Oklahoma Sooners: Johnny Manziel

Big 12 stats that defined the season

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
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Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State leaned on defensive improvement in several statistics to finish in the top half of the Big 12 while several stats reveal why Kansas, Iowa State, TCU and West Virginia didn't reach bowl eligibility.

Here is one stat from each Big 12 team that helped define the season:

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield, Ahmad Dixon
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBaylor's offense got most of the pub, but the Bears' defense -- led by senior safety Ahmad Dixon -- was one of the stingiest when it comes to yards allowed per play.
Baylor’s yards per play allowed: The Bears offense has been explosive and high scoring for the past several seasons, so seeing it again in 2013 was nothing new. But, this season, their defense more than held up their end of the bargain allowing 4.53 opponent yards per play, leading the Big 12 and ranking sixth among FBS teams. A defense laced with veterans, including safety Ahmad Dixon, helped BU’s unit rank among the nation’s best, and the athletes that have become commonplace on the Bears offense are starting to surface on the defensive side of the football with talented young guys such as defensive end Shawn Oakman and safety Terrell Burt.

Iowa State’s sacks allowed: The Cyclones allowed 37 sacks in 12 games, an average of 3.08 per game. ISU finished last in the nation and tied for No. 113 among FBS teams in the category. The trouble protecting the passer speaks volumes about the injury struggles Paul Rhoads’ team had along the offensive line. Ten different ISU offensive linemen started games this season, with nine different starting lineups starting the first 11 games. All of ISU’s offensive problems began up front.

Kansas’ yards per play: It’s amazing to think how bad Charlie Weis’ offense was this season. The Jayhawks ranked among the worst in the nation in several categories, but their 4.28 yards per play was No. 120 among FBS teams. KU entered the season with much higher expectations for this offensive unit, particularly with BYU transfer Jake Heaps as the triggerman. Yet the Jayhawks never really found any consistency, as Weis and company tried several different things to jump start the unit. KU scored more than 20 points twice this season, letting down a defense that was much improved over last year’s group.

Kansas State’s yards per play: When you think of the top offenses in the Big 12, it takes a while to get to Kansas State. Yet the Wildcats featured a surprisingly explosive offense despite losing uber-productive quarterback Collin Klein off last year’s squad. This year’s K-State offense averaged 6.3 yards per play, second to only Baylor in the Big 12 and No. 28 among FBS teams. Bill Snyder’s ability to find harmony while using Jake Waters and Daniel Sams in a two-quarterback system led to 33.4 points per game by an offense that didn’t enter the season expected to be among the Big 12’s best.

Oklahoma’s yards allowed per game: The Sooners allowed just 336.3 yards per game to lead the Big 12 and finish No. 13 in the FBS. OU entered the season with a lot of questions and concerns about a defense that was embarrassed by Johnny Manziel in last year's Cotton Bowl and was losing a bunch of starters, yet the Sooners defense improved thanks to several young players, including defensive end Charles Tapper and Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year Dominique Alexander. OU's defense was the foundation of the Sooners' 10-2 season and Sugar Bowl berth.

Oklahoma State’s opponent third down conversion rate: The Cowboys defense was among the Big 12’s best in its first season under Glenn Spencer. Their third down production was superb, allowing opponents to convert just 31.3 percent of their third down attempts to lead the Big 12 and finish seventh among FBS teams. OSU’s veteran defense and willingness to be more aggressive on third downs under Spencer played a key role in its success in those situations and eventual 10-2 finish.

Texas sack percentage: The Longhorns' ability to get after the quarterback played a key role in their success. UT featured two of the Big 12’s top pass rushing threats in Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. That duo helped UT sack opposing quarterbacks on 8.6 percent of passing plays, ranking No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 9 among FBS teams while finishing with 37 total sacks, including 35 during Big 12 play, helping UT to a 7-2 conference record.

TCU third down conversion rate: The Horned Frogs converted just 32 percent of their third down attempts this season, ranking eighth in the Big 12 and No. 113 among FBS teams. It’s easy to see why the Horned Frogs have brought in former Houston offensive coordinator Doug Meacham to take over their offense. TCU’s defense was good enough to be in the Big 12 title race, its offense was not.

