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December 20, 2012

For Sooners, just another game against Aggies

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

— The logo on Texas A&M’s jersey says “SEC” in bright gold. For Oklahoma, however, the AT&T Cotton Bowl won’t feel like a bowl game against a typical out-of-conference opponent.

Memories from early November Big 12 Conference games between the programs are barely a year old. They’re still too vivid in OU’s way of thinking.

“In my mind, it still seems like a Big 12 game, just because they’re only one year removed,” OU quarterback Landry Jones said at Tuesday’s press conference previewing the Jan. 4 game. “If this was 20 years down the line, I’m sure it would be a whole different game with a different feel to it."

The Sooners will play the Aggies for the 19th time in the last 20 years. The last year the teams didn’t play was 1995 — a year before the Big 12 Conference was formed. The teams played a non-conference, home-and-home series in 1993 and 1994.

It wasn’t something the Sooners were thinking about until the bowl announcements were made on Dec. 2. Sooner players thought they were heading to the Sugar Bowl after topping TCU to clinch a share of the Big 12 championship.

Circumstances have changed. Landing in a bowl game played in Arlington, Texas, caught players off guard.

“It’s strange for two reasons,” defensive end David King said. “One, because we’re playing in Dallas and we play in Dallas when we play Texas every year. Two, we did play Texas A&M every year for so many years.”

It doesn’t feel like the typical Big 12-SEC showdown in the Cotton Bowl. The 10th-ranked Aggies, who have fully embraced their move to the SEC and have gone 10-2 this season, including a win over then-No. 1 Alabama, still play like a Big 12 team.

Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel runs the up-tempo spread offense that dominates the Big 12. Stylistically, they’ve been an oddity in what’s become the strongest conference in college football.

The last time the 12th-ranked Sooners faced an SEC team — Florida in at the 2008 national championship game — the offense it defended had its roots in the Wing-T.

“At the end of the day, it’s a bowl game and you have to win it to get the momentum going into the off-season,” King said. “Like I said, it’ll be a huge test for us with their quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner, playmakers and offensive line. I’m sure they’re going to present challenges on the defensive side of the ball.

“We just have to go out there and play our best game of the year and come out of there with a win.”

With the exception of the Heisman Trophy winner, OU would’ve been saying the same things about the Aggies prior to any of those meetings during their 16 seasons as conference rivals.