Big 12 pride at stake for OU against SEC's Texas A&M in Cotton Bowl
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Wednesday, January 02, 2013
1/02/13 at 3:37 AM
Related Story: OU football notebook: Preparations continue
IRVING, Texas - R.J. Washington knows what his Oklahoma Sooners are in for if they lose Friday's Cotton Bowl to Texas A&M.
"S-E-C!" Washington chanted after one of OU's recent practices. "I know if they win, they're gonna start talking trash like they've been in the SEC for 20 years."
The Aggies are actually coming off their first season in their new conference. They did quite well, sporting 10 wins and the Heisman Trophy winner. There is a sense they wouldn't mind rubbing that in the face of OU, one of the flagship programs from their former conference, Friday night.
To select Sooners, that doesn't just put school pride on the line.
"There's so much rivalry between conferences. There's so much talk between the Big 12 and SEC, who's better," safety Tony Jefferson said. "I think this will be a good indicator of that."
Actually, it's sort of hard to argue with six straight national championships. The SEC has the rings to back up any boasting.
And boy does the SEC love to boast. The Aggies, just four months into their new home, are already quite proud to be there.
Asked if the SEC plays a better brand of football than the Big 12, A&M cornerback Dustin Harris said: "Oh yeah. Way better football. It's not pass-happy all the time like the Big 12."
"Big boy ball," Aggies linebacker Sean Porter called it.
"Another level of talent," wide receiver Kenric McNeal said.
None of the Aggies meant any disrespect. They were just stating what they believed, or maybe knew, to be true.
Even coach Kevin Sumlin chimed in Tuesday when, answering a question about A&M's recruiting momentum, he said: "I think there's a certain guy out there right now that understands that there are differences in leagues, understands that there are differences in exposure."
Sumlin didn't even have to mention the letters "SEC" to make his point.
At any rate, the Sooners have spent a month hearing about college football's preeminent conference. They aren't being asked how it is to be facing a team they have beaten 11 times in 13 tries under Bob Stoops.
They're being asked about an old conference ally that has broken ranks and appears to be reaping the benefits of doing so.
Several Sooners have chosen to downplay the subplot.
"When it comes down to it, it's just two teams that are familiar with each other and they're playing again," center Gabe Ikard said.
Asked if he sensed any animosity when A&M bolted the Big 12, wide receiver Kenny Stills said: "I don't think there was much. There may have been more between the boosters and coaching staffs."
You don't detect much between the staffs, truthfully. Sumlin is still friendly with several of his former OU peers. Even the guy who replaced him as Sooners receivers coach respects what he has accomplished.
"What A&M has done in the SEC, people said it couldn't be done," Jay Norvell said. "We're watching a lot of SEC football right now, and there's not a lot of throwing going on."
"It's interesting to me that with all that debate and coffee talk about SEC defenses," Stoops said, "they seem to have done pretty well in that league offensively."
Other Sooners who have played them the past three years don't even think of the Aggies as an SEC team.
"No, not yet," punter Tress Way said. "I don't know why. It's just something about them."
Still, something simmers beneath this matchup. You could feel it when OU wide receiver Justin Brown was asked about playing an SEC team.
"At the end of the day, they're another team," he answered. "They put their cleats on just like we do."
You could feel it when an A&M fan at Cotton Bowl media day suggested to Aggies running back Christine Michael that it would be nice to win Friday.
"Oh yeah, no doubt," Michael said. "Especially against these guys right here."
"They left and did well in the SEC, but we're Big 12 champions," Washington said. "We've got to represent not only Oklahoma, but the Big 12."
That chant from the A&M side of Cowboys Stadium? From the SEC side?
"We've just gotta make sure that doesn't happen," he said.
OU (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
7 p.m. Friday
At Cowboys Stadium
Radio: KMOD fm97.5, KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: Big 12 pride at stake for OU in Cotton Bowl
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
Cotton Bowl volunteer Bob Greenwell polishes a Heisman Trophy that was placed at Johnny Manziel's interview station during a Cotton Bowl news conference Tuesday. The above trophy is not the one given to Manziel, but was sent by the Heisman Trust. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops speaks during a Cotton Bowl news conference on Tuesday. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World