Texas A&M Aggies: Duke Blue Devils


The Opening presented by Nike Football will take place July 7-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Oregon, with 162 of the nation's top high school football prospects set to compete. With four days of dynamic training, coaching and competition among the best of the best, The Opening is the perfect chance for recruits in the Class of 2015 to make big jumps and shine on the national stage.

Here are five prospects with the most to gain at the prestigious event:

Florida has Florida State. Georgia has Georgia Tech. Kentucky has Louisville. And, of course, South Carolina has Clemson.

When it comes to the new SEC scheduling format starting in 2016, those four schools are already on board. Their annual rivalry games fulfill the league’s forthcoming requirement for a yearly nonconference game against an ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 school.

But for the rest of the teams around the league, there’s a void.

Sure, they can go year to year and rotate in nonconference opponents. But where’s the fun in that? Let’s create some new rivalries, and in the case of some programs, reignite old ones.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops and Nick Saban
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertThe spectacular salaries of college football coaches such as Bob Stoops, left, and Nick Saban are generated mostly by the labor of unpaid workers.
Alabama-Oklahoma: If FSU wasn’t already taken, the Noles would have been a perfect fit. The physical and philosophical proximity between programs is obvious. But looking elsewhere, Oklahoma might be a fun matchup. The Sugar Bowl has already created tons of tension on both sides with Sooners coaches delighting in calling out Nick Saban and the SEC.

Arkansas-Baylor: Call it a throwback to the old Southwest Conference. Arkansas, which didn’t join the SEC until 1992, has played more games against Baylor (69) than any school in its current conference. On top of that, the differences between Bret Bielema’s physical style and Art Briles’ free-flowing offensive scheme would be a joy to watch.

Auburn-Oregon: Recent history and playing styles dictates this matchup. Not only do we get a rematch of the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, but it pits offenses that live to go fast. Maybe it could be a two-hand touch game in which whoever reaches 100 points first wins.

LSU-Notre Dame: We couldn’t make a list of nonconference matchups and leave Notre Dame off, could we? Pitting the Golden Domers against an SEC program would be appointment viewing. Make that program LSU and the opposing coach Les Miles, and television networks will scratch each other's eyes out to get the game.

Mississippi State-Texas Tech: The Bulldogs have shied away from high profile nonconference games in the past, loading up on the likes of Memphis, UAB and South Alabama. Well, it’s time to infuse a little spice into the schedule. Kliff Kingsbury is too cool to keep out of the SEC. His Red Raiders would be a good matchup with Mississippi State, which faced Texas Tech seven times from 1953-70.

Missouri-Kansas: Does this one really need to be explained? The Border War should have never gone away in the first place. Now is the perfect opportunity to save face and bring back a rivalry that goes all the way back to 1891.

Ole Miss-Miami: We’ve got to get ‘The U’ involved. Miami and Ole Miss have already played a few times in their history, with the Rebs holding a 2-1 series lead. But bigger than that, it would get the SEC back into South Florida on a permanent basis because Miami and Florida don’t have the common sense to do that already.

Tennessee-North Carolina: Even if most people don’t remember it, there’s history there. Tennessee and UNC have played 29 times, with the Vols holding a 20-8-1 advantage. Plus, even if your memory is short, you should recall the double overtime Music City Bowl from 2010 between the schools. If they can re-create that just once, it would make the rivalry worth it.

Texas A&M-Texas: See Missouri-Kansas. Don’t let conference affiliations ruin great rivalries. Texas A&M-Texas should have never been shelved in the first place. And while the UT administration might not see a reason to bring it back -- nor Texas A&M's leadership, for that matter -- surely both fan bases do.

Vanderbilt-Duke:Call it a private school showdown. The proximity is reasonable, the fan bases similar, and the rivalry could easily extend to the hard court. Plus, have you seen Derek Mason’s nonconference schedule this year? It needs help.

