ARLINGTON, Texas – Record-setting points and yardage didn't do it. Heisman Trophies didn't do it. A cavalcade of NFL quarterbacks didn't do it.
It took Texas A&M going to the SEC to validate Big 12 offenses. Took A&M going to the SEC to prove that prolific Big 12 offenses weren't the result of porous Big 12 defenses.
The Aggies led the SEC in scoring (44.8 points per game) and total offense (552.3 yards), ranking third nationally in both categories.
“We're really proud of the way they went into the SEC and played the way they did,” said OU linebacker Tom Wort. “I'm proud of the way they handled themselves and kind of represented the Big 12 in a little way.”
And now the Aggies step back in time, to a Cotton Bowl showdown Friday night against the Sooners. A Big 12 offense against a transplanted Big 12 offense. After the Aggies' ran roughshod over most SEC defenses, the Big 12's spread offenses are seen in a new light.
“It says a lot about the Big 12 and the offenses we have,” said OU defensive end David King. “The SEC is more smash, downhill running. I think Texas A&M kind of took them by surprise with that spread offense this year.”
Said OU center Gabe Ikard, “You hear about all the running game, the SEC with the big bodies. Then Texas A&M takes the spread offense and puts up the numbers they did. That was impressive.”
Six straight SEC national championships, including a Florida victory over OU four years ago in the Big Bowl, have established the idea that Big 12 offenses don't travel. That the spread concepts that flourish outside the SEC won't work in the league that features big, mean and fast defenders.
“The assumptions can't be as easily made after what A&M did in that league,” said OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell.
The Aggies lost to Florida 20-17 and LSU 24-19. But they routed Arkansas 58-10, Auburn 63-21 and Mississippi State 38-13. They nipped Ole Miss 30-27. And on Nov. 10, A&M went to top-ranked Alabama and won 29-24.
“We've watched a lot of SEC football, and there's not a lot of people challenging people in the back end in that league and making ‘em defend the whole field,” Norvell said. “There's a lot of guys playing close to the vest and trying to win on defense. There's nothing wrong with that.
“But we've found a different way to get first downs and make touchdowns. It's something we believe in.”
A&M, too. With quarterback Johnny Manziel running a spread offense, the Aggies took the SEC by storm. Manziel won the Heisman Trophy.
“We have a lot of talented offenses in our league and a lot of good quarterback play,” Norvell said. “That allows the teams to play the style of offense that we play. I'm not saying the SEC doesn't have that type of quarterback, but it doesn't seem they're exploiting that position as much in their league as we are in ours.”
The Aggies certainly exploited their quarterback talent. Manziel, a redshirt freshman who didn't even win the A&M job until mid-August, set the SEC total offense record.
“I was proud to see them go do that, their style of offense compete against those defenses and do well,” said OU defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland. “Here is our opportunity to show that our defenses can do well against offenses. We can show up, stand up, like some of those other teams haven't. This is our opportunity to showcase Big 12 defenses as well as Oklahoma's defense.”
Won't be anything easy about showcasing the OU defense. The Sooner D got an unlucky draw. A Cotton Bowl matchup against an SEC team that features a Big 12 offense. But that's the price to be paid for the validation brought by the Aggies.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.