Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

January 4, 2013

Sooners to battle perception in Cotton Bowl

IRVING, Texas — Putting a ton of stock in bowl game is a bad investment. No matter what happens in the season finale, there’s no guarantee — good or bad — that it will carry over into the next season. Nor is it a true validation of the regular season.

However, 12th-ranked Oklahoma can alter a perception problem with a winning performance against 10th-ranked Texas A&M tonight in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic at Cowboys Stadium.

The identity crisis OU faces is simple: there’s a swelling perception that the Big 12 Conference isn’t the dominant football power it once was. The Southeastern Conference is where the great players and great teams have landed.

“I don’t look at it that way. That’s propaganda, that’s what media does,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “We need to win for other reasons. I’m not worried about the media war. I’m sure they’ve lost some games already. I don’t get into that stuff. That’s for everybody else.”

He may not want to participate in the debate, but everyone else — most importantly, the players he’s recruiting to OU — are taking part in the discussion.

With the Aggies now playing in the SEC, there’s a team in Texas’  lush recruiting grounds selling the gospel of the nation’s alleged top conference to any player willing to listen.

The Sooners can’t afford for that perception to take absolute hold.

The SEC has earned that reputation. It has won the last six national championships. It’s also made a habit of beating up on Big Ten teams and rolling over Big 12 foes at the Cotton Bowl.

Perhaps the tide is turning.

The SEC has lost some bowl games over the last week. Florida’s loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl was a hit. Mississippi State getting run over by Northwestern in the Gator Bowl was another. The next chance to chip away belongs to OU.

“I think it’s a big statement game, especially for our defense,” Sooner safety Tony Jefferson said. “It’s the No. 1 offense in the SEC and it’s a huge opportunity for us to showcase our ability.”

It’s ironic that chance comes against a team OU dominated when they were conference rivals from 1996-2011, going 11-5 against the Aggies in the Big 12.

Nonetheless, though the Sooners enter tonight’s game 10-2 with their only losses to No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 7 Kansas State, they are 31⁄2-point underdogs to the Aggies.

The reason is Texas A&M went 10-2 in its first year in the SEC. Freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy. OU has won five straight games, but the Aggies’ five-game winning streak includes a victory over No. 2 (and then-No. 1) Alabama.

The Sooners believe they’re facing the same team they faced last season. Manziel has obviously changed the Aggie offense. A&M’s defense has different scheme but mostly the same players.

“We’ve basically played all the personnel they have on defense last year. They’re running a different defense with a new scheme and a new coordinator,” OU center Gabe Ikard said, “but it’s familiar faces on the other side of the ball and guys we’ve played against before.”

What’s changed is the conference affiliation. OU’s is the same. Texas A&M’s is different.

Cowboys Stadium is expected to be packed with 90,000 fans and a college football nation will be watching.

“It’s the only game on TV that day, so we’re gonna have the stage all to ourselves and the eyes of the whole country on us,” OU defensive end David King said. “We’re gonna have to rise to the challenge.”

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