Texas Tech passing yards per game: It was a terrific debut season for head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense despite some musical chairs at the quarterback position. The Red Raiders averaged 392 passing yards per game to lead the Big 12 and rank second among FBS teams despite having true freshmen Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb running the offense. Without one of the nation’s elite passing offenses, it’s unlikely the Red Raiders earn a bowl bid with a 7-5 record.

West Virginia’s opponent third down conversion rate: The Mountaineers allowed opponents to convert 42.7 percent of their third down attempts, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 91 among FBS teams. WVU’s inability to get off the field in those important moments was one reason the Mountaineers’ defense allowed 455 yards per game, leading to the team's 4-8 finish.
Oklahoma's defense made it through the second week of November and had given up more than 21 points just twice. The Sooners lost both games, but any good Big 12 offense can feel good about its chances if its defense gives up just 24 and 30 points, especially at home.

[+] EnlargeMike Stoops
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesDefensive coordinator Mike Stoops says that Oklahoma's defense needs to be better schematically next season.
New defensive coordinator Mike Stoops looked like he'd made an impact, but after beating Iowa State in Ames, the streak of strong defensive play from the Sooners stopped. It survived 34 points from Baylor and big plays late from quarterback Landry Jones helped the Sooners beat West Virginia and rival Oklahoma State despite giving up 49 and 48 points, respectively.

Jones' heroics overshadowed the defensive struggles a bit, but there was no hiding from an embarrassing 41-13 blowout loss at the hand of ex-Big 12 rival Texas A&M, lowlighted by 229 rushing yards and 287 passing yards from Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, who also accounted for four touchdowns.

"You can’t give up that many yards and that many points and expect to win. We’ve got to find ways to be better against those kinds of teams. That’s what we’re concentrating on [this spring]," Stoops said. "A lot of teams you can go out there and it doesn’t matter what you play, you can beat a lot of teams, but when you go up against the top-level teams, you’ve got to come up with something a little different and variations and that’s where we came up short, those kinds of games."

There's no excusing the points, but how much of those struggles were the Sooners playing poorly, and how much of it was going head-to-head with four teams that ranked in the top 10 in total offense and scoring offense?

"Our plan was off against Tavon Austin, they kind of caught us with our pants down, and we didn’t have really an answer. Structrually, you’ve got to be better than that," Stoops said. "A&M, I think that was probably one of the hardest teams we’ve had to defend here ever, maybe."

Austin spent almost all his time at West Virginia as a receiver, but the Mountaineers moved him to running back against the Sooners. He promptly racked up a school-record 344 rushing yards and had 572 all-purpose yards, seven short of the NCAA record. Against the Aggies, the Sooners' pass rush went absent and the linebackers and secondary consistently lost contain on Manziel, who turned broken plays into big plays on countless occasions in the Aggies' romp.

"Those three teams average more than 550 yards a game so that’s their average. You’ve got to look at it, but certainly we want to have our expectations," Stoops said of the Aggies, Cowboys and Mountaineers. "It’s a little bit of us not being good enough schematically and position by positon. When you get stressed like that when you play good teams, you get stressed across the board, and we have to be better than we were a year ago, and that’s individually and schematically."
It might be going too far to say ESPN Watch List quarterback Justice Hansen (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe) is sheltered, but he doesn’t get a chance to see many schools.

A frequent visitor to Oklahoma and currently the Sooners only offer at the position, spring break allowed Hansen to venture outside the Sooner State as he visited Texas A&M on Tuesday.

Hansen was offered by the Aggies in January, and he said the school has been on his mind for a long time because they were one of his first offers.

NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops was talking about Johnny Manziel as his team prepared to face Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in the Cotton Bowl. Yet his words revealed the driving force behind the Sooners’ change in recruiting strategy at the quarterback position.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Michael C. Johnson/US PresswireIf Blake Bell wins OU's quarterback job, expect more designed runs for the signal-caller.
“Sometimes the worst thing you can do is cover everybody,” Stoops said in December.

It’s every defensive coordinator’s nightmare to play great defense, have all receiving options covered, then watch helplessly as the quarterback scrambles for a big gain. It happened time and time again during the Cotton Bowl as Manziel set a Cotton Bowl record with 516 total yards against OU.

