Sunday, December 2, 2012
AT&T Cotton Bowl
By Sam Khan Jr. and Jake Trotter
Texas A&M Aggies (10-2) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (10-2)
Jan. 4, 8 p.m. ET, Arlington, Texas (Fox)
Texas A&M take by GigEmNation's Sam Khan Jr.: The Aggies are one of the surprise stories nationally in college football this season, exceeding preseason expectations by going 10-2 in their first Southeastern Conference campaign.
New coach Kevin Sumlin has injected energy into the program and helped reverse the narrative of 2011, when the preseason-top-10 Aggies couldn't hold on to a second-half lead. Now, Texas A&M closes games out as good as any team.
A lot of that credit can go to its Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. Nicknamed "Johnny Football," Manziel took the college football world by storm with his playmaking ability, producing an eye-popping statistical season by breaking Cam Newton's single-season SEC total yardage record. Manziel compiled 4,600 offensive yards this season, throwing for 3,419 and rushing for 1,181. He was responsible for 43 touchdowns.
But the Aggies have been far from a one-man show.
Questions about the defense -- and the defensive line in particular -- were answered emphatically. Junior Damontre Moore spent most of the season at or near the top spot in the country in tackles for loss (20) and sacks (12.5), where he's tied for fifth and third, respectively.
Perhaps the team's best unit has been its offensive line, which has two future NFL draft picks at the tackle spots (juniors Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews), and a senior center (Patrick Lewis) who has been a catalyst to the team's success.
The Aggies have displayed a high-powered, quick-strike offense under Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, and an aggressive defense under coordinator Mark Snyder.
Oklahoma take from SoonerNation's Jake Trotter: From Lee Roy Selmon to Brian Bosworth, Oklahoma has a long, strong defensive tradition. But like almost everyone else in the Big 12, these Sooners win with their high-flying pass offense. Senior quarterback Landry Jones finished off the regular season on fire, throwing for more than 500 yards twice in November while leading the Sooners to a pair of come-from-behind, fourth-quarter wins. Jones, who has a chance to go 4-0 as a bowl-game starter, benefits from one of the most explosive wide receiving corps in the country.
Four different receivers boast more than 500 yards receiving, including Kenny Stills, who leads the Sooners with 75 receptions and 11 touchdowns. All three of OU’s running backs are dangerous in the passing game, too, especially fullback Trey Millard, who had a 73-yard reception against Texas earlier this season.
Opposing offenses have gashed Bob Stoops’ defense on the ground, but the Sooners are not easy to thrown on. Free safety Tony Jefferson is a ferocious tackler, and cornerback Aaron Colvin is a ball hawk.
As co-Big 12 champs, the Sooners had a season worthy of a BCS bowl. But Northern Illinois' sudden ascendance knocked them out of the BCS and the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners did not have a win over a team currently ranked in the AP Top 25. But their two losses came at the hands of top-ranked Notre Dame and Kansas State, which was No. 1 before the Irish. OU was in both games until falling apart in the fourth quarter. The Sooners, however, have owned the fourth quarter down the stretch, coming back in the final seconds to knock off West Virginia and Oklahoma State, then holding off TCU in the last minute.