Manziel leaves as a winner

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ATLANTA -- They lined up inside the bowels of the Georgia Dome hoping to catch one final glimpse of Johnny Football. One boy wore his No. 2 Texas A&M jersey, shifting nervously from one foot to another as he waited impatiently for his hero's arrival. His father barely noticed, his eyes trained on where the team bus should arrive.

Suddenly a security attendant shouted something inaudible, a pair of doors swung open and a rush of cold air swept inside. The Aggies went by like a blur as they readied for the start of the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke on Tuesday night.

"Did you see him?" one Texas A&M fan asked another when all the players had passed.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsWith all eyes focused on him as usual, Johnny Manziel delivered another virtuoso performance in the Chick-fil-A bowl in possibly his final game at Texas A&M.
"No, did you?" someone responded.

"He must have come in earlier to avoid all this," they decided, shaking their heads in defeat.

Kevin Sumlin was easy to spot. Texas A&M's coach was as dapper as ever in a well-tailored navy blue suit, a baby blue shirt and a pink paisley tie.

Mike Evans couldn't be missed, either. Texas A&M's unstoppable sophomore receiver stood at an unattainable 6-foot-5, a head taller than most of his teammates.

But Johnny Manziel was nowhere to be found. Favorably listed as 6-foot-1, Texas A&M's quarterback instead kept to the middle of the procession, pulled a grey hoodie over his head and turned his face down as he listened to music on a pair of oversized headphones.

It was like he never was there. Some saw him pass by, most didn't. Like a ghost, Manziel reached the locker room without the usual glow of cameras flashing upon his every arrival.

"There he is. You see him?" a Duke fan shouted at his friends in the front row of the Dome a few minutes later, grabbing a buddy by the shoulder as he pointed to Manziel near midfield, now in shorts and a T-shirt as he warmed up, sporting the same headphones he used to block out the world.

If anyone missed Texas A&M's superstar quarterback, all they had to do was look for the hoard of cameras documenting his every move. Hundreds of photographers lined the end zone, snapping shot after shot of what could prove to be Manziel's final game with the Aggies. The NFL could be the next stop for the redshirt sophomore with mind-boggling statistics and breathtaking athleticism. He's done so much in two years at College Station -- some the NCAA would like you to know, some it would like you to forget -- that moving on seems natural.

But if the Chick-fil-A Bowl was indeed Manziel's final hurrah, it felt appropriate.

Two years ago the undersized quarterback won the starting job at Texas A&M to no acclaim. He hit the field to no applause and won fans over with each dazzling play. Not everyone came to his games knowing what he looked like, but everyone left with an impression of Manziel forever burned in their minds. Enough noticed that he won the Heisman Trophy.

Tuesday felt the same way. The nation's focus has been on places like New Orleans, Dallas, Miami and Pasadena, not Atlanta. But Manziel got fans' attention anyways by doing what he's always done -- the impossible. Manziel led a comeback for the ages, bringing the Aggies back from 21 down to beat Duke 52-48.

Manziel accounted for 455 yards and five touchdowns and was named the game's Most Outstanding Player on offense.

"It was an unreal feeling," Manziel said afterwards, not quite dodging questions about the NFL, but somehow avoiding them entirely.

He wanted to talk about the game, and who could blame him? While the Aggies defense was pulverized, failing to make a single stop in the first half, Manziel rallied the troops on the sidelines, grabbing teammates by the collar and even talking up defensive coordinator Mark Snyder -- saying and doing anything he could to end the season a winner.

Offensive tackle Jake Matthews had never seen Manziel so riled up.

"It was special to watch, special to be a part of," he said.

Fellow offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi was just as in awe.

"We forgot how great he is," he said of Manziel. "This game we saw that he is one of the best players in college football history."

After the game, Manziel wasn't the off-the-field diva he's sometimes been portrayed to be. He was reserved, sluggish even. He was getting sick, he said, coughing as he told reporters to keep a safe distance. He didn't know if he had the flu coming on. He slouched and sat on the floor outside the media room, checking his phone as he waited for Duke coach David Cutcliffe to finish up inside.

