The matchup in Dallas will be a familiar one, but the Cotton Bowl will provide the first look at how a freshman Heisman winner will react to the burden of the award.
Only Florida’s Tim Tebow spent more time in college with the phrase Heisman-winner preceded his name. Like Tebow, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Alabama’s Mark Ingram both won the Heisman as sophomores, but both left school after their junior seasons.
Instead, Texas A&M’s 20-year-old redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel will be the marked man for the next three years.
“First and foremost, there’s the Cotton Bowl,” Manziel told USA Today’s George Schroeder. “From there, I have to be the guy that starts the motor for a run at the national title next year. That’s our goal. If more awards come, they come.”
At least for the bowl game, the trend is in the favor of the Heisman winner. The last three winners -- Ingram, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III -- all won their bowl games. Before that, Heisman winners had been snakebit in the postseason.
While Heisman winners have broken their bowl futility streak, so has Oklahoma under Bob Stoops. The Sooners have won three consecutive bowl games after they went through a 1-5 swoon from 2003-08.
The hot streaks will be put to a test in the Cotton Bowl where former conference foes will meet. In one of the oddities of conference realignment, the Aggies will face the Sooners 14 months since their last meeting, as Big 12 foes on Nov. 5, 2011. Oklahoma had won eight of the last nine meetings in the Big 12.
Cotton Bowl - Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
Date and time: Jan. 4, 7 p.m. Eastern
When Oklahoma has the ball:
Landry Jones is capable of the bonehead turnover from time to time, but the Sooners relied on his arm during the five-game winning streak to end the season. Jones passed for 1,980 yards with 17 touchdowns and six picks in the final five wins, including four consecutive one-score games. Where the Sooners relied on Ryan Broyles in the past, Oklahoma has been balanced in the receiving corps with four receivers topping 500 yards including transfers Justin Brown (Penn State) and Jalen Saunders (Fresno State). Oklahoma’s offensive line was beat up near the end of the season, so the long layoff could benefit the Sooners and Jones against the Texas A&M pass rush.
Lost in the Manziel storyline, defensive end Damontre Moore had a breakout season with 12.5 sacks this season. If Oklahoma relies on the run game, the Sooners have a capable duo of tailbacks. Damien Williams is a big-play back, and Brennan Clay has been a supersub late in the season. With 24 rushing touchdowns on 102 career carries, Blake Bell is a short-yardage specialist who is the heir apparent at quarterback after Jones leaves. Texas A&M’s defense performed well enough during the course of the season, but the Aggies have not played passing offense this effective since a win over Louisiana Tech on Oct. 13. The Bulldogs scored 57 points and amassed a season-high 615 yards that night.
When Texas A&M has the ball:
It starts with Johnny Manziel -- Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Manziel’s play-making ability is well-established as he’s been able to turn broken plays into big gains and touchdowns. He finished the season with 4,600 yards of total offense and 43 total touchdowns. But Manziel isn’t invincible. He threw three interceptions in a home loss to LSU and threw eight overall this season. His run game has been spotty with senior Christine Michael having an inconsistent final season, though he finished with 12 touchdowns. Mike Evans led A&M in receiving (1,022 yards), but veteran Ryan Swope was no stranger to the big catch.
Outland winner Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews lead one of the nation’s best offensive line. Oklahoma led the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense. The Sooners held the final eight opponents to fewer than 60 percent passing, including three teams to less than 50 percent passing.
If the matchup between the Heisman winner against Oklahoma and two former conference foes isn’t enough, the Cotton Bowl will pit two familiar coaches. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was an assistant at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops from 2003-07. That’s an intriguing subplot in a game in which the matchup, but Manziel enters the game with new pressure. This is the last college game for Landry Jones, so the quarterback intangibles may favor the Sooners senior.
Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Texas A&M 35
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