Cotton Bowl: Big 12 expatriate Texas A&M answered the challenge in the SEC
The Aggies play Oklahoma on Friday night in the Cotton Bowl Classic, and if you're waiting for the Aggies to turn melancholy about their Big 12 days, pull up a chair. It's going to be a spell.
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Big 12 expatriates
Since leaving: 10-2, 6-2 in first SEC season.
Big 12 legacy: Solid member, but rarely a contender. Only Big 12 title came in 1998; 37-44 conference record last 10 years in the league.
SEC outlook: Solid. The Aggies will be hard-pressed to win an SEC title, but recruiting to the SEC shouldn't be difficult. A&M ought to be able to play close to .500 in the more prestigious SEC.
Biggest downside: The Ags lost longtime rivalries, not just with Texas, but with Brazos Valley neighbor Baylor and hated Texas Tech.
Since leaving: Overall records of 9-4 and 10-3, with Big Ten records of 5-3 and 7-1. One division title.
Big 12 legacy: Dominant power in the early days of the league, but no conference title since 1999.
Big Ten outlook: Solid. The revamped Big Ten western