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Final Act

No. 10 A&M sets sights on No. 12 Oklahoma in AT&T Cotton Bowl

Published: Thursday, January 3, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 3, 2013 16:01

Cotton Bowl Preview 1

Tanner Garza -- THE BATTALION

A&M takes to Kyle Field for a home game.

Cotton Bowl Preview 2

Tanner Garza -- THE BATTALION

Freshman Trey Williams cuts up the field behind a blocker.

Cotton Bowl Preview 3

Tanner Garza

Quarterback Johnny Manziel eyes the endzone on one of his signature scramble plays.

After ten wins, a Heisman Memorial trophy and a slew of post-season awards unprecedented in program history, Texas A&M’s season isn’t yet over. Friday at Cowboys Stadium, the No. 10 Aggies will bring in 2013 by finishing a campaign begun in 2012, taking on No. 12 Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

The bowl concludes a whirlwind season highlighted by a win against then-No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa and the induction of quarterback Johnny Manziel into the roll call of Heisman Trophy winners. Nevertheless, four-year starting quarterback Landry Jones and the Oklahoma Sooners — who split the Big 12 title with Kansas State — have spent the past weeks preparing to spoil Manziel’s first return to the field since his string of awards and appearances on talk shows and Times Square billboards.

Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said he won’t work to stop Manziel, but to limit him.

“I don’t think you stop him,” Stoops said. “Nobody has been able to stop him. I think you try to contain him and try to limit his big plays. Being able to keep him in the pocket is easier said than done. They do a great job creating run plays for him to get him into open space. People don’t realize, but the offensive line does a great job of creating space for him.”

The Cotton Bowl will mark the last appearance in the careers of more than just such program staples as Ryan Swope, Spencer Nealy, Patrick Lewis, Jonathon Stewart, and Sean Porter as junior defensive lineman Damontre Moore has declared he will forego his senior season in order to take a crack at the NFL draft. Announcements from Aggie junior tackles Joeckel and Jake Matthews regarding the NFL draft will likely come sometime after the bowl.

Another face commonly associated with this team’s success will be absent from the sidelines: offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, now head coach at Texas Tech. Running backs coach Clarence McKinney will call plays in Kingsbury’s absence. Junior offensive tackle Luke Joeckel said things should feel about the same with McKinney behind the wheel.

“Losing Kliff was big,” Joeckel said. “He was such a great offensive coordinator for us. He is a great coach. Coach McKinney has done a great job. I think we will be just fine in the Cotton Bowl.”

Manziel’s Heisman was the tip of the iceberg for the Aggies in terms of post-season awards. A&M landed four on the AP All-America teams, including first-team selections Manziel and junior offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, who also brought home the Outback Trophy, given annually to the nation’s best offensive lineman. Manziel was named the AP Player of the Year and was awarded the Davey O’Brien Award for the nation’s premier quarterback.

Junior running back Ben Malena said he and the team knows what is at stake in the Cotton Bowl: a season for the ages.

“Only three teams have won 11 games (at A&M),” Malena said. “It would be great to be team number four. First year in the SEC, Heisman Trophy winner, Outland Trophy winner, four All-Americans, this could be one of the best years A&M has ever had.”

Oklahoma’s losses came to national championship-bound No. 1 Notre Dame and Big 12 champion Kansas State. Jones became the Big 12 career leader in total offense and passing yards and, for his career, leads the Sooners in many categories, including wins. The matchup between the experience of Jones and the dynamic play of Manziel will be paramount to either team’s chances of success.

Manziel said Oklahoma’s team speed stood out to him.

“They are athletic in how they fly around and fly to the ball,” Manziel said. “The athletes they have on their field they stick out just like that. As soon as you turn on the film, you see how fast they are and how athletic they are and how they jump off the page.”

Both teams were passed over for at-large BCS bowl bids. Jones said that while he was disappointed at being passed over, his matchup against A&M is one of the best on the post-season calendar.

“Did we want to go to a BCS game? Absolutely, who doesn't want to go to a BCS game? But that's not the way it turned out for us," Jones said. "But if you look at all the other BCS games and, because of automatic qualifiers and those sorts of things, this might be one of the top two or three games in the country."

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