Former conference rivals will renew acquaintances when Oklahoma State and Texas A&M meet in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl in Houston's NRG Stadium on Dec. 27.
The Cowboys have won 10 games in three of the last four years, but have an injury-riddled team this year and finished the regular season with an 8-4 mark, having been blown out by Oklahoma 34-16 in their last outing.
The Aggies came into this season hoping for better than the 7-5 mark they are sporting now. In their defense, they have played Clemson, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and Auburn this year and have lost to all of them. The only bowl-bound team Texas A&M has beaten is Mississippi State.
These two are former Big 12 rivals before all the conference hopping happened earlier this decade. If you're into these kinds of things, the Aggies lead the series 17-10, but the Cowboys have won the last four meetings, which took place from 2008 to '11.
Oh, and interestingly, Oklahoma State was also once named Oklahoma A&M back in the old old old days. So this is technically a showdown of Agricultural and Mechanical colleges. Also, Oklahoma A&M's nickname before the name change in 1957 was… wait for it... the Aggies. Yes.
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)
Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 27 at 6:45 p.m. ET
Where: NRG Stadium (Houston)
TV Network: ESPN
Spread: Texas A&M -7
When Oklahoma State Has the Ball
Keep doing what you're doing... and that means a ton of Chuba Hubbard. Of course, that is IF he plays. As of press time, there was no indication the Pokes' All-American running back was going to do the now-popular thing of sitting out the meaningless bowl game "to prepare for the NFL draft." Assuming he doesn't make a last-minute announcement, getting Hubbard going early will be huge because that Texas A&M run defense is pretty solid, giving up just 129 rushing yards per game.
Get Dru into the comfort zone. Fifth-year quarterback Dru Brown has seen it all in his career, including coming in for injured freshman star-of-the-future Spencer Sanders in the last two games. He out-threw Jalen Hurts in his last outing 207 to 163, though that's not necessarily a good thing since it means that Hubbard got held to an un-Hubbard-like 104 yards on the ground. But Brown is a cool customer and has completed 44 of his 61 passes since taking over the job. Also, Texas A&M will be without star defensive lineman Justin Madubuike, who is sitting out to avoid injury before the NFL draft. So Brown will have time in the pocket.
Third down will tell a huge part of the story. Oklahoma State converts just 39 percent of the time on third down and the Texas A&M defense is 15th nationally by holding opponents to a 31 percent conversion rate. The Cowboys can't get caught in a lot of three-and-outs or they will fall behind quickly here.
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
Like OSU, get the running game cranked up early. Running back Isaiah Spiller has been a real find for the Aggies this year, as a spry true frosh who can burn it around the corners and down the field. OSU is ranked 59th in run defense, giving up 151 yards per game. If the Aggies can rush for more than that, it'll take a lot of pressure off QB Kellen Mond, who is coming off a game against LSU where he went 11-of-34 for just 97 yards and three interceptions. The ground game must set the tone early and often.
Okay sure, go ahead and throw it all over the place too. The Texas A&M running game is nice and all, but keep in mind that the Cowboys' pass defense is even shakier, ranking No. 113 in the nation. So yes, if Mond wants to wing it, that shouldn't be a problem. The Aggies are 6-1 when he completes at least 60 percent of his pass attempts.
Watch for the Cowboys to go pell-mell after Mond. The Pokes don't have an overwhelming pass rush, though it did improve as the season went along. But at the same time, Texas A&M is ranked 108th in the FBS, giving up an SEC-high 33 sacks this season. Look for lots of three-step drops and/or a lot of Mond scrambles as the Cowboys will play the "What Do We Have To Lose?" card in blitzing Mond like crazy to get him off-kilter like what happened vs. LSU.
We can all hope this one will be as riveting as last year's Texas Bowl, won by Baylor over Vanderbilt in a wild 45-38 shootout. Because keep in mind that both the Cowboy D and the Aggie D can be leaky at times, so both offenses have reason to be licking their chops here. The big question is who gets the ground game rolling and controls the clock.
But even with all that, my guess is that the Texas A&M staff has been quietly pointing to next year as its return to SEC contention. Consider this game to be a springboard to that.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Oklahoma State 31
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.