Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma: Cotton Bowl Breakdown
Texas A&M (10-2) vs. Oklahoma (10-2)
Jan. 4, 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
• Reason to watch: For the defenses, right? Oh, how Aggies' jokes never get old. Clearly, this matchup should be an offensive bonanza, as both teams boast high-scoring attacks. The Aggies average 44.8 points per game, third in the FBS, while the Sooners average 40.3, 11th nationally. Texas A&M's frenetic spread scheme took the SEC by storm this season, and Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel has already broken the SEC single-season record for total offense. And though former offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury left last month to become the next head coach at Texas Tech, Manziel will still benefit from an offensive line loaded with talent; both Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews are projected first-round NFL draft picks. Oklahoma's high-powered attack revolves around more of a pure passer, as redshirt senior quarterback Landry Jones will end his career in the same stadium where he became the Sooners' starter after Sam Bradford got hurt in 2009. But despite a 3-0 record in bowl games, Jones' legacy will be remembered for the contests in which he underwhelmed, regular-season losses that torpedoed Oklahoma's national title hopes time and time again. Regardless, given the potency of these offenses, the Cotton Bowl could come down to which team has the ball last.
• Keep an eye on: Oklahoma's defensive strategy to slow Manziel. While the Sooners edged out spread-style opponents Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State by a combined 12 points down the stretch this season, they also gave up a total of 911 rushing yards in the process. That could cause major problems against Manziel, who made a habit of breaking to the outside and gashing defenses all year. Both Florida and LSU beat the Aggies by containing Manziel and forcing him to run inside or throw from the pocket. That's a blueprint Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has been vocal about emulating this week. "You try to contain him and try to limit his big plays," Stoops told reporters. "Being able to keep him in the pocket is easier said than done. They do a great job creating run plays for him to get him into open space. People don't realize, but the offensive line does a great job of creating space for him."
For the Sooners to succeed, two things likely need to happen. First, they'll need their beleaguered defensive line -- and senior Jamarkus McFarland, in particular -- to turn in a star performance. And second, they'll need a linebacker to step up and keep Manziel in check. Junior weakside linebacker Corey Nelson remains one of Oklahoma's best athletes, but he's often been bypassed in favor of another defensive back.
• Did you know: Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has a 13-4 record in games against his former assistants who have become head coaches. Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin falls into that category, as he worked in Norman from 2003-07. Still, this marks the first time that Stoops will face one of his assistants-turned-head coaches in a bowl game. The other matchups (against Mike Leach, Mark Mangino and Bo Pelini) all came during league play in the Big 12, a conference Texas A&M was a member of until this season. "Business is business," Stoops told reporters this week. "We are still friends, but you have to do your job. ... We understand that it is the competitive world we live in."
• Final analysis: Unlike most teams in the SEC, Oklahoma is quite familiar with up-tempo spread offenses. After all, it has faced them for years in the Big 12. And for as much of a wildcard as Johnny Football's elusiveness is, it's also uncertain how he'll fare without Kingsbury calling the shots. Keep in mind: The Sooners have won every shootout they've been in this season. Don't expect that to change now -- a sobering reminder of what might have been if Jones had been more consistent in earlier losses to Kansas State and Notre Dame.
• The pick: Oklahoma 41, Texas A&M 38