2012 Bowl Previews: AT&T Cotton Bowl

Continuing his 2012 bowl previews, Joe Healy previews the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

On Friday night at Jerry World in Arlington, Texas, it will be Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma just like old times. The rivalry between these two is not as storied as the rivalries between Texas and Oklahoma or Texas and Texas A&M, but these two programs played some great games against each other when they were both members of the Big 12.

Here’s to hoping they give us a game to remember in this year’s Cotton Bowl.

It’s interesting to me that these two teams had very similar seasons, but I get the sense that the fanbases have very different feelings about those seasons.

Texas A&M and their fans have to be tickled pink about the way the season went. In the preseason, there was talk that the Aggies would be lucky to finish 7-5, but as we know now, they would blow past that record to finish 10-2.

Oklahoma also finished 10-2, but given the things they have accomplished in Bob Stoops’ tenure, it likely feels like a bit of a disappointment to some.

Quarterback Landry Jones has been anything but a disappointment. One could argue that this season, his senior season, was his best. He fell shy of his career-high completion percentage by .1%, he had the highest quarterback rating of his career and he had a career-low interception total with ten. And he did all of this without Ryan Broyles, his favorite receiver, who moved on to the NFL after last season.

Ably filling in as Jones’ top receiver was Kenny Stills. He led the team with 75 catches for 892 yards and 11 touchdowns. Justin Brown wasn’t a bad second option at receiver. He caught 66 passes for 822 yards and four touchdowns.

With a passing game like that, they don’t really need a steady running back, but they have one. Damien Williams rushed for 905 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The defense might be the one disappointing aspect of the Sooners season. Stoops is known for having an embarrassment of riches on that side of the ball, but it didn’t show this season. Sure, finishing 40th in the nation in scoring defense isn’t bad, but it’s also not what is expected of an Oklahoma defense.

Winning football games comes down to more than just individual players, but it’s hard not to point to one man when you discuss Texas A&M’s success this season. That would be Heisman trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.

All the freshman did was throw for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns and rush for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns. Not too bad for a guy that hadn’t nailed down the starting job until fall practice.

Manziel’s favorite target is freshman Mike Evans and who can blame him? Evans is your prototypical elite receiver. He stands 6’5″, has the muscle needed to fight for position with defensive backs and has speed to burn. He had 75 catches for 1,022 yards and five touchdowns. The reliable Ryan Swope also had a big year. He caught 64 passes for 809 yards and seven touchdowns. Most importantly, he has a knack for getting open when Manziel is scrambling to extend plays.

Manziel is the go-to guy in the running game, but Ben Malena is able to keep the defense honest. He finished the regular season with 752 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.

Defensively, the Aggies are no slouch either. They finished 28th in the nation in scoring defense. The star of the defense is undoubtedly hybrid pass rusher Damontre Moore. Moore, who is expected to forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft, leads the team with 20 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. Behind Moore, getting into the backfield was a team effort. Thirteen players recorded at least one sack. The secondary was much the same, as nine different players intercepted at least one pass.

If you were going to nitpick on A&M’s defense, it’s that they don’t have a ton of depth up front. If Oklahoma is able to move the ball and push the tempo, they might be able to tire the Aggie linemen.

I’m picking Texas A&M to win this one. While Oklahoma has the athletes to contain Manziel, they haven’t been consistent on defense this season. Plus, I’m confident in Kevin Sumlin’s ability to put in some offensive wrinkles that will increase the degree of difficulty for OU. The Sooners will do their share of scoring , to be sure, but I think the Aggies will win this shootout.

Joseph Healy writes for The Fan Manifesto. You can follow him on Twitter at @Joe_On_Sports. You can follow the entire FanMan team here.

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