The Detroit Lions' scout didn't believe his stopwatch. "Uh, can you run that again, Reggie?" he asked during Texas A&M's Pro Day in March. Aggies quarterback Reggie McNeal had just been timed at 4.30 seconds in the 40-yard dash on the indoor track, to the wonderment of the 40 or so teammates looking on. Obliging the scout, McNeal sprinted again--and scorched the track again. On his second go, the watch read 4.28, giving McNeal the two fastest times of the afternoon.
"I've never been around a more talented quarterback than Reggie McNeal," third-year Aggies coach Dennis Franchione says of the 6'2", 206-pound senior. "He's got a great arm, and he's obviously very fast. Sometimes the best thing that can happen is to call a pass play and hope all the receivers are covered. That's when Reggie will take off and really make a play."
Texas A&M has 20 starters back, but none will be more important than McNeal, an electrifying talent who's a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate. Last year the Lufkin (Texas) High product set A&M records for passing yards (2,791) and rushing yards by a quarterback (718). He also owns the Big 12 mark of 213 consecutive passes without an interception. McNeal could put up even better numbers this fall. The Aggies have four starters back on the line, three receivers with starting experience and junior running back Courtney Lewis, who's back to full strength after being hampered by nagging ankle injuries in '04. "Our offense has a ton of weapons," says McNeal. "If we stay healthy, we're going to be very difficult to defend."
Texas A&M last won the division in 1998, and since then Oklahoma and Texas have dominated the South. This may be Franchione's best shot yet at breaking through. "We have five tough road games, and there's always Oklahoma and Texas on the schedule," Franchione says. "But our program is certainly headed in the right direction. Plus, we've got something that nobody else has: Reggie McNeal." --L.A.
2004 RECORD 7-5 (5-3, T3 in Big 12 South)
FINAL AP RANK NR
RETURNING STARTERS 20
KEY RETURNEES (2004 stats)
FS Jaxson Appel (Sr.) Top returning tackler with 289 in his career
QB Reggie McNeal (Sr.) Only four interceptions in 344 attempts
RB Courtney Lewis (Jr.) 2003 Freshman All-America
DE Jason Jack (Soph.) Made 48 tackles as a redshirt freshman
Fewer turnovers committed by the Aggies in 2004 (13) than in '03 (30). Last year's total broke the school's record low of 15 turnovers.
At 6 feet, 198 pounds, senior Jaxson Appel is one of the hardest hitters in the country--in particular, a terror to receivers going across the middle. He was the Aggies' leading tackler each of the last two years and had eight interceptions in his first two seasons. He didn't pick off a pass in 2004, but that should change with a stronger line putting more pressure on quarterbacks.
Sept. 3 at Clemson
24 TEXAS STATE
Oct. 1 BAYLOR
8 at Colorado
15 OKLAHOMA STATE
22 at Kansas State
29 IOWA STATE
Nov. 5 at Texas Tech
12 at Oklahoma
TOM REEL/SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS/ZUMA PRESS
When he's not making pinpoint throws, the fleet-footed McNeal leaves defenders grasping at air.