The Sooners are hoping they’re on the positive side of that equation this fall and beyond. With Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson, the Sooners have quarterbacks who can make defenses pay with their feet if they’ve run out of options through the air.

A glimpse at the skill set of OU’s quarterbacks has led to speculation that the Sooners offense would undergo drastic changes with a shift towards an offense that features the quarterback run game.

There are several signs that will not be the case, however. The Sooners signed four receivers on Wednesday, a sign that receiver-heavy formations are here to stay.

Most importantly, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel is very diligent on the recruiting trail in his search for athletic quarterbacks who are passers first. Mental makeup, intangibles, accuracy and arm strength sit alongside mobility on the Sooners list of priorities when recruiting quarterbacks.

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NORMAN, Okla. -- Anyone who watched Oklahoma’s defense in the final four games of the season knows that the Sooners were in dire need of help in the secondary and along the defensive line. West Virginia’s Tavon Austin and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel torched the Sooners’ defense on their way to record-breaking performances, as OU had no answer for the dynamic playmakers.

Quincy Russell
Courtesy of Trinity Valley Community CollegeBob Stoops is expecting a big immediate impact from juco defensive tackle Quincy Russell.
The Sooners hope they’ve addressed those needs with their defensive line and secondary signees in the Class of 2013 and will see immediate dividends on the field this fall.

“You’re never going to get everyone you want but we feel like we’ve helped ourselves in some critical areas,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.

Cornerback Stanvon Taylor (Tulsa, Okla./East Central) joins safeties Ahmad Thomas (Miami, Fla./Central) and Hatari Byrd (Fresno, Calif./Central East) as signees who appear poised to step right in and play in the secondary. Taylor, in particular, drew a lot of praise from Mike Stoops while drawing comparisons to All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin from OU head coach Bob Stoops on signing day.

“We’re projecting him to come in and solidify that corner position for us,” Mike Stoops said. “I can’t say enough about this guy, he has all the qualities you want in a superstar.”

Yet those impact signees in the secondary won’t mean much if the Sooners cannot solidify their defensive front. To that end, OU signed seven defensive linemen (four defensive tackles, three defensive ends) on Wednesday, with junior college transfer Quincy Russell (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley) looming as the biggest potential impact player along the defensive interior.

(Read full post)

Decisions that defined OU in 2012: No. 2 

January, 17, 2013
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From QB Landry Jones staying to defensive coordinator Mike Stoops arriving, the storylines were many for the 2012 Sooners. But sometimes, the small decisions turned out to be big ones that defined the season, too. With that in mind, here are the five decisions that probably made the biggest impact on Oklahoma's 2012 season.


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Film review: Texas A&M 41, OU 13 

January, 6, 2013
1/06/13
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Johnny ManzielMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma had no answer for Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.

It's hard to imagine a more disappointing end to Oklahoma's season. The Sooners got hammered by Texas A&M, 41-13, in the Cotton Bowl on Friday as Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel showed the world why he was the first freshman to win the Heisman, accounting for 516 yards and four touchdowns. Here's a look at some of the key moments that resulted in OU's third loss of the season.

Manziel’s first third-down conversion

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3 Up, 3 Down: Texas A&M 41, Oklahoma 13 

January, 5, 2013
1/05/13
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Who was up and who was down in Oklahoma’s 41-13 loss to Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

THREE UP

1. FB Trey Millard: With 28 yards on four carries, Millard was one of the few Sooners to have a decent day. More importantly, Millard declared during the postgame that after contemplating going pro he has decided to come back to school for his senior season. Millard has been one of OU’s best players the last three seasons, and his return gives the Sooners one of their best playmakers and blockers for another season.

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Oklahoma's defense had heard the legends about Johnny Football. They'd seen the highlight reels and trophy acceptance speeches.

Until Friday, though, they had never stepped on the same field with the first freshman to win a Heisman Trophy. After Texas A&M's 20-year-old superstar rolled over the Sooners for 516 total yards (229 rushing, 287 throwing) and four touchdowns in a 41-13 Cotton Bowl victory, Oklahoma couldn't help but be glad his college years will be spent on fields across the SEC and not the Big 12 -- where the Aggies would have been if not for some conference upheaval over the past two years.