If he were listening, he would have heard Cutcliffe say how he "spun the ball really well" and just how "special" he was. All that coming from a coach who mentored NFL icon Peyton Manning.

Manziel, for his part, was as understated as ever at the podium, deflecting praise to his offensive linemen and wide receivers. He didn't thump his chest. He didn't bring his trophy into the news conference like his teammate Toney Hurd.

When asked to look back on his career at Texas A&M, he said what he had pretty much all night: that he couldn't believe it.

"It's unreal how things have played out," he said.

He didn't answer any more questions as he walked back to his team's locker room. A reporter asked once again if he'd turn pro, and he didn't answer. He just kept walking, his head down in that familiar zone.

But as he left the locker room, a fan begged him to stop and pose for a picture, and he obliged. He stood still for two shots and smiled before turning down the tunnel and out into the night.

Manziel wasn't a ghost as he left the Georgia Dome early Wednesday morning. He wasn't a blur. He was a legend in full view for the world to see.

After so much talk and so much acclaim the past two years, he left a quiet winner.

If this was Johnny Manziel's final college football game, he couldn’t have scripted it any better if he tried. Behind the heroics of the former Heisman Trophy winner, Texas A&M overcame a three-touchdown deficit to stun Duke 52-48 and win the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Here’s how it all went down:

It was over when: The Texas A&M defense had struggled all night, but the Aggies came up with back-to-back stops on Duke’s last two drives to storm past the Blue Devils. First, it was Toney Hurd Jr. returning an interception 55 yards to give Texas A&M its first lead of the game. Then, with Duke driving, it was linebacker Nate Askew who preserved the victory with another interception. All Manziel had to do was take a knee at the end.

Game ball goes to: Seriously? Was there ever any doubt? Johnny Football might never play another down for Texas A&M, but if so, he ended his career with a bang. The Aggies’ quarterback went 30-of-38 for 382 yards and four touchdowns through the air. He also had 73 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The highlight came early in the third quarter when he went all Johnny Manziel on the Blue Devils. He eluded the rush, hurdled a defender and somehow found a wide open Travis Labhart for a 19-yard touchdown.

Unsung hero: Labhart. While Texas A&M star Mike Evans was losing his cool early in the game, it was Labhart who stayed calm and quickly became Manziel’s go-to wide receiver. The former practice-squad player for the women’s basketball team caught not one, not two, but three touchdowns and finished with seven catches for 76 yards. He might not have made the men’s basketball team, but the Aggies are glad he went the football route.

Stat of the game: Despite two late interceptions, Duke quarterback Anthony Boone played a tremendous game in his own right, throwing for 427 yards and three touchdowns. But even more impressive was his composure on third down. The junior went 11 of 12 for 144 yards on third-down passing attempts. The lone incompletion came on Duke’s final drive, but he turned around and completed a pass to convert on fourth down.

What we learned: If that was Manziel’s last game, he will be missed in college football. Despite his off-field troubles and fiery personality, he was fun to watch. Texas A&M might struggle next year without him, but the Aggies are clearly moving in the right direction under Kevin Sumlin. It doesn’t hurt that Sumlin recently signed an extension and looks to be staying for the long haul. As for Duke, it was an incredible season. The Blue Devils won 10 games for the first time in program history, and though they’re still looking for their first bowl win since 1960, the future looks bright in Durham.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Chick-fil-A Bowl, click here.

Chick-fil-A Bowl preview

December, 31, 2013
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It's been a wild ride for both Duke and Texas A&M this season.

The Aggies, with their effervescent quarterback Johnny Manziel and their high-flying offense, were so often a thrill to watch, full of touchdowns and big plays, but ultimately not enough wins to compete for an SEC title.

Duke, meanwhile, had what could only be called a dream season when compared to the history of the program. David Cutcliffe was named Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year after leading the Blue Devils to their first 10-win season and a spot in the ACC championship game.

How it will end for both teams depends on who shows up ready to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).

