Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE
It's funny how the slightest change can skew our perception. A year ago, Texas A&M lost its eight game in its last nine tries against Oklahoma. The Sooners had become the bully of the Big 12, dominating the Aggies consistently since the year 2000.
Now, Texas A&M is a season deep into the SEC, and the old rivalry has a different feel to it. The Aggies, not the Sooners, have the Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Texas A&M, not Oklahoma is the higher ranked team heading into the Cotton Bowl. Could this be a changing of the guard?
AT&T Cotton Bowl, 8 p.m. (ET), FOX
Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
When Oklahoma has the football
Landry Jones will once again be the center of attention when the Sooners are on offense. His NFL future looks far less rosy than it once did, as he still hasn't proven himself capable of handling pressure in the pocket. His arm talent is evident, but he won't likely come off the board until the draft's third day.
Tackle Lane Johnson will be in charge of making sure the pocket stays clean, which may not be easy against Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore, who has already declared for the 2013 NFL Draft and should be a top ten pick. If Jones has time in the pocket, junior Kenny Stills is usually who he is trying to find down the field.
The Aggies also have two linebackers that could have long futures in the NFL. Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter both had a bit of an awkward transition to the team's new 4-3 scheme. While the down year has dropped Porter and Stewart to the mid-round range, each of the linebackers could have success if they find the right fit.
When Texas A&M has the football
Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel commands all of the attention on the Aggies' offense, but he can't start thinking about the NFL until after next season at the earliest. His two offensive tackles, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, certainly have the NFL on their mind, however. Matthews has reportedly decided to return for his senior season, while Joeckel hasn't yet decided. Both appear to be blue chip tackle prospects and could play either side at the next level.
Senior running back Christine Michael has fallen out of favor a bit in Texas A&M's offense, but he will still get some attention in the middle rounds. Senior wideout Ryan Swope, meanwhile, has put together another productive season and could become a dangerous slot receiver early in his NFL career.
Oklahoma counters the explosive A&M offense with a defense anchored by experience. Senior defensive ends David King and R.J. Washington each bring something different to the table for the Sooners. Washington is the more explosive rusher of the two, while King holds the point of attack consistently. Junior safety Tony Jefferson is probably Oklahoma's best prospect. He's a balanced player who really excels in coverage. He could force Manziel to rely on his legs in this game.