Aggies welcome hefty expectations

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Von Miller's seen the progress, and he's not alone.

"We had that trial year," Miller said. "Then we got tested last year."

That "trial year" was coach Mike Sherman's first at Texas A&M, and the Aggies won just four games. The tests came in his second year. Sherman's team failed seven times, but passed six.

Miller, a senior, doesn't have plans to settle for eight wins in 2010. The journey, one the Aggies hope features a stop in Arlington for the Big 12 title game, began as their loss to Georgia in the Independence Bowl ended. With Oklahoma and Texas not fielding sure-fire national championship contenders, the opportunity for a division and conference title could be on the table late in the season.

"It’s time for us to put up this year, and we all feel that way. We all know the program, we all know Coach Sherman," Miller said. "It’s time to put up now."

The expectations for Sherman's third season are high inside and outside the program. Nineteen starters return, including Miller, the nation's sack leader, and quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who threw for 3,579 yards and 30 touchdowns last season.

"Nationally, we’re still under the radar a little bit, which is fine for us," Johnson said. "We know that every time we go on that field, we have the capability of beating anyone we play, anyone in the country."

A defense that allowed the most points in the Big 12 last season has spent the spring learning new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter's 3-4 scheme. At Air Force, DeRuyter's defense allowed just under 16 points per game, ranking No. 10 nationally. The porous Aggie defense struggled to a national ranking of 105 and gave up more than twice as many points per game at 33.5. His defense was excited to learn from the start, but the main attraction remains the offense. Johnson will keep his top three receivers and be flanked by a pair of running backs, Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray, who rushed for a combined 1,601 yards and 15 touchdowns.

"We feel we have a good chance of winning a Big 12 Championship and that’s where we’re going to start off first," Johnson said. "But we know the steps it takes to do that, and we’re going to win the South first. If we win the South, everything will progress this year."

Progress is all any coach wants. In every practice, in every season. The Aggies have made it clear what progress means in 2010.

"This could be pretty special," Johnson said. "I’ve got a lot of faith in this team."