The Texas A&M football team, which hasn’t won a conference championship since 1998, arguably faces its toughest schedule in school history this year, yet many fans are expecting a great season. Now that’s having faith.

Keeping with that theme, The Eagle’s 24-Mammal Prognosticator Panel is having the professionals of faith as guest pickers, clergymen. If they are half as good at picking winners as they are ministering to our community, then eight-time Prog champion and SportsTalk host Chip Howard and Mr. Tuggles are in trouble.

“So now I see you’re asking for Divine guidance to beat me!” Chip said. “All I can do is pray for the preachers.”

The preachers, in turn, have been and will continue to keep praying for Chip, possibly to be a more humble winner, though that’s about as likely as A&M and Texas playing in football.

I know the preachers will want to win. They’re competitive, but they are working for a greater cause. That’s why they’ll have some fun while they do it.

“As the years have mounted up, my fervor for football has flagged and moved way down on my list of priorities,” said Sam Hill of North Bryan New Birth Baptist. “That’s my credential sentence, so you’ll know I am really part of the clergy class.”

Here’s the skinny on our guest pickers this season:

• Troy Allen, College Station First Baptist — The senior pastor, who graduated from Texas A&M-Kingsville, has lived in College Station since 2011. He also lived in Florence and Richland Springs, where he developed a love for 6-man football as the Coyotes were winning a few of their record-tying eight state titles.

• Buck Anderson, Grace Bible Church — Buck, who has been pastor at Grace since 2006, has a master’s from Dallas Theological Seminary and a doctorate from Houston. He was a faculty member and academic dean at College of Biblical Studies in Houston from 1990-2006. He also earned a few free meals winning Chip’s contest.

• Randy Bard, Bethel Lutheran — Randy offered for his wife and children to make his picks, but Mr. Tuggles won’t allow it. Randy is a lifelong fan of the Dallas Cowboys, who might need a self-sermon on loving your neighbor. “[I’m] not a lifelong fan of the owner of the Dallas Cowboys,” he said. OK, he’s got a point.

• Ted Foote, Bryan First Presbyterian Church — Ted has been a Presbyterian pastor for 40 years, the last 12 in Bryan. Wife Joanie has been a Rudder faculty member for 11 years. Ted has degrees from Baylor and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The Gatesville native also is an author, so this column could be in for an upgrade.

• Lonnie Green, Church of the Nazarene — The Oklahoma native has lived in Bryan since 1988. His father and grandfather also were pastors. Retired Bryan football coach Merrill Green is his uncle, but Lonnie said he won’t ask for help unless he gets far behind. That’ll probably be next week.

• Preston Greenwaldt, A&M United Methodist Church — One of Preston’s parishioners nominated Greenwaldt claiming, “He speaks of A&M athletics in almost every sermon.” Another parishioner added: “I’m not sure if he can beat out Mr. Tuggles, but it will make for some good sermons.” Mr. Tuggles has yet to attend church, but he might start going to A&M UMC.

• Jim Heiligman, Bryan First Baptist Church — Jim, who is part of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of ’01, recently celebrated his five-year anniversary at Bryan FBC. He also preached in Castroville, Moody, Jacksonville and Charlotte. Jim’s puns during sermons are big hits, but will his picks keep the scuba diving lover afloat?

• Zach Hester, Caldwell Country general manager — The 2002 graduate of A&M Consolidated played football and soccer for the Tigers. He’ll certainly get a kick out of this. He got involved in the auto business as a 17-year-old and has been at Caldwell Country 11 years. He’s on the United Way board, along with working with Ronald McDonald charities, the Alzheimer’s Association, American Heart Association and the College Station ISD Education Foundation.

• Sam Hill, North Bryan New Birth Baptist Church — Sam will celebrate his 12th year at New Birth Baptist on Oct. 2. His wife of 42 years has been a science teacher at Bryan for 33 years. Sam, who claims he once was a science teacher, is turning his picking into a science experiment for his church’s 4-H Club. He’s going to roll one die for the visitor, another for the home team. High roll wins. As for ties, the home team gets the nod via home-field advantage. “I think I could do this for 13 weeks,” said Sam, adding someone else can figure out the probability of success. “So instead of being a poorly picking preacher, I would be the STEM preacher of the Brazos Valley, advancing science and the gospel.”

• Jerry House, Christ United Methodist Church — Jerry and wife Jana founded Christ United in 1995. They have a trio of children, Hillard, Madelyn and Hudson. I’m considering Jerry take a vow that he can’t get help from Stacie Lambert, a former Prog Panel standout when we featured “Sports Nuts” one season. Lambert works in operations at Christ United.

• Brian McMaster, St. Mary’s Catholic Center — According to his assistant, Brian “is the priestliest member of the Fightin’ Aggie Class of 1995.” He also loves Aggie football and the Dallas Cowboys and “probably prays more Hail Marys than he throws.” He must know Randy.

• Rick Mitchell, Calvary Baptist Church — Rick played quarterback at Denver City, and his three sons played for the Caldwell Hornets. They had the greatest coach possible, Rick’s wife, L’dena, who is retired after such hard work.

• Chris Osborne, Central Church — Chris, who has been at Central since 1986, recently was named to the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He will serve as professor of preaching and pastoral ministry starting Jan. 1. What better way to go out than picking a few games?

• Alan Pittman, Living Hope Baptist — The East Texas native said he grew up “cheering for God’s team, the Dallas Cowboys.” He’s been an Aggie fan all his life and moved here last summer. Mr. Tuggles gave Alan a thumbs-up when he saw Alan’s high school football team went 2-38 in his four years. “I just hope my record as a picker is much better,” Alan said.

• Caleb Schoeneck, Beautiful Savior Lutheran — After graduating from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Caleb left the Cheeseheads behind and found a home here in 2003. Caleb grew up in Seattle, so he’s known nothing but good football.

The clergy will be competing against the usual suspects. The experts joining Chip are TexAgs co-owner Billy Liucci and the Houston Chronicle’s Brent Zwerneman, who won a pair of Prog titles while working for The Eagle.

The Eagle’s firepower starts with publisher Crystal Dupre, a Mississippi State graduate who won Prog in her first season. Steady Eagle editor Darren Benson and managing editor Rob Clark, Prince’s No. 1 fan who also owns a Prog title, also return this season. Eagle sports editor Robert Premeaux Jr., along with also winning a title, is not only the glue of the department, he’s the substance who makes sure I know how to spell substance.

And don’t forget Mr. Tuggles, our picking canine who finished ahead of 12 humans last season when we had bankers as our guest panelists. I wouldn’t bank on a repeat against the clergy.

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