"Johnny Manziel is everything he was billed to be," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He makes everybody miss him. He was what you've seen on tape the whole year."

Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops called Manziel the best player he'd ever played, which carries a special significance considering Stoops' defense gave up 344 rushing yards and 572 all-purpose yards to a shifty, speedy receiver named Tavon Austin from West Virginia barely six weeks ago, the second-most all-purpose yards in a game in FBS history.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel, Tony Jefferson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel sprints away from Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson during a second-half run.
"He's not a Heisman winner for no reason," said Oklahoma safety Javon Harris, who scooped up an interception off Manziel when receiver Malcome Kennedy bobbled what likely should have been Manziel's fifth touchdown of the night. "You saw what he did to the SEC all year. We knew exactly what we were going to get into."

Stoops' defense refused to blitz Manziel for most of the night, but the Aggies' strong offensive line -- led by bookends and future NFL first-round picks Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews -- hardly allowed Oklahoma's defensive linemen to make Manziel notice they were even trying to chase him down. For much of the game, Oklahoma's secondary would cover the Aggies' receivers, but Manziel would find a crease and turn a broken play into a big gain.

"It's hard if you've got an angle on him," Bob Stoops said. "He stops, goes the other way. If you don't he outruns you."

Despite spending the past month making a post-Heisman nationwide media circuit and losing his offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, Manziel strung together one of the best highlight reels in bowl history, which was set to a soundtrack of "Johnny B. Goode" from Chuck Berry on the big screen at Cowboys Stadium as the final minutes of the game ticked away and Texas A&M fans serenaded the exiting Oklahomans with an "S-E-C" chant.

More like Johnny B. Great.

"There wasn't anything holding us back. No rust. There was no nothing," Manziel said.

He energized the crowd as few have ever had the ability to do, the volume level in Cowboys Stadium rising quickly any time he fled the pocket. Oklahoma's defense could do little to stop him or to quiet the Aggies-friendly crowd of 87,025, the biggest Cotton Bowl crowd ever at the venue.

A media flock hounding him while he did required postgame TV and radio interviews couldn't catch him either after he sprinted from midfield to the corner of the stadium to finish the last few bars of the "Aggie War Hymn" with his teammates in front of the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band.

"This is kind of a game that turned the page again," Manziel said. "People asked me earlier in the year about what game made it all click. There was the Arkansas game, and this game tonight made me flash back to that."

That's a scary thought for the rest of the SEC, which could spend the next three years chasing a quarterback nobody can seem to catch, inside or outside the pocket. He helped Texas A&M become the first offense in SEC history to amass 7,000 total yards, and there's no reason he won't do it again. With Manziel taking snaps and breaking tackles, there will be plenty of national title talk in Aggieland over the next few months, with a blowout victory over the Sooners serving as springboard. Texas A&M proved it was better than national title game favorite Alabama on a November afternoon in Tuscaloosa. Can it be better than everyone in the nation for three months next fall?

"For everybody next year, this is the first game of the new year," A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "It sets the bar."

Manziel will be around to help us all find out if the Aggies will clear it.

Instant analysis: Texas A&M 41, OU 13

January, 4, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Another Cotton Bowl, another bad loss for the Big 12. Excluding current SEC member Missouri's win back in 2008, the Big 12 has lost the Cotton Bowl to an SEC opponent in eight consecutive seasons. Johnny Football put on a show after a month away and showed zero signs of rust and a zillion signs of being an endless source of frustration for Oklahoma's defense.

The Big 12 finished 4-5 in its nine bowl games, and the SEC improved to 4-3 in its bowl games. Let's take a look at some instant analysis for Texas A&M's 41-13 blowout win over the Sooners.

It was over when: Facing a fourth-and-5 late in the third quarter, Manziel hit Ryan Swope over the middle on a short slant. Swope shed a tackler and raced 33 yards to put the Aggies up, 34-13. That capped a run of three Oklahoma three-and-outs to begin the second half and spelled doom for the Sooners.