Here's a quick preview of the game:

Who to watch: Manziel has been careful not to make any official NFL announcement yet, but all indications point to the redshirt sophomore leaving Texas A&M early to enter the draft. And he might not be alone. Receiver Mike Evans, another redshirt sophomore, is a prime candidate to bolt for the pros as well. So get your fill of them while you can because they're arguably the best at their positions in the country. Manziel's talents, by now, speak for themselves. But Evans might be the bigger concern for Duke because at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he's downright unstoppable. Just ask two of the best teams in the SEC, Alabama and Auburn, which combined to allow 566 yards and five touchdowns through the air to him this season.

What to watch: Don't forget to pay attention to those pesky Blue Devils, though, as wide receiver Jamison Crowder and linebacker Kelby Brown are ones to watch. But Duke, without suspended leading rusher Jela Duncan, is in a pickle. Throwing the ball often will be a temptation, but as quarterback Anthony Boone said, it's a fool's errand to try to outduel Manziel because "that doesn't win football games." Instead, Josh Snead, Duke's backup tailback who ran for 547 yards this season, will be asked to do more. If the Blue Devils stay balanced on offense, they have a shot against what has been a porous Aggies defense. But if Boone, who has thrown 11 interceptions to 10 touchdowns, is asked to do too much, Duke could be in big trouble.

Why to watch: Soak it all in because these two programs appear to be headed toward a crossroads. Duke has never had success like this before. How will it respond if its dream season ends with two straight losses? Can the entire coaching staff stay together? Is one player suspension a sign of more to come? And more questions can be asked of Texas A&M, which might shun the idea of rebuilding next season, but with the possibility of Manziel and Evans leaving, it's definitely a matter of hitting the "reset" button. Coach Kevin Sumlin is locked up under a new contract, but with so many NFL head coaches being fired this week, do the pros start beckoning him as well? Whatever the case, Texas A&M and Duke fans should savor the final game of their seasons and hope that next season holds just as much success.

Prediction: Texas A&M wins it running away from Duke, 48-28. Had the Blue Devils showed better against this season's Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, I might have been swayed to pick otherwise. But Florida State gave Texas A&M the blueprint to moving the ball offensively. Manziel will have his way against the Duke secondary and end his career as an Aggie with a flourish, accounting for a handful of touchdowns that should leave us as in awe of his penchant for making something out of nothing.

Sumlin: Aggies have plenty to play for

December, 24, 2013
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The 2013 season didn't turn out the way Texas A&M had hoped.

There were dreams and goals of playing for an SEC championship and perhaps a BCS bowl. But a young, struggling defense and an offense that sputtered at times down the stretch, not to mention a beaten-up quarterback, meant the Aggies would have to settle for less than an SEC championship or BCS bowl berth.

Next comes a New Year's Eve date with No. 24 Duke (10-3) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. If you don't think Texas A&M has a lot to play for, head coach Kevin Sumlin thinks differently.

"If we can win this game, it'll be the first time in the history of this program we've won three bowl games in a row [in three consecutive seasons]," Sumlin said. "That's significant. There's been a lot of football played and a lot of guys come through this room who can't say they've done that."

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesKevin Sumlin and Texas A&M are hoping for a third consecutive bowl victory.
The No. 21 Aggies (8-4) ended the season with a whimper, losing consecutive road games against ranked foes LSU and Missouri.

After the season concluded, Sumlin gave the players some time off, and when the Aggies returned for bowl practice, he saw an energized group.

"The way this season has gone, we gave them a couple weeks off. ... I like our energy level right now," Sumlin said. "Guys have come back healthy, there's a little bit more bounce in their step and I think we were a little worn down there at the end, mentally and physically."

Duke is also coming off a loss, but its season trajectory and perception is much different. This has been a historic season for Blue Devils football. They've gone "from irrelevant to relevant a year ago to right now, pretty damn relevant," as athletic director Kevin White said during Duke's bowl news conference earlier this month.

A long downtrodden program is quickly on the rise under Maxwell Football Club National Coach of the Year David Cutcliffe, and the Blue Devils see this game as a chance to do something special.

