Senior College Football Columnist

Texas A&M fell flat on field, but that may be least of woes


COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Saturday's result will not go over well in certain quarters of the Deep South. Those barbeque joints, honky tonks and talk shows tinged with a drawl in SEC country couldn't have seen this coming.

Big 12 solidarity.

At the end of Oklahoma State's 30-29 win over Texas A&M, there came a chant that rarely, if ever, had been heard in the 16-year existence of the eternally squabbling conference.

"Big 12, Big 12, Big 12," yelled a few thousand Cowboys' fans pointing and gesturing at their 87,000 marooned-out counterparts at Kyle Field.

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It wasn't so much loyalty being expressed as finality. If A&M considers itself an SEC school, then it will lug a four-game losing streak to the Cowboys perhaps into forever. In what was most likely was the last meeting between the two schools as conference rivals, the Aggies were caught looking ahead.

To the end of the game after blowing a 20-3 halftime lead, to next week when it most likely can begin calling their next opponent (Arkansas) an SEC rival, to July 1 when the SEC move looks to become official on paper.

Certainly, A&M officials had looked past the school's honor code -- an Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal -- in leaving the Big 12 only 16 months after it had pledged to remain.

Call Saturday's result, then, the biggest Texas A&M backtrack since "committing" to the Big 12 in June 2010. The Aggies blew it, on the field and as an audition for the conference it soon will join. And for the record, it was A&M's biggest blown lead since dropping another 17-pointer to Nebraska in 2002.

"We had so much on the line," A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill said, "and we were excited about this game."

For a half. After that, the Gig 'ems gagged. Big time. Oklahoma State scored 27 unanswered points to beat A&M for the fourth straight year, the past three by five points or less.

Oklahoma State flipped a switch, from moribund offense held 26 points under its first-half average to dictator of tempo and perhaps of a Big 12 it has never won.

The victory makes it more likely that the Big 12 conference title actually stays in the Big 12. A small point, but one worth mentioning in the whirlwind of conference realignment. Had A&M won, the Aggies could have taken a Big 12 title into perpetuity as it migrated to the SEC.

A&M president R. Bowen Loftin told on Saturday that the school's move to the SEC will be done "shortly."

The Aggies were done shortly after blowing a 17-point halftime lead. They weren't so much trying to impress the SEC as just trying to beat Oklahoma State. The Aggies blew a 14-point halftime lead in Stillwater last year, losing 38-35.

The significance of this game was ratcheted up because it was the first game between top-10 foes at Kyle in 36 years. The Big 12 hadn't seen a conference game between top-10 opponents in three years. This was one of those prove-it games, the kind they play every week in the SEC.

At some point, A&M will have to get used to it. Maybe Oklahoma State is already there.

"Three or four years ago when we were in that [losing] situation, guys didn't look the same in their faces in the locker room," coach Mike Gundy said. "It takes time to develop something like that. They've got to prove to themselves they can do it."

These Cowboys suddenly seem to have leaders and athletes and character. The defense turned from passive to aggressive, picking off three second-half passes. Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden established himself as a big-time Heisman candidate with career highs in attempts (60), completions (47) and yards (438).

It could have been worse. Receiver Justin Blackmon blew a certain third-quarter touchdown when he fumbled, untouched, through the end zone from A&M's 2.

"I was trying to dive," said last year's Biletnikoff Award winner, who might be better this year. "I thought somebody was closer."

That affected only the point spread. Whatever went on at halftime, it was magic in one locker room and tragic in the other. Oklahoma State ran 58 plays in the final 30 minutes to A&M's 34. It was 37-11 in the third quarter when the Cowboys held the ball for almost 11 minutes.

If Ags fans throats were hoarse, their defenders' tongues hanging.

"To play half a game when you feel like you should win, yeah, it's a bitter pill to swallow," A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said. "I hope they're [players] are pissed about the way we played because I'm pissed off about the way I coached."

Gundy, that -- "I'm a man, I'm 40" guy -- called it the most satisfying win of his career. That matters because Gundy, now 44, is establishing himself as a big-time coach.

The team had to deal not only with the death of the wife of linebackers coach Glenn Spencer but the conference speculation. Fans may have been showing Big 12 loyalty, but the Oklahoma State administration, like everyone else, was looking out for itself. As late as Monday, it looked like the Cowboys were headed to the Pac-12.

"It was more noticeable this week," Gundy said. "You just can't go anywhere without people talking about it. In the office, jogging on campus, at the bagel shop. That's what everyone talks about. You can't run away from it."

So they won another shootout between the teams, but at least they won. A&M and Okie State have averaged more than 70 points in the past four meetings. The past three meetings have been decided by a total of nine points.

"To beat a top 10 team on the road was huge," Cowboys defensive coordinator Bill Young said.

What Oklahoma State will do with Saturday's win is yet to be determined. As for the Aggies, they might have some explaining to do to Mr. and Mrs. SEC.

Texas A&M is not from that same "footprint," but when you get done hearing all the cheers and observing all the traditions here, it won't matter. They will not seem from the same planet.

But those are details. These Aggies proved they can play in big games, win 'em Ess-EEE-SEE-style.

At least for a half.

On this day, the Cowboys won one for the dear, ol' Big 12. However long that set up lasts.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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