Game ball goes to: Johnny Manziel. I mean, who else? He broke the Cotton Bowl record for total yards with 516 and accounted for four touchdowns. It could have even been five, too, if not for Malcome Kennedy's bobbling a pass in the end zone that was eventually intercepted by Oklahoma's Javon Harris.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma averaged 4.8 yards per play. Texas A&M averaged 9.6 yards per play. It was really that simple in this one. Johnny Football made the Aggies dangerous on what seemed like every snap. Oklahoma's offense played well in the first half, but it rarely looked easy, and Texas A&M prevented the Sooners from breaking big plays. It also clamped down in the red zone.

Unsung hero of the game: Texas A&M's offensive line. Get a good, long look at Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews serving as bookends on this line. They might be gone soon, cashing big-time checks as NFL first-round picks. Mike Sherman had well-chronicled struggles, but the offensive line guru left some big beef for Manziel and the Aggies offense to operate behind. It showed tonight. Oklahoma rarely blitzed, for fear of Manziel running loose in the second level, but he had all day to throw and little pressure on most snaps.

What Texas A&M learned: Heisman jinx, December distractions, coaching changes, whatever. It all seemed pretty irrelevant in this game. Johnny Football looked like his usual self, if not better. He broke loose for 47 rushing yards on Texas A&M's opening drive and didn't slow down from there. Kliff Kingsbury checked out as Texas A&M's offensive coordinator, but Clarence McKinney had a solid performance in his debut as play-caller. Manziel insisted he wasn't distracted and that the whirlwind of awards and television appearances after winning the Heisman hadn't changed him. His performance validated those claims.

What Oklahoma learned: Just like Kansas State and Notre Dame, the Sooners were incapable of beating the elite teams in college football this year. A 10-3 season isn't bad, but it's not good enough at Oklahoma. The Sooners might not have even been happy going 1-2 in those losses, but 0-3 will leave a very bitter taste in their mouths thinking back on a season that was very average by the Sooners' sky-high standards. Any notion that it had a formula for stopping or even slowing down the Johnny Football train went out the window. He had his way with the Sooner defense, which tackled poorly, too.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Bob Stoops earned the name in his first few years as the head Sooner, when it seemed like Oklahoma kept racking up wins when they truly mattered.

In recent years, that name has taken a hit, but tonight, we might see another chapter written. Oklahoma is certainly good enough to win this game, but Stoops' biggest complaint over the years is that when he wins "big" games, they're suddenly not so big in retrospect.

He's got a point, but that won't be a problem tonight. He's got a huge stage and a packed house and two teams in the top 11. He's facing one of the nation's hottest teams with the uncontested hottest player in the country. With a win, he would earn a whole lot of respect from his Big 12 brethren for knocking Big 12 expat Texas A&M off its perch after a strong first season in the SEC.

Stoops is 11-2 against the Aggies, and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has had a month (and a lot of great athletes) to prepare to try and stop Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

There's no debating this one: Tonight is a big game. Texas and Oklahoma State are rivalry games, but they combined for just 15 regular-season wins. Oklahoma's other truly big games this year came at home, and the Sooners lost them both.

If Stoops' Sooners can break that trend tonight, you can expect a very different attitude surrounding the program heading into 2013.

Stay tuned. I'll be tweeting along in-game commentary once kickoff nears alongside SoonerNation's Jake Trotter and ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett, so follow along. Enjoy the game, and we'll have plenty of coverage on the blog and on Twitter throughout the night.

Keys for OU in the AT&T Cotton Bowl

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
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Three keys for Oklahoma in tonight’s AT&T Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M:

1. Protect Landry Jones, and the ball: When the Sooners have kept Jones upright, he’s been lethal throwing the ball to a quartet of playmaking receivers. But the few times that opposing defenses have gotten pressure, Jones has been subject to major mistakes, notably in a loss to Kansas State earlier this season. This will be OU’s toughest protection test yet, as the Aggies feature one of the top sack artists in the country in Damontre Moore. But if OU can keep Moore and his cohorts out of Jones’ face, the Sooners should be able to move the ball through the air against what’s been an inconsistent Texas A&M secondary.

2. Contain Johnny Football: OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said this week that you can’t stop Johnny Manziel. But you can contain him. That’s obviously easier said than done. Just ask Alabama. But if the Sooners can keep Manziel in the pocket and prevent him from reeling off big plays on the move, they should be in good shape.