"As soon as our players heard about this opportunity, they're blowing up my phone with texts and tweets are going out and social media is rocking," Cutcliffe said. "It let me know how excited we are to come to Atlanta and represent Duke in this game. ... It's important for us to play well."

The Blue Devils lost to No. 1 Florida State in the ACC championship game but have done enough this season to be a top-25 team in the BCS standings, making this game one of nine bowl games matching up two top-25 BCS teams.

Many have speculated it could be the last game of the Johnny Manziel era for the Aggies, as many predict the quarterback declare for early entry into the 2014 NFL draft. Meanwhile, Sumlin is finishing his second season with the Aggies and just signed a new, six-year contract that looks to keep him around for a while.

"In the last two years, there's been something accomplished," Sumlin said. "Last year's team was one of four [in Texas A&M history] to win 11 [games]. This year we can [win a third consecutive bowl game]. ... That becomes something that can be very, very special to our seniors going out and that can be something that can be really propel us in the offseason."
Many have questioned the Chick-fil-A Bowl's selection of Duke ahead of more established programs such as Miami and Virginia Tech, but bowl president Gary Stokan told the Associated Press that "there was no doubt in our minds" about Duke.

"We in our bowl game take great pride in letting teams play themselves into our game or play themselves out of our game," Stokan told the AP. "It's not some cigar smoke-filled room where we're sitting up making these decisions. It's the players that are making the decisions. ... Duke played [its] way into our game and [is] very deserving of being in our game."

The Blue Devils (10-3) will play No. 20 Texas A&M (8-4) on Dec. 31 in the Atlanta-based bowl.

Chick-fil-A Bowl

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
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Duke Blue Devils (10-3) vs. Texas A&M Aggies (8-4)

Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET, Atlanta (ESPN)


DUKE BLUE DEVILS BREAKDOWN
As expected, Duke was overmatched in the ACC championship game and lost convincingly to Florida State, but the loss didn’t define the season, which includes a school-record 10 wins.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Connette
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe versatile Brandon Connette accounted for 26 total scores for Duke this season.
The Blue Devils still earned the title of Coastal Division champs and now have a chance to end the season on a winning note. Duke had won eight straight games heading into the ACC title game -- the program’s longest winning streak since 1941. The program was ranked in the BCS standings for the first time, and it defeated two ranked teams in then-No. 16 Virginia Tech and then-No. 24 Miami.

Although Duke lost to Florida State for the 19th time and remains winless against the Noles, what happened in that game wasn’t reminiscent of the “old Duke.” Instead, Duke just got a taste of what FSU had been doing to its opponents all season. Duke still has a much-improved defense, which was evident in the first quarter, when it held the Noles scoreless for the first time since they played Florida in 2012. Duke also forced Florida State into three turnovers, including one fumble in the red zone and two interceptions. Duke has now had four takeaways in the red zone this season. Duke’s biggest problem was that it couldn’t capitalize on Florida State’s mistakes or sustain a drive.

That wasn’t the case for most of the season, as Duke was able to score more than 20 touchdowns on the ground and in the passing game for the first time in school history. Despite the loss to FSU, it was an unprecedented season for Duke and coach David Cutcliffe, who was named the ACC’s Coach of the Year. -- Heather Dinich

vs.

TEXAS A&M AGGIES BREAKDOWN
This is not quite where Aggies fans thought their team might end up when they were previewing the season.

[+] Enlarge Mike Evans
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsMike Evans and the Aggies hope to finish their season on a high note with a bowl victory.
With 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews all returning, many in College Station thought the Aggies could achieve a BCS bowl and perhaps even flirt with an SEC title and a BCS title game berth.

But an extremely young defense that was hit hard by graduation (at least in terms of key players) struggled throughout the season, and a beaten-up Manziel lost steam in the final two regular-season games, which led the offense to do the same.

All that being said, 8-4 isn't bad, and the fact that it's a "disappointment" in Aggieland speaks to how much progress the program has made in a short time. This team still has a high-powered offense, ranking sixth in the nation in points per game (43.6) and fourth in yards per game (538.2).

