Cotton Bowl Primer: Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M


Oklahoma Sooners (10-2 Overall; 8-1 Big 12)

The only thing that stood between Oklahoma and a BCS bowl this year was, of all things, Northern Illinois. Well, Kansas State played a role, too, as it was Oklahoma's 24-19 loss to the Wildcats that kept the Sooners from winning the Big 12 outright and getting the automatic berth. Still, this was a successful season for Oklahoma and Bob Stoops. The Sooners weren't able to claim the Big 12 to themselves, but their two losses came against the aforementioned Kansas State and a Notre Dame team that is playing for the national title this year. Led by senior quarterback Landry Jones, the Sooners' offense finished fourth in passing yards per game and in the top 10 scoring 40.3 points per game. Jones will look to put the finishing touches on a career that was good but never quite seemed good enough.

At Their Best. Oklahoma fans like winning and like competing for national titles, but they can deal with a few losses as long as none of those losses come against Texas. If the Sooners beat the hell out of the Longhorns, other discretions can be forgiven. That's exactly what the Sooners did this season. Oklahoma racked up 677 yards of offense while holding Texas to 289. While the final score of 63-21 was lopsided enough, it doesn't quite tell the entire story. The score of this game at halftime was 36-2, which seems even more insulting than the final score. At one point in the fourth quarter, the Sooners had a 56-8 lead and only a Texas touchdown on the final play of the game managed to bring the final deficit to a "more respectable" 42 points.

At Their Worst. It's hard to find moments in which Oklahoma was actually bad, but the obvious times would be the losses to Kansas State and Notre Dame. The truth is that Oklahoma actually played well in both games. But it was three turnovers against Kansas State that sealed the deal there and red-zone woes against Notre Dame that hurt Oklahoma on a different night. It's a lot of "could have, would have, should have," but the truth is there really wasn't a whole lot separating this Oklahoma team from being 12-0.

Headliner. Oklahoma has a lot of good players, but it's hard to go with anybody other than Landry Jones in this game. The Oklahoma quarterback is playing his final game with the Sooners after a four-year career that has seen him go 32-7 in his last three seasons as a starter but win only one Big 12 title and go to only one BCS bowl. Jones has won more games, thrown more passes for more yards and for more touchdowns than any other quarterback in Oklahoma school history. Yet his name doesn't hold the same kind of significance as Josh Heupel's or Sam Bradford's because he hasn't won the Heisman or a national title.


Texas A&M Aggies (10-2 Overall; 6-2 SEC)

When Texas A&M announced it was leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, many people thought it was a mistake. The Aggies would never be anything other than an also-ran in the conference. In truth, the Aggies did finish the regular season with four other SEC teams ranked ahead of them in the BCS, but A&M itself was ranked ninth and had picked up a victory against top-ranked Alabama on the way. Oh, and then there was something about some kid named Johnny Manziel, who helped lead an offense that supposedly couldn't work against mighty SEC defenses to finish fourth in the nation in points per game at 44.8. So that shut everybody up pretty quickly.

At Their Best. After the Aggies failed at their first two cracks against the SEC's big boys in Florida and LSU, they went on the road and shocked the world by knocking off Alabama in Tuscaloosa. And it wasn't a fluky victory, either. The Aggies jumped out to a 20-0 lead before Alabama fought its way back into the game. Then, in the fourth quarter, holding on to a 20-17 lead, when a lot of teams would have crumbled, Johnny Manziel and the Aggies' offense put together two scoring drives to start the final quarter and put Alabama's undefeated season on ice.

At Their Worst. Building early leads against SEC powers was nothing new for Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa. A&M had put together a 17-7 lead against Florida and a 12-0 lead against LSU before faltering down the stretch against both teams. While these were the lowest moments of the season, you could also say the victory against Alabama would never have taken place if those blown leads didn't happen. The Aggies were able to learn from both of them and became a better team.

Headliner. Who else can it be but the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy, Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football took the world by storm this season as he went off for an SEC record of 4,600 total yards and 43 touchdowns. Now, "only" 2,987 and 21 of those touchdowns came in SEC games. But this is still a freshman we're talking about, and he was doing this against the best defenses in the country.


What: AT&T Cotton Bowl

When: Friday, Jan. 4, 8 p.m. ET, Fox

Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Line: Texas A&M -3

Prediction: My prediction for this game is that it's going to come down to the fourth quarter with one play deciding the outcome. With an over/under of 72 1/2, it's obvious that Las Vegas is expecting some points, but that may not be the case. The Oklahoma defense gave up a respectable 24.2 points per game in the high scoring Big 12, and the Texas A&M defense doesn't get nearly enough credit for allowing only 22.5 points per game. However, I'm going against the hype. I think Johnny Manziel might struggle a bit, thanks to all the promotional work that he has had to do since winning the Heisman.

Oklahoma 31 Texas A&M 28

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CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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