Trying to find a college football sleeper is a daunting task. Let’s begin here: How do you define a sleeper? Someone who finished under .500 the year prior? We can’t use a generic phrase like, “team likely to exceed expectations” because how does one define expectations? Do you go by the preseason media conference predictions? By what the magazines are saying? We’ll simply go by “a team that didn’t end last season in the Top 25″* though their are exceptions, explained below. We’ve given you North Carolina and Auburn as 2010 sleepers, and here’s our final one: Texas A&M.
1) Favorable schedule. The non-conference schedule is a joke. Three cupcakes and then Arkansas (at College Station Ed. In Dallas). Two of the Aggies best three opponents on the schedule (Oklahoma and Nebraska) must visit College Station, too. Also, the Big 12 will be very down this year, with teams like Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech all having massive changes.
2) The best offense in the Big 12 is led by QB Jerrod Johnson (best returning QB in the league), and he has two of his top three (statistically) RBs and WRs back from a year ago. The Aggies offense should be prolific and average 30 ppg.
3) Like Notre Dame, Texas A&M was horrible on defense last year (gave up 60+ points twice, and 40+ points five times) … but returns the bulk of its starters. The centerpiece is arguably the best defensive player in the Big 12, LB Von Miller, who had 17 sacks last year (and will probably be a 1st round draft pick in 2011). The defense (ranked 106th last year) should be vastly improved under the leadership of new defensive coordinator (from Air Force), Tim DeRuyter.
Best case scenario: Texas A&M has its best season since 1998 (11-3, Sugar Bowl loss). If the Aggies beat Arkansas they should be unbeaten when the Sooners come to town Nov. 6. Problem: the last three years, the Sooners have hung 42, 66 and 65 on Texas A&M. Payback? If Texas A&M were to pull that off, Baylor the following week could be a trap game with Nebraska looming on Nov. 20. Finally, Texas is a Top 10 team and the Aggies have to go on the road. Even though we don’t love Texas this year, we’ll call that a loss.
Most likely scenario: Losses to Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska for a 9-3 mark, which would eclipse the seven wins (some places 6.5) Vegas set as the over/under.
* Oklahoma, due to Sam Bradford’s injury, stumbled last season. The Sooners cannot be deemed a “sleeper.” Also, some teams over the last 30 years have accomplished so much (and are such a strong brand that gets recruits regardless of the situation) that they can never be deemed a “sleeper.” These teams include, but are not limited to, Ohio State, Notre Dame, USC, Florida State, Miami, and Florida.