Oklahoma has opportunity to fly Big 12 flag
Both teams will be showered in a deafening chant as the final seconds tick off the clock. What's not guaranteed? Which chant it will be.
The original "S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!" that would accompany the far-from-original member of the SEC, Texas A&M fans?
Or the "Big 12! Big 12! Big 12!" chant that was born after another Texas A&M loss, at home against Oklahoma State in 2011?
"Especially since it’s the SEC, everybody says we’re two of the top conferences, and we want to be considered the top, so that's definitely going to add meaning to this game," Sooners cornerback Aaron Colvin said.
Safety Tony Jefferson, a San Diego native, attended last week's Holiday Bowl, where Baylor routed No. 17 UCLA as an underdog.
He's not the only one rooting on his conference mates.
"There’s so much talk about how the SEC is the best conference and nobody else can play with them, so I feel like if other teams represent the conference well and we can go out and represent, maybe we can change a few minds," receiver Kenny Stills said.
It's a small sample size, sure. Texas beat Ole Miss in Oxford in the only other matchup of the two leagues this season, but Oklahoma doesn't seem to mind that this SEC opponent bears the same name of the squad it beat easily in Norman a season ago, even if the coaching staff and win-loss record is a whole lot different.
"We’ve played essentially everyone on their defense personnel-wise," offensive lineman Gabe Ikard said. "They play a new scheme, but we’ve played all those guys, so I don’t think we’re using that as motivation, but trying to represent the Big 12 well."
The bowl season has already exposed a few cracks in the SEC's foundation. None of the SEC's bottom eight teams managed a win against one in the top six of the standings, but Clemson already knocked off LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and Louisville dominated Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Can Oklahoma issue another blow to the SEC's spot atop the conference rankings with a win over Texas A&M, days before Alabama plays Notre Dame and tries to win the league's seventh national title?
It'll be the Big 12's final game of the season, and beating one of the nation's hottest teams, led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, could leave a lasting imprint for the offseason and leave more than a few wondering just how secure the SEC's spot is as the top conference entering 2013.
"It’s a big statement game, especially for our defense," Jefferson said. "The No. 1 offense in the SEC, it’s just a huge opportunity for us to showcase our ability."
Texas A&M turned heads in its old conference for walking into the SEC, known for stingy defenses that would obviously dominate any spread offense, and shaking it up with offensive playmakers and creative play calling, buoyed by a player who only gets better as the play becomes more broken.
"I’ve always been an advocate for the Big 12. I love the way we play football here, and there’s conference pride here with the SEC and Big 12 going against each other," Oklahoma linebacker Tom Wort said. "I was just proud of the way Texas A&M went into the SEC and did well. It shows that it doesn’t matter what conference you’re in -- you can still play good football. I’m proud of the way Texas A&M played."
He's not alone, though conference pride takes a backseat in game preparation, even if some players don't buy the idea that league pride is even on the line.
"People are trying to convince us that it’s an SEC versus Big 12 matchup, but when it comes down to it, it’s Oklahoma versus Texas A&M," Ikard said.
It may look that way on the scoreboard, but the postgame chants that will reign down on Cowboys Stadium will absolutely tell a different story.
Will the Big 12 like that story? Well, that's up to the Sooners.
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