Aggies have history in the top 10

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M has high hopes for this season.

After finishing 2012 tied for No. 5 -- their highest end-of-season ranking since 1956 -- and with the return of several key offensive starters, namely Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, fans can't help but wonder if the Aggies are BCS title-worthy.

Beginning the preseason in the top 10 automatically makes the Aggies at least a dark-horse title contender. Granted, they're just the second-highest ranked team in their own division (fellow SEC West Division squad and defending national champion Alabama is No. 1) and the third- or fourth-highest ranked team in their own conference, depending on which poll you choose, but the potential for history exists.

This is true particularly if the Aggies can upset the Crimson Tide on Sept. 14 at Kyle Field, just as they did last season at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The anticipation for this Texas A&M season has been monumental. And while the Aggies are happy to be ranked highly and coach Kevin Sumlin maintains that the primary goals are winning the SEC West, then the SEC, there's no doubt the pinnacle is in the back of their minds.

"We love being No. 6 in the preseason but we're fighting to be No. 1 in the country," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said Tuesday, referring to the Aggies' ranking in the USA Today coaches' poll.

Texas A&M is seventh in the Associated Press Top 25, the 13th time it's been in the preseason top 10 in that poll. Only once have the Aggies finished a season higher than their preseason ranking.

In their previous national championship, in 1939, the Aggies began the season unranked, went 11-0 and won the AP title. They also had an undefeated season in 1994 (10-0-1) and finished No. 8 after starting the season at No. 15, but there was no postseason play because the program was on NCAA probation.

Of course, last season was one of the most memorable in Texas A&M's history. The Aggies’ first SEC campaign began with them unranked but shooting all the way into the top 10 by mid-November and eventually to fifth after crushing Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl to finish 11-2.

With the Aggies opening a potentially historic season on Saturday against Rice, let's look at how the program fared the other dozen times they started in the AP top 10:

1951 (No. 6): 5-3-2, 1-3-2 -- The Aggies won their first four games, including a 14-7 victory against No. 11 Oklahoma, but the tide turned when Southwest Conference play began. The Aggies went 0-3-2 in their first five conference games before finishing the year with a win over rival Texas. Finish: unranked

1956 (No. 9): 9-0-1, 6-0 -- Only a 14-14 tie with Houston prevented the Aggies from being perfect in their third season under Paul "Bear" Bryant. Still, they didn't lose a game all year and won the Southwest Conference title. Finish: No. 5

1957 (No. 2): 8-3, 4-2 -- The Aggies started the season with eight consecutive wins and vaulted to No. 1 in the rankings in November before a 7-6 loss to No. 20 Rice derailed a perfect season. That was followed by a 9-7 defeat by Texas and a 3-0 loss to Tennessee in the Gator Bowl. That was Bryant's last season as coach of the Aggies, as he took over at Alabama the following season. Though the season didn't end the way Aggies might have envisioned, they did make history: John David Crow became the program's first Heisman Trophy winner. Finish: No. 9

1975 (No. 9): 10-2, 6-1 -- Emory Bellard's fourth season as Texas A&M's coach began with 10 straight victories, including a 20-10 win over Texas, which got the Aggies to No. 2 in the rankings. But a 31-6 loss at Arkansas the next week meant a three-way tie for the Southwest Conference championship. The Aggies lost to USC 20-0 in the Liberty Bowl. Finish: No. 11

1977 (No. 9): 8-4, 6-2 -- A 41-3 loss at Michigan in the fourth week of the season knocked the Aggies from the top 10, to which they never returned. Texas A&M went 1-4 against ranked teams and finished with a 47-28 loss to USC in the Bluebonnet Bowl. Finish: unranked

1986 (No. 7): 9-3, 7-1 -- Jackie Sherrill's bunch took an opening-day 35-17 hit from LSU, but then won seven in a row to get back into the top 10. No. 17 Arkansas knocked the Aggies down with a 14-10 home win, but they bounced back with wins over TCU and Texas to claim the Southwest Conference title. No. 11 Ohio State defeated the Aggies 28-12 in the Cotton Bowl. Finish: No. 13

1988 (No. 10): 7-5, 6-1 -- The Aggies were on probation and three ranked teams delivered three successive defeats (Nebraska, LSU, Oklahoma State) to mark a disastrous start to the season. They were strong in Southwest Conference play, though, winning five in a row and seeing its only league loss come at Arkansas. Sherrill resigned in December. Finish: unranked

1992 (No. 7): 12-1, 7-0 -- R.C. Slocum, in his fourth season as coach, guided Texas A&M to an undefeated regular season and the Southwest Conference title. The Aggies were No. 4 in the country when they met No. 5 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl and took a 28-3 beating from the Fighting Irish. Finish: No. 7

1993 (No. 5): 10-2, 7-0 -- A 44-14 loss in Week 2 to No. 17 Oklahoma dropped the Aggies from the top 10, but they ran the table and won a second consecutive Southwest Conference title. Again, the Cotton Bowl foe was Notre Dame and though the game was much closer this time, the result was still a 24-21 loss. Finish: No. 9

1995 (No. 3): 9-3, 5-2 -- When the 2-0 Aggies ventured to Boulder, Colo., things didn't go so well. A 29-21 loss to Colorado and a 14-7 at Texas Tech a week later knocked the Aggies from the top three all the way out of the top 20. They finished strong in SWC play, but lost to rival Texas. They did score a win over Michigan in the Alamo Bowl, but it's a far cry from what could have been. Finish: No. 15

1999 (No. 7): 8-4, 5-3 -- After two early wins, the Aggies moved up to No. 5, beat Southern Mississippi, then lost to Texas Tech and fell out of the top 10. The Aggies did beat Texas at the end of the regular season, but got shut out by Penn State 24-0 in the Alamo Bowl. Finish: No. 23

2011 (No. 8): 7-6, 4-5 -- A strong finish in 2010 led to plenty of hype building up to 2011. After cruising to a pair of nonconference wins, the Aggies collapsed in the second half against Oklahoma State, allowing a 20-3 halftime lead to slip into a 30-29 loss. That became a theme for the season as the Aggies lost five games in which they had double-digit leads. One of them, a 27-25 last-second loss to Texas, was the last time the two rivals played (the Aggies moved to the SEC the next season). They beat Northwestern 33-22 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas without Mike Sherman, who was fired as coach on Dec. 1. Finish: unranked