Know Your Foe, SEC Expansion Edition: Texas A&M Special Expansion

Over the summer we covered Florida's rivalries and regular opponents. Previous installments: Georgia, FSU, Tennessee, LSU, Miami, Auburn, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, other Florida schools and Florida's 2011 Schedule.

When we began this series, our intent was to fill the summer doldrums with some football related content, and did not intent to return to it until next summer, but circumstances have intervened, and the SEC has added a member. Howdy, Aggies, and welcome to the "Conference of Champions." While there are still a number of scheduling issues to be worked out, so it remains to be seen how often the Gators will visit Aggieland, or the Aggies will travel to the Swamp, but, as Presidents Machen and Loftin pointed out the two universities are very similar, and Texas A&M has ties to several other SEC members.

Texas A&M was founded in 1871 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, under the terms of the Morrill Act. Texas A.M.C., as it was known, was the first public university in Texas. When the doors opened in 1876, the 40 students were all male, and all were required to participate in the Corps of Cadets, and the curriculum focused around classical liberal arts education. The founding of the University of Texas in 1883 led to a decline in enrollment and battles for limited available funding. Former Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Sullivan Ross, the University's president, is credited with saving Texas A&M from closure. Ross's tenure also saw the creation of several of the Aggie's oldest traditions, including the Aggie Ring, the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band, the first yearbook, and the first football game against the University of Texas.

In the early 1900's Texas A&M expanded its academic program to include more agricultural and scientific programs. The University never lost track of its military component, though and when the US entered World War I, 49% of its graduates were serving in the military, and in September of 1918, the entire senior class enlisted. (The war ended two months later.) The discovery of oil on University's land guaranteed funds through the Great Depression, and contributed to the school's current $5.1 billion endowment. With the onset of World War II, more than 20,000 Aggies served in the armed forces, and the 14,000 officers were more than the combined total from the United State Military Academy and the United States Naval Academy.

In 1959, the school's name was officially changed to “Texas A&M University,” with the A&M remaining as a not to the University's origins, but not actually standing for “agricultural” and “mechanical.” During 1960's the University admitted women and African-Americans, it also made membership in the Corps of Cadets voluntary. In 2001, with the support of former conference mates Rice and Texas, Texas A&M became a member of the Association of American Universities (the third member of the SEC to hold this honor). Today, Texas A&M has an enrollment of nearly 50,000, and its suburban, 5,000 acre campus located in College Station, near Bryan, Texas.

The Aggies football program has a proud tradition that dates back to 1894, and includes the 1939 National Championship (though, by Alabama's standards, they could claim three more). A founding member of the Southwest Conference, Texas A&M had two stints in the SIAA (which would spawn the Southern Conference which, in turn, spawned SEC). The Aggies have also won 18 conference championships (17 in the Southwest Conference, one in the BigXII). Many former Texas A&M coaches will be familiar to SEC fans. In 1954, the Aggies hired University of Kentucky football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, where he took built the program from a 1-9 mark in his first year to a conference championship in 1956. Two years later, Bryant would become the head coach at the University of Alabama. In 1965, the Aggies would hire former player, and Bryant assistant Gene Stallings, who would go on to win a National Championship at the University of Alabama. In 1982, they would go back to the well and hire Jackie Sherrill, another former Bryant assistant, who would go on to have some success at Mississippi State. After a brief stint at Alabama, Dennis Franchione, coached the Aggies (and boosters willing to shell out $100 a month) for slightly over four seasons.

The Aggies are cheered on by a group of male “Yell Leaders,” and their mascot Reveille, a purebred collie. Like the University of Georgia, Texas A&M is particular about the markings on their dogs, however they do not insist that the dogs come from the same gene pool. Reveille had the distinction of being the only Southwest Conference mascot to not be stolen (until 1993). She has also been honorarily designated a Cadet General by the US Army, making her the highest ranking member of the Corps of Cadets.

10 of the 12 current SEC members have faced Texas A&M on the gridiron (sorry, South Carolina and Vandy). Most of Texas A&M's meetings against an SEC foe have come against Arkansas (24-40-3), formerly a fellow member of the Southwest Conference prior to 1992, and LSU (19-27-3) the closest SEC school to Texas A&M geographically. The Gators have played the Aggies twice, scoring a 42-6 win in Gainesville and sustaining 37-14 loss in the 1977 Sun Bowl.

It remains to be seen how the SEC will work out a 13-team schedule (or even how long it will have to do so), so it is unclear when Florida will play Texas A&M, or make their first-ever trip to College Station, but hopefully this will help familiarize Gator fans with their new conference-mate.

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