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21 Texas A&M Can latecomer Mark Farris wheel the Aggies into a Big 12 showdown in November?

Junior quarterback Mark Farris knows the storyline has been
played out before: Coveted high school quarterback gets drafted
by a major league team and decides to play baseball, only he's
buried in the minors, quits after a few seasons and returns to
his other love, football. For example, Chris Weinke, a former
first baseman in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, performed so
well in the role that after batting .248 over six seasons, he
went to Florida State and won a national championship and then a
Heisman Trophy at 28.

Farris, now in his second season as the Aggies' starter after
five years in the Pittsburgh Pirates' system, would love to do
the same. "Am I really the second coming of Chris Weinke?" jokes
Farris, 26, who is married and the father of a six-year-old
daughter, Kameryn. "Actually, I think the whole age thing is way
overplayed, but what can I do? Of course, it would be great if
it all turned out the way it did for Weinke. Like him, I came
back to play and be part of something special. Remember, no one
predicted Oklahoma would win it all last season except for

The Aggies don't have the firepower to match the Sooners'
turnaround, not with the departure of bulldozing fullback Ja'Mar
Toombs and crafty wideout Robert Ferguson to the NFL. Still,with
11 returning starters A&M should be in the thick of the Big 12
title chase when November showdowns against Oklahoma and Texas
roll around. The Aggies should get quality rushing yards out of
sophomore Richard Whitaker and junior Joe Weber, who will have
an All-America candidate, center Seth McKinney, helping clear a
path for them. At wideout, senior Bethel Johnson returns after
finishing second on the team with 42 catches (440 yards).

The Wrecking Crew defense, which gave up 17.8 points per game in
2000, will rely on junior cornerback Sammy Davis (four
interceptions) and junior nosetackle Ty Warren (16 tackles for
loss and five sacks) to help it improve on last year's 7-5
finish. "Don't be fooled for a second by our record last year,"
says coach R. C. Slocum. "A couple of key losses [to Colorado,
26-19, and Oklahoma, 35-31] did us in and weren't a true
reflection of what this team was."

--Elizabeth Newman

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER The Wrecking Crew stacked up admirably last year, ranking 10th in the nation in scoring defense.


2000 record: 7-5 (5-3, 3rd Big 12 South)
Final ranking: Not ranked


Rushing yards by Richard Whitaker in 2000, the lowest
team-leading total in 17 seasons.

An opposing team's coach sizes up the Aggies

"They replaced three coaches on offense, so they're a bit of an
enigma. I like quarterback Mark Farris's poise and composure.
The issue is whether they'll be able to run the ball and take
pressure off him. Their offensive line does not have a lot of
good players, but they play well together. On defense, their
front seven will be as good as anyone's. They have real physical
kids. Until the middle of last season nosetackle Ty Warren was
just an O.K. player, but he's started to come into his own."

Strength: 42nd of 117

6 at Wyoming
13 at Colorado
20 at Kansas State
Nov. 3 at Texas Tech
10 at Oklahoma