There's no question the Cotton Bowl committee got their dream selection.
This has been a season of firsts for Texas A&M. And in that spirit, there seemed to be a little bit of a let down from the fans when the pairings were announced and a familiar foe, the Oklahoma Sooners, was chosen. The possibility of playing a marquee team in a new bowl such as the Capital One Bowl seemed to be the preferred choice over a game they've played numerous times.
I disagree. What better what better way to end this special season? With a win, the Aggies would put a stamp on their transition from the Big 12 by beating their former conference's co-champion and a national power. A team that went 11-5 over you as a conference opponent no less?
While it can be argued that nothing could have been bigger than a Longhorn/Aggie bowl game, there is a good chance the actual game would have been quite the disappointment. Especially for those wearing burnt orange. This matchup however, between two of the top eleven teams, places a team snubbed by the BCS, against a team that knocked off #1 Alabama on the road. With these two prolific offenses, the Cotton Bowl is arguably the second most anticipated bowl game of the season.
In a game that features plenty of subplots such as Kevin Sumlin facing his old mentor Bob Stoops, and the Aggies getting a chance a redemption from a team that has dominated them over the last decade, the game itself is sure to be an exciting. Offensively, these teams are built perfectly to attack the other's weaknesses on defense and points should not be hard to come by.
The Sooners, led by senior quarterback Landry Jones, come into the game with a 10-2 record. Their only loses on the season came at home to the current #1 and #5 teams in the country. Their offense is of typical Big 12 fashion and slings the ball all over the yard. Jones has thrown for 3,989 yards with 29 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Sooners are blessed with one of the deepest wide receiver corps in the country. Kenny Stills and Justin Brown each have over 800 receiving yards on the season and Sterling Sheppard has 41 catches for 578 yards.
Their most dangerous weapon out wide is Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders, who missed the first four games of the season waiting to be cleared by the NCAA. In only eight games, he ranks third on the team in receptions (53) and receiving yards (766).
However, Saunders status for the Cotton Bowl is uncertain at this time. Earlier this week, he and a teammate were arrested for possession of marijuana. If he is indeed suspended for the game, it will be a huge positive for Mark Snyder and the Aggie's 95th ranked pass defense in yards per game.
Oklahoma's rushing attack averages 165 yards a game behind Damien Williams and Brennan Clay. Backup quarterback and short yardage expert Blake Bell has added 11 touchdowns with he legs. The Aggie defensive has had success against stopping the run all year against some of the prominent rushing teams in the SEC. Led by senior linebackers Sean Porter, Jonathan Stewart, and first-team all-conference defensive end Demontre Moore, the Ags are going to have to be able to stop the run with only six guys in the box and a nickel back dropping into coverage.
Texas A&M is also 10-2 with both losses coming against top-10 teams. Their explosive offense will bring a lot more balance into this contest, behind Heisman Trophy front-runner and SEC offensive player of the year Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football's 1,342 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns on the season led a rushing attack that averaged 235 yards a game. This should be a big cause for concern with an Oklahoma run defense that ranks 86th in the country by giving up 192 yards per game.
Manziel is also dangerous through the air, completing 68.2% of his throws for 3,419 yards and 29 scores. Receiving leaders Mike Evans and senior Ryan Swope will go up against an experienced and talented Sooner secondary that ranks 21st in passing yards given up per game. Just like the Aggies, the Sooners are going to have to stop the run and get their playmakers involved by making the Aggies throw the ball.
In what is sure to be one of the most watched/exciting bowl games, the Aggies have the chance to exorcise one more demon from their days in the Big 12 Conference. A victory over the Sooners would be another piece in the foundation of what Kevin Sumlin is building in Aggieland.
Familiar foes will meet on January 4th, but this time, there's more on the line.