3. Win the special teams battle: The Sooners have their best special teams units in years, especially in the return game. Jalen Saunders’ punt return touchdown against Oklahoma State helped sparked the Sooners in a come-from-behind Bedlam win. Brennan Clay and Roy Finch have also been very good returning kicks, and punter Tress Way can swing field position with his leg. One way to counter Manziel is to make plays when he’s not on the field. The Sooners could use some big plays on special teams.

Pregame: AT&T Cotton Bowl

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
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No. 9 Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2, 8-1 Big 12)

Who to watch: Who else? Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will attempt to put the finishing touches on his freshman season. "Johnny Football” broke Cam Newton’s SEC record for offensive yardage and accounted for 43 touchdowns while becoming the first freshman to capture the Heisman Trophy. Manziel, however, will be facing one of the better defensive backfields he’s seen all season, led by free safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Aaron Colvin -- both All-Big 12 performers. Manziel will also have to overcome the distractions of a whirlwind month in which he not only won the Heisman but hung out with actress Megan Fox and played golf with the Jonas Brothers.

What to watch: The Aggies boast Manziel, but the Sooners counter with one of the top wide receiving corps in the country. Kenny Stills, Justin Brown, Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard all have more than 500 yards receiving this season. Texas A&M is stout up front, but the Aggies have been vulnerable at times defending the pass, ranking 82nd nationally in pass defense despite competing in the run-oriented SEC. If OU quarterback Landry Jones gets rolling with his talented pass-catchers, this game could tumble into a shootout.

Why to watch: Outside the BCS National Championship, this is as good a matchup as any out there. This Cotton Bowl also features two of the top quarterbacks in the country, with the hotshot freshman in Manziel facing off against the elder statesman in Jones, who will be making his 50th career start on the same field in which his career began four years ago. There should be plenty of energy inside Cowboys Stadium, too, as the Cotton Bowl is expecting a record crowd of 90,000. This will be a BCS-caliber bowl in every way except in name.

Prediction: Texas A&M 34, Oklahoma 31. Coach Bob Stoops has a dominating 11-2 record against Texas A&M, including an average victory margin of three touchdowns. These, however, are not the same Aggies the Sooners faced in the Big 12. Manziel and coach Kevin Sumlin have brought a new attitude to Texas A&M, and the Aggies will be motivated to prove this on the field against their former conference foe.
IRVING, Texas -- Predictions aside, one thing tonight is guaranteed.

Both teams will be showered in a deafening chant as the final seconds tick off the clock. What's not guaranteed? Which chant it will be.

The original "S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!" that would accompany the far-from-original member of the SEC, Texas A&M fans?

Or the "Big 12! Big 12! Big 12!" chant that was born after another Texas A&M loss, at home against Oklahoma State in 2011?

[+] EnlargeAaron Colvin
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAaron Colvin said that Big 12 Conference pride will be fueling Oklahoma against SEC foe Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
Deny the conference significance if you want, but this is one of just two matchups between the Big 12 and SEC all season, and the Sooners have certainly taken notice of how the league has done in the bowl season thus far.

"Especially since it’s the SEC, everybody says we’re two of the top conferences, and we want to be considered the top, so that's definitely going to add meaning to this game," Sooners cornerback Aaron Colvin said.

Safety Tony Jefferson, a San Diego native, attended last week's Holiday Bowl, where Baylor routed No. 17 UCLA as an underdog.

He's not the only one rooting on his conference mates.

"There’s so much talk about how the SEC is the best conference and nobody else can play with them, so I feel like if other teams represent the conference well and we can go out and represent, maybe we can change a few minds," receiver Kenny Stills said.

It's a small sample size, sure. Texas beat Ole Miss in Oxford in the only other matchup of the two leagues this season, but Oklahoma doesn't seem to mind that this SEC opponent bears the same name of the squad it beat easily in Norman a season ago, even if the coaching staff and win-loss record is a whole lot different.

"We’ve played essentially everyone on their defense personnel-wise," offensive lineman Gabe Ikard said. "They play a new scheme, but we’ve played all those guys, so I don’t think we’re using that as motivation, but trying to represent the Big 12 well."