The defense has had its ups and downs but ended the regular season on a solid note on the road against a talented Missouri team, keeping the game within reach for its offense.

And this could be the last hurrah for Manziel, who seems destined to declare for early entry into the 2014 NFL draft. It could also be the final salvo for Evans, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, who is also draft-eligible. -- Sam Khan Jr.
With summer drawing closer, Texas high school football teams are transitioning from spring football to 7-on-7 competition and there were a handful of teams in attendance at the inaugural Crosby Cougar 7-on-7 tournament in Crosby, Texas, on Saturday.

Among them was a talented private school squad, Houston Kinkaid, which appears to have major Division I prospects in the 2014 class and beyond.


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Each week this spring, GigEmNation reporter Sam Khan Jr. will bring you notes and nuggets from watching and visiting with high school football prospects in the Greater Houston area that week, including observations of Texas A&M commitments and targets and other players that catch his attention. Here's this week's installment:

MANVEL, Texas -- Plenty of colleges have their eyes affixed on Manvel (Texas) High School because of 2014 prospect Koda Martin, who we profiled in-depth last week, but there are plenty more reasons for coaches to keep stopping by the school just south of Houston.

[+] EnlargeKemah Siverand
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNTexas and Texas A&M are stopping by soon to check out Class of 2015 wideout Kemah Siverand.
The 2013 class was loaded with the likes of receivers Austin Bennett (Oklahoma), Kyrion Parker (Texas A&M) and Carlos Thompson (Texas Tech), cornerback Tavares Garner (Texas A&M), defensive tackle Dewan Edmonson (UTEP), quarterback Shane McCarley (Old Dominon) and center Travis Romero (Southeastern Louisiana). Martin headlines a 2014 class that also includes a large defensive tackle, 6-foot-6, 280-pound Justin Gardner.

Last season was Gardner's first on varsity and he's getting interest from Houston, Maryland and Texas Tech. His size and athleticism will get him looks and Manvel coach Kirk Martin is looking for a big senior season from Gardner.

There are prospects in the 2015 class as well but the class to watch at Manvel is the 2016 group, where two potential stars are: safety Deontay Anderson and receiver Reggie Hemphill.

Hemphill received playing time on varsity last season alongside Bennett, Parker and Thompson. The 6-2, 170-pounder was a big-play threat, averaging 40 yards per reception (10 catches, 400 yards) and hauling in six touchdowns, including an 80-yarder. Anderson is 6-1, 180 and racked up 55 tackles last season but he also has the ability to line up at receiver and be a weapon there for the Mavericks. Both are going to hit the camp circuit this summer in an effort to impress college coaches. Both are fast, athletic talents with good size who should be stars at Manvel and likely big-time prospects down the road.

As for Koda Martin, he looks the part of a tight end at 6-6, 247. He has enough strength for the defensive side of the ball, which some schools are recruiting him to play. Should he end up at offensive tackle, the position Texas A&M sees him playing, he'll have to grow into the position, weight-wise. But considering his instincts and intelligence, plus his experience as a blocker when he plays tight end, that adjustment should be smooth should he have to make it.

Several to watch at Houston Cypress Ridge
In an effort to simulate the fall and get some quality work in, Houston Cypress Ridge is scrimmaging under the Friday Night Lights during spring practice. The Rams got after it this past Friday and several players showed why they are on the college football radar.

Class of 2014 offensive guard Willie Wright is a quality player on the Rams' offensive line, lining up at tackle. Wright looked solid on Friday and already has an offer from Houston, with UTSA also showing interest.

Class of 2015 receiver Kemah Siverand is already on schools' radars. He has a good mix of size (6-foot, 178) and speed (4.56-second 40-yard dash) and he's still learning the receiver position. Texas and Texas A&M are expected to stop by Cy Ridge in the next two weeks to see Siverand and he has visited both.


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After making a memorable run all the way to the Texas Class 5A Division I state championship game, the recruitment of several Houston Lamar 2014 prospects has picked up.


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