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November 23, 2005

McNeal to play against Longhorns

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Bad ankle or not, Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal plans to play Friday against archrival Texas in what could be the senior's final college game.

"It's going to be my last time stepping on Kyle (Field)," said McNeal, who became A&M's all-time passer against Oklahoma on Nov. 12. "It means a whole lot."

Not long after setting the record, McNeal sprained his left ankle after a hit by Oklahoma's Calvin Thibodeaux. Trainers helped McNeal to the sideline and he rode to the locker room on a motorized cart, but on Monday he wasn't limping.

"I'm feeling pretty good," he said. "I'm going to be ready."

Redshirt freshman Stephen McGee replaced McNeal against OU, rushing for 67 yards on 10 carries and leading the Aggies (5-5, 3-4 Big 12) to a touchdown and two field goals in 1 1/2 quarters.

Coach Dennis Franchione said he wouldn't think twice about using McGee if McNeal struggles against the No. 2 Longhorns (10-0, 7-0) and the nation's sixth-ranked defense. Texas A&M needs a win to become bowl eligible.

"If he were sitting right here, I think he'd tell you without any hesitation there's no doubt in his mind he's ready, and that I think is a strength of a young quarterback," Franchione said of McGee.

McGee has appeared in six games this season, rushing for 200 yards and completing 15 of 30 passes without an interception. He's eager to be part of the rivalry he's followed since he was a child.

"I want to go out there and have fun, compete, and be that little kid, you know, diving around in the front yard," McGee said. "I'm just 20 years old. I still have the same amount of fun and that's what it's about to me."

For Texas, it doesn't matter who the Aggies start.

"They run the same offense," said Coach Mack Brown. "When they're in the same offense, it doesn't change your plans."

The Longhorns have beaten the Aggies five straight years, the last two with McNeal starting. Friday's game is McNeal's last shot to add another signature victory to his topsy-turvy career.

McNeal is still best known for coming off the bench as a freshman in 2002 and leading the Aggies to a 30-26 upset of then-No. 1 Oklahoma.

Despite ranking in the school's top six in seven offensive categories, McNeal has taken much of the blame for this year's struggles, even though A&M has been ravaged by injuries and has one of the nation's worst defenses.

McNeal has been reluctant to reflect on his A&M career in recent weeks and prefers to look to the future, when he's confident the Aggies will return to national prominence.

"Did I expect to win a Big 12 title? Yeah. That's why I came here," he said. "I know this is my last game, but I'm always going to be an Aggie football player, regardless. If next year, they win a Big 12 title, I'll feel like I contributed to that."

If nothing else, Friday's game could serve as a changing of the guard.

"Sooner or later the keys to the car are going to be turned over to the new driver," Franchione said. "We'll be sitting here in three years asking and talking about these same kind of things with Stephen McGee that we're talking about now with Reggie. He's going to be an outstanding quarterback."

For more coverage of the Texas A&M Aggies, check out Websider.com.



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