SEC BOWL PREVIEW: Cotton Bowl
Johnny Football caps off a magical redshirt freshman year in Arlington
This is part seven of a nine-part series that will preview the bowl matchups for all the SEC teams in action. Check back to TigerRag.com Thursday and Saturday for the conclusion of this series. Up today is Texas A&M versus Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
Arlington, Texas - Cowboys Stadium
Jan. 4, 8 p.m. (ET) - FOX
How they got here
If a movie were to have been written that depicted a similar meteoric rise to stardom as the one Johnny Manziel has had, it would have been thrown out for being too ridiculous. Five months ago he was slated to be a backup quarterback. Even when he won the starting job, nobody really cared. Then he broke the SEC total yards mark - a seemingly unreachable feat - and led the Aggies to 10 wins and a victory over SEC champion Alabama in their back yard. All that resulted in making Johnny Football the first freshman to hoist the Heisman Trophy. Year One in the SEC has been a rousing success for Texas A&M, and with a potential elite coach in Kevin Sumlin it appears years two, three, four and beyond can be even better.
Oklahoma did what Oklahoma does in 2012. It won 10 games, earned a share of the conference title and beat rivals Texas and Oklahoma State. However - as usual - the Sooners fell short of their national goals with two losses on the season. This is the fifth time since 2005 that Oklahoma has won double digit games in the regular season, however only in 2008 was that good enough to make the BCS Title Game. Just not quite enough. It’s been the M.O. for Bob Stoops since he won his first and only national title in 2000. At least the Sooners can take solace in the fact that they didn’t have a “bad” loss with both defeats coming at the hands of BCS qualifiers (Kansas State, Notre Dame). And by all intents and purposes the Sooners should be in the BCS. Blame a system quirk forcing Northern Illinois in for that.
Texas A&M offense versus Oklahoma defense
With 43 total touchdowns and 4,600 yards, Manziel led the nation’s No. 3 total offense and will be the focus of Oklahoma’s defense. In the only two games in struggled (or at least didn’t put up ridiculous numbers), LSU and Florida showed the blue print for stopping Manziel. Try to keep him in the pocket and make him beat you with his arm. However, that’s much easier said than done. It takes amazing patience and personnel.
In years past Oklahoma may have had the bodies to slow down the Heisman Trophy winner. Not this year though. The Sooners gave up 379 yards per game and often relied on its offense to outscore the opponent. They have also been inept at taking the ball away with just 19 in 2012. Johnny Football will give you opportunities for turnovers. The key is capitalizing on them, and Oklahoma has not.
I’m really interested to see if extra time to prepare for a unique talent like Johnny Manziel will result in a suffocating defense of him, or if defensive coordinators still have no idea how to stop him because it seems like he’s running an offense of controlled chaos. My guess is that A&M puts up big numbers offensively, but Oklahoma’s sheer speed keeps the Sooners in the game.
Advantage: Texas A&M
Oklahoma offense versus Texas A&M defense
Finishing with the nation’s No. 10 total offense and No. 11 scoring offense, Landry Jones finished his career in Norman right. He threw 29 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2012. Oklahoma also got the rushing attack going with 30 scores on the ground, and when the Sooners get near the goal line, it’s nearly impossible to stop the “Bell Dozer” Blake Bell. He tied with Damien Williams with a team-leading 11 rushing touchdowns.
A&M’s defense has been hit or miss in 2012. Good thing it doesn’t really need it to win games. The unit game up a total of 58 points in three consecutive road victories in the SEC (Ole Miss, Miss. State, Alabama), but it also gave up 57 to La. Tech. The best player on A&M’s defense is end Damontre Moore, who finished a half sack off the conference and national lead with 12.5. If he can make Jones uncomfortable in the pocket, A&M’s defense can slow Oklahoma down. If not, we’ll see a good ole’ fashioned shootout.
I see both offenses having huge nights and moving down the field practically at will. Neither defense has forced many turnovers this year, so just slowing down the opposing offense at times could be the key to victory.
Oklahoma doesn’t have a great track record in high-profile bowl games, but Texas A&M, Sumlin and Manziel have no track record in high-profile bowl games, so it’s tough to bash the Sooners for their recent failings. Plus, Heisman Trophy winners have historically come up small in the national showcase games, although this trend has been bucked in recent years.
My guess is that Texas A&M out-duals Oklahoma in one of the more entertaining and high-scoring bowl games. If I were ranking my confidence on this pick (like on ESPN Bowl Mania) I’d have it pretty low. Both offenses have been really good at times and both defenses have been really bad at times in 2012. But I favor the Aggies by the slimmest of margins in Arlington, spurring a summer of A&M being a sexy pick for the national title in 2013.
Texas A&M 38