Arlington, TX – Former Big 12 Conference rivals meet in the 77th Cotton Bowl Classic, as the Texas A&M Aggies battle the Oklahoma Sooners on Friday night at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Both teams are riding five-game win streaks, and each went 10-2 during the regular season.
Texas A&M's 6-2 mark in its first foray into the SEC was good for second in the Western Division behind Alabama. The Aggies are the only team to beat the Crimson Tide this season. With Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at the helm, the Aggies come into this contest seeking their first 11-win campaign since 1998. A&M is led by head coach Kevin Sumlin, who spent five seasons (2003-07) as an assistant at Oklahoma.
Texas A&M is appearing in its 34th bowl game (14-19), and is playing in its 13th Cotton Bowl (4-8). The Aggies, who were just here two years ago (41-24 loss to LSU), are playing in Cowboys Stadium for the fifth time, but have yet to leave as the victors.
Sumlin spoke with reverence about playing a team he used to coach in one of the nation's most prestigious bowl games.
"Our football team is excited to play another game against a storied program such as Oklahoma. We have been led all year by a great group of seniors and to be rewarded with a great experience like the Cotton Bowl is something they will cherish. Plenty of their family and friends will be able to watch them play as well, and the hospitality is second to none."
Oklahoma earned a share of its eighth Big 12 title this season, matching Kansas State's 8-1 league ledger. The Sooners lost to the Wildcats, 24-19, in their conference opener back on Sept. 22, thus giving K-State the league's automatic bid to a BCS bowl game.
Oklahoma is led by Bob Stoops, who can notch his 150th career win in this clash, and the team has been to a bowl game every year since his arrival on campus back in 1999. Stoops' troops played in their only other Cotton Bowl back in 2002, defeating Arkansas in a 10-3 final. Overall, OU is appearing in its 46th bowl game (27-17-1), and the team is seeking its fourth straight bowl win, which would match the longest streak in school history.
Oklahoma is 4-0 in games played in Texas this season, and a win here would give the Sooners their 10th 11-win season under Stoops.
OU quarterback Landry Jones knows his team has its work cut out for it as it gets ready to tangle with the high-octane Aggies.
"They have a very explosive offense," Jones said. "Manziel, obviously has done a lot of great things for the game of college football, won the Heisman this year and was an All-American so it's going to be a big challenge for us and the defense."
These two teams have faced each other every year since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996, but this is their first meeting in a bowl game. Oklahoma leads the series, 19-11, and the Sooners are 11-2 versus A&M under Stoops, winning eight of the last nine meetings.
With Manziel leading the way, the Texas A&M offense was on point for much of the season, averaging 44.8 points and 552.3 total yards per contest, both of which ranked the team third in the nation. Manziel, who is only the second Aggie, and the first freshman in history to win the Heisman, threw for 3,419 yards with 24 TDs and eight interceptions, while also serving as the team's leading rusher with 1,181 yards and 19 scores.
There were other Aggies who had productive years as well, with RB Ben Malena accounting for 752 yards and seven TDs, and RB Christine Michael reaching the end zone 12 times. In the passing game, Mike Evans has 75 receptions for 1,022 yards and five TDs, and Ryan Swope is hot on his heels with 64 grabs for 809 yards and seven scores. Uzoma Nwachukwu has only 23 catches, but six of them have been for TDs.
With Manziel and the A&M offense grabbing most of the headlines, the Aggies defense has quietly gone about its business this season in yielding 22.5 points and 389.3 total yards per game.
Damontre Moore has been a man possessed along the defensive line, logging 80 total tackles, 20 TFL and 12.5 sacks. Overall, the Aggies have registered 30 sacks, but haven't proven to be all that opportunistic with a mere 15 takeaways, which includes only four fumble recoveries.
While A&M has a young, gifted QB calling the shots, Oklahoma relies on a steady veteran in the senior Jones. A 65.5 percent passer who has thrown for nearly 4,000 yards (3,989), 29 TDs and 10 picks this season, Jones is both productive and calming in his demeanor, leading the team to the dizzying heights it has achieved during his time in Norman.
The Sooners' leading receivers are Kenny Stills (75 rec., 892 yards, 11 TDs), Justin Brown (66 rec., 822 yards, four TDs), Jalen Saunders (53 rec., 766 yards, three TDs) and Sterling Shepard (41 rec., 578 yards, three TDs), while the OU run game is fueled by the exploits of Damien Williams who has amassed 905 yards and 11 TDs. Backup QB Blake Bell has also been effective on the ground, scoring 11 rushing TDs.
For the most part, the Oklahoma defense has done a solid job this season in permitting 24.2 points and 378.8 yards per game. The effort against the run has been somewhat suspect though, as foes generate 181.1 ypg and have scored 23 TDs on the ground.
Although they posted wins in each, there was a late three-game stretch in which the Sooners allowed 34, 49 and 48 points to Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, respectively.
Tony Jefferson has had a tremendous season in collecting a team-high 113 tackles, while Javon Harris and Aaron Colvin have a combined nine interceptions. Chuka Ndulue has five sacks.
A glaring lack of big plays on defense exists however, and it's hard to imagine but the Sooners have even fewer fumble recoveries than do the Aggies, coming up with only three in a dozen games. They also have only 12 picks.