Big 12: 2011 Cotton Bowl preview

Texas A&M revives an ancient rivalry with LSU in the AT&T Cotton Bowl on Friday night. For the second consecutive year, the game will be played in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, rather than the stadium for which the game is named. The match moves to prime time for the first time as well as part of an attempt to become a BCS bowl in the future.

WHO TO WATCH: Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray. He's been nothing short of outstanding over the second half of the season after his partner in the backfield, Christine Michael, broke his leg and ended his season. In the three games before the Aggies took on Kansas, Gray had a combined seven rushing yards. He finished the year with six consecutive 100-yard games. His 223-yard finale, in a win over rival Texas, brought him to 838 yards and 10 touchdowns in the Aggies' final six games. Not surprisingly they were all wins, and included two top-10 opponents in Nebraska and Oklahoma. Gray's emergence over the end of the year made the streak possible, and he'll likely need another 100-yard day for the Aggies to knock off No. 11 LSU.

WHAT TO WATCH: The line of scrimmage. This game figures to be the most physical of the Big 12's bowl games, and neither team will be able to win without winning the battle up front. Texas A&M runs it downhill better than about anyone in the Big 12, and LSU ranks a manageable 40th nationally in rush defense. The Aggies will have to deal with superstar defensive tackle Drake Nevis, and protecting Ryan Tannehill is priority No. 2 for the offensive line. He'll need time to poke holes in a solid LSU secondary with his receivers, specifically Uzoma Nwachukwu and Ryan Swope. Jeff Fuller could be in for a tough day against the physical Patrick Peterson. Defensively, the Aggies will have to slow Stevan Ridley. Rushing for 1,000 yards in the defense-heavy SEC should come with some kind of multiplier, but Ridley did it, becoming only the fourth Tiger to achieve the feat.


WHY WATCH: These are two teams competing for the "Quality Loss Championship." LSU's only losses are to BCS teams Arkansas and Auburn, while A&M's losses came to Oklahoma State, Missouri and Arkansas, all 10-game winners. What you have in this game is a pair of quality teams that couldn't quite get it done against teams that were better than them on that day, but the two could meet up for a classic.

PREDICTION: Texas A&M 20, LSU 17. I like defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter's chances against a mostly one-dimensional offense. Meanwhile, the Aggies' balance will be enough to get the win. Throwing the ball won't be easy, but when receivers do get open, if only slightly, Tannehill has proved he can get it to them. That hasn't been the case for LSU quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

BIG 12 SCOREBOARD