Kansas St. and Oregon who? Arlington’s the center of our college football universe, as Texas A&M plays Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Friday. Some news, notes and random weirdness heading into Friday night at Jerry World.
1. Most pundits are picking Texas A&M.
The Aggies are ranked 9th. Oklahoma is 11th. They both have two losses. Neither can really claim to be the home team (though we suspect enthusiasm, more so than proximity, will tilt Cowboys Stadium towards the 12th Man).
A&M’s a 4.5-point favorite, but by all rights, this game is a toss-up, especially in the world of college football bowls, where long layoffs, unexpected coaching changes (like the departure of A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury) and unfamiliar opponents make for unpredictability.
Except, in this case, the opponents know each other very well–not only did the two schools just spend the better part of two decades playing every year in the Big 12 conference, but Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin worked as an assistant under OU coach Bob Stoops for five years, the gig that launched him to his current level of success, first at the University of Houston, and now in College Station.
As Patrick Vint of SB Nation notes, most pundits are going with the Aggies. Having the Heisman winner, and the perception that the SEC is the best conference in the country (more on that in a second) will do that for you, especially when the Sooners couldn’t shut down West Virginia or Oklahoma State’s offense in two of its last three games.
2. But here’s a reason not to.
The two SEC teams that beat A&M this year, #3 Florida and #8 LSU, both got knocked off in their bowl game by teams from a supposed lesser conference: #21 Louisville of the Big East and #15 Clemson of the ACC, respectively.
And, according to one prominent number-cruncher, the SEC is not actually the best conference in the country. Jeff Sagarin had the Big 12 slightly ahead of the SEC this year in his computer rankings.
As Paul Myerberg of USA Today noted, “the SEC had six teams win 10 or more games, [but] another five teams won five games or less,” while nine of the Big 12’s ten teams won six games or more.
Cheering “B-I-G-1-2” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “S-E-C,” but TCU, Tech, and UT fans who go for conference loyalty over state loyalty–a tough choice that we’ll be posting about later–might want to give it a try.
3. This game is a big deal.
Once the Southwest Conference New Year’s gem, the Cotton Bowl has long been a consolation prize for Big 12 and SEC teams alike. That will change if it becomes part of the new college football playoff system. But this one really is as good a match-up as any of the BCS bowls short of Monday’s title game (and OK, yeah, tonight’s KSU-Oregon contest).
It’s also a particularly huge moment for the Aggies, as running back Ben Malena (and just about everybody else from A&M who met the press this week) emphasized.
“Only three teams (at A&M) have won 11 games. It would be great to be team number four,” he said. “First year in the SEC, Heisman Trophy winner, Outland Trophy winner, four All-Americans, this could be one of the best years A&M has ever had.”
4. The “Other Red River Rivalry Bowl”?
It’s a little weird that a team with “Texas” in its name is playing Oklahoma at something called “the Cotton Bowl,” right? Even though it’s not at the Cotton Bowl.
More confusion: this will be A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin’s second straight trip to something called the Cotton Bowl. Last year, he took Houston to the Ticket City Bowl, which is the game that actually got played in the old stadium at Fair Park last year. (It became the “Heart of Texas Bowl” this season).
On top of that, the Aggies already have their own border rivalry at Cowboys Stadium with Arkansas, though the series took a little break to just be a regular home-and-home conference game this year and next.
In any case, the aerial shot of maroon on one side and crimson on the other won’t be quite as large a contrast.
5. The Johnny Heisman Factor
Any fan of college football can tell you that having the Heisman Trophy winner doesn’t always mean much in a bowl game.
Robert Cessna of the Bryan College Station Eagle broke it down: since 2000, the Heisman winner’s team is 5-7. That record was 2-7 prior to 2009, so Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel will be looking to maintain an upward trend.
Cessna also noted that teams with Heisman winners in the Cotton Bowl are 3-4–with two of those losses, by Auburn (Bo Jackson, 1987) and Notre Dame (Tim Brown, 1989) coming to A&M itself.
Oklahoma defensive coordinator MIke Stoops seemingly resorted to a SportsCenter catch phrase when discussing Johnny Football.
“I don’t think you stop him,” he said. “Nobody has been able to stop him. I think you try to contain him and try to limit his big plays.”
Sooners defensive back Aaron Colvin was asked how similar Manziel was to last year’s Heisman winner, former Baylor QB Robert Griffin III.
“I would say in some ways they are similar,” he said. “They both are great at creating plays when there are no plays. They both find a way to win. They both do great things and that is why they both won the Heisman Trophy.”
6. What it’s really all about.
Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin has humbly talked about how A&M still had a ways to go, and that this season was just the first step in bringing the program to national championship level prominence the way Stoops did for Oklahoma, and Urban Meyer for the University of Florida.
But he may already be celebrating the only win A&M can get over