The bowl season has already exposed a few cracks in the SEC's foundation. None of the SEC's bottom eight teams managed a win against one in the top six of the standings, but Clemson already knocked off LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and Louisville dominated Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

Can Oklahoma issue another blow to the SEC's spot atop the conference rankings with a win over Texas A&M, days before Alabama plays Notre Dame and tries to win the league's seventh national title?

It'll be the Big 12's final game of the season, and beating one of the nation's hottest teams, led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, could leave a lasting imprint for the offseason and leave more than a few wondering just how secure the SEC's spot is as the top conference entering 2013.

"It’s a big statement game, especially for our defense," Jefferson said. "The No. 1 offense in the SEC, it’s just a huge opportunity for us to showcase our ability."

Texas A&M turned heads in its old conference for walking into the SEC, known for stingy defenses that would obviously dominate any spread offense, and shaking it up with offensive playmakers and creative play calling, buoyed by a player who only gets better as the play becomes more broken.

"I’ve always been an advocate for the Big 12. I love the way we play football here, and there’s conference pride here with the SEC and Big 12 going against each other," Oklahoma linebacker Tom Wort said. "I was just proud of the way Texas A&M went into the SEC and did well. It shows that it doesn’t matter what conference you’re in -- you can still play good football. I’m proud of the way Texas A&M played."

He's not alone, though conference pride takes a backseat in game preparation, even if some players don't buy the idea that league pride is even on the line.

"People are trying to convince us that it’s an SEC versus Big 12 matchup, but when it comes down to it, it’s Oklahoma versus Texas A&M," Ikard said.

It may look that way on the scoreboard, but the postgame chants that will reign down on Cowboys Stadium will absolutely tell a different story.

Will the Big 12 like that story? Well, that's up to the Sooners.

10 Cotton Bowl stats you need to know

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
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AP PhotoLandry Jones and Johnny Manziel have their teams poised for a Cotton Bowl win.
The Cotton Bowl kicks off at 8 ET on Friday night as the No. 9 Texas A&M Aggies face the No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners. These former Big 12 rivals are meeting for the 17th straight season. Oklahoma has owned the series of late, winning 11 of the last 13 matchups since 1999.

Here are nine more stats you need to know to get ready for this game:

Going Streaking
The Sooners are looking for their first four-game bowl win streak since 1978-81, which would tie the school record for consecutive bowl wins. The Aggies are looking to win consecutive bowl games for the first time since a three-game streak spanning 1978-85.

Been Here, Done That
Texas A&M is no stranger to the Cotton Bowl. The Aggies are making their 13th appearance in this bowl, posting a 4-8 record in the previous 12. A&M has lost its last six trips to the Cotton Bowl. Its last win came in the 1987 season over Notre Dame.

What Heisman Curse?
Johnny Manziel plays his first game since winning the Heisman Trophy. The last three Heisman winners to play in a bowl game each won the game (Mark Ingram in 2009, Cam Newton in 2010 and Robert Griffin III in 2011).

Scrambling Man
Manziel has gained 784 of his 1,181 rush yards on scrambles. That's 18 more yards scrambling than Braxton Miller, Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein have combined this season.

Big-Play Johnny Football
Manziel has 70 plays that gained at least 20 yards this season, 10 more than any other FBS player. He was tied for the eighth-most passes (52) and the third-most rushes (18) of 20-plus yards.

Manziel Record Watch
Manziel is one rushing touchdown away from becoming only the fourth player with 20 passing and 20 rushing touchdowns in a season in FBS history. Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and Colin Kaepernick are the others.

Jones Record Watch
Landry Jones can become the second player in college football history to start and win four bowl games as a quarterback. He would join West Virginia’s Pat White, who accomplished the feat from 2005-08.

Jones Cool Under Pressure
Jones has excelled when facing the blitz this season, throwing eight touchdowns and only one interception when facing five or more pass rushers. Jones has been at his best in the last three games, completing 77.1 percent against the blitz with four touchdowns and no picks.

Sooner History
Oklahoma has 27 major bowl wins, tied with Georgia and Texas for the third-most all-time behind USC (31) and Alabama (33). However, just one of those wins has come in the Cotton Bowl – a 10-3 victory over Arkansas in the 2001 season.

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National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert projects the impact No. 13 defensive end Ricky DeBerry will have at Oklahoma.
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BIG 12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/27
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