From unknown passer to dual-threat superstar.
Johnny Football’s a household name at this point, arguably college football’s most recognizable player post-Alabama. But remember the quarterback battle during August in College Station? Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and then-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury presented equal opportunity to four underclassmen passers hoping to win the job and pressure opposing defenses in their first SEC season. Sophomores Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel were interchangeable in the pass-happy spread along with freshmen Matt Davis and Johnny Manziel.
Conference homers and southern football enthusiasts across the board underestimated the Aggies’ strength in Year 1 and in no way envisioned a redshirt frosh from Kerrville, Texas securing the spot in the shotgun and the Heisman Trophy.
It was relatively easy for Manziel in September carving up SMU, South Carolina State and Arkansas after an opening loss to Florida. His six-touchdown performance at Louisiana Tech was the coming out party before several Heisman ‘moments’ at Bryant-Denny. Manziel’s a marked man after bringing home the bronze hardware heading into the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4. against Big XII rival Oklahoma, a program in need of an impact victory.
The Sooners’ lack of success on the big stage since winning the national title in 2000 under Bob Stoops is well-documented. Prior to 2010′s Fiesta Bowl win over UConn, Oklahoma had lost five consecutive meaningful bowl games played on Jan. 1 or later. Two were BCS losses after a Sooner won the Heisman (Jason White, 2003; Sam Bradford, 2008).
Oklahoma senior QB Landry Jones has thrown 122 career touchdown passes but the Sooners’ defense has taken a step back in recent seasons. Oklahoma ranks 43rd in scoring defense (24.2 PPG) and 44th in total defense (378.5 YPG). Texas A&M’s numbers on that side of the ball are similar, but few games for the Aggies have come down to the defense needing stops.
Both programs, seeking win No. 11, want to win the Cotton Bowl but Oklahoma needs to win. Texas A&M is still getting used to the Top 10 ranking and national notoriety. Before Sumlin’s arrival, the Aggies won 25 games out of 50 in four seasons under Mike Sherman. A&M’s last 11-win season came in 1998 and since 1990, the Aggies have lost 12-of-15 bowl games. Manziel could very well put together a five-touchdown, 400-plus yard outing against the defenseless Sooners, but Oklahoma understands the complexities involved with major bowl games while the Aggies, a relative up-and-comer, do not.
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