.
The Aggies are talented; there is no denying that. They brought in consensus top-five recruiting classes the past two seasons, but no other school has had to rely on its young talent quite like A&M. This is both a blessing and a curse, though the curse has been much more apparent this season. Of the 22 Aggies slated to start Saturday, only eight of them are seniors, almost all of them in the secondary or on the offensive line.
Meanwhile, 15 of the 17 players who have caught a pass for the Aggies this year will return in 2015. Every single player who has carried the ball for A&M — with the exception of senior wide receiver Malcome Kennedy, who has one rush for negative three yards — will be back. In fact, Kennedy will be the only player who has scored any of A&M’s 44 touchdowns who will be gone when the Aggies face Arizona State on Sept. 5 to kick off the 2015 campaign.
That means an entire offseason of practice, learning plays, conditioning, working out, tackling, catching passes. Almost all of the 14 true freshmen that have played this year have only lived in College Station for a few months.
Adjusting to college life is hard for everyone. Imagine having to memorize an entire playbook that is almost exclusively called at the line of scrimmage, with no opportunity to huddle up and make sure everyone is on the same page.
These young Aggies face three more tough challenges in Auburn, Missouri and LSU to close out the regular season. I don’t think anyone would be shocked if they finished 6-6 and limped into a bowl game on the heels of three-straight losses.
Is that ideal? No. But ask yourself, is it really that surprising?
This football team has a core of young talent unrivaled by any Aggie squad in recent memory. Granted, it’s not fun to be the underdogs every week after watching the 2012 team take the SEC by storm and hoist a Heisman Trophy.
The time will come when you and I can voice concern about the state of the A&M football team. But maybe, just maybe, we should let these guys celebrate their 19th birthdays first.

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