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Aggies on Autopilot

The future of A&M Football

By Emily Bevan, 1:51PM, Tue. Oct. 2, 2012

Aggies on Autopilot

Researchers at Texas A&M's Transportation Institute told KUT they'd soon visit the creative geniuses at Google to learn more about their new driverless, or "self-driving" cars. Developed at Stanford under the leadership of Sebastian Thrun, the vehicles use sensors to navigate roads without human aid (or, engineers might say, human interference).

Thrun directs the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and gave a short TED talk on the potential for driverless cars in March 2011. In his presentation, Thrun suggests that his self-driving cars could use precious highway lanes more efficiently, drive faster and closer together than those piloted by mere mortals, and employ better judgment in response to traffic hazards.

To me, it all sounds incredibly futuristic and suspiciously utopian at the same time, and those two words – futuristic and suspicious – kept driving through my head as I watched Texas A&M's 58-10 win over Arkansas at Kyle Field in College Station.

Considering the near future for Texas A&M football has to have Aggie fans excited. The underclassmen on A&M's roster are already contributing, none more so than redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. Coach Kevin Sumlin puts on his best poker face for press conferences, hiding any excitement over the quarterback's flashy talent. Sumlin insists that Manziel needs to learn and mature. I'm sure he does, and he will; he's only a freshman. But there's no denying that "Johnny Football" is fun to watch right now. After the win over Arkansas, Manziel was named SEC Offensive Player and SEC Co-Freshman of the Week, and that was just his fourth game at the college level. When Aggies look to the future with Johnny Manziel, they like what they see.

And it gets even better, because Manziel's not the only freshman on the field. Tattooed former basketball star Mike Evans caught six passes for 83 yards and one TD against the Razorbacks, and true freshman running back Trey Williams averaged 8.2 yards on four carries. The last of Williams' runs went for 13 yards into the end zone for the Aggies' final touchdown of the game. Oh, and then there's true freshman Thomas Johnson, who caught five balls for 108 yards.

On defense, De'Vante Harris held his own against a tough passing attack led by Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, while sophomore corner Deshazor Everett logged seven tackles, one for a loss of three yards. Sophomores Donnie Baggs and Justin Bass also made plays on the defensive side. And he's not an underclassman, but for Aggie fans, it's nice to know Damontre Moore's only a junior.

Despite Sumlin's somewhat stern leadership, Kyle Field buzzes with enough electricity to power Google's modified Prius. The Aggies looked automatic as a driverless car against SMU, South Carolina State, and Arkansas, but that's where I get suspicious. Texas A&M impressed the past few weeks, and they logged their first SEC win with the rout over Arkansas. But I would no more suggest the unranked Aggies have arrived than I would strap myself into a self-driving car and putter onto I-35.

A&M visits Ole Miss this Saturday before cashing a rain check with Louisiana Tech, and the Aggies should keep accelerating on that wide-open road. But then things start to get hairy: A&M plays LSU, Auburn, Mississippi State, and Alabama in consecutive games. Those matchups stand on the schedule like four big, orange construction cones on a wet slalom. With so much young talent and a heavy offensive foot, the Aggies are bound to run off-course. It'll make fun research and excellent testing for the future, but automatic? Self-driving? Not quite.

When Sumlin says Manziel needs to improve, the coach is looking at the long-term. I hope the Aggie QB will learn to do the same before LSU appears on the horizon. Against Arkansas, Manziel took some tough hits at the ends of runs when he could have gone to the ground instead. Everyone likes his guts and fire, but the Aggies need him on the road for three and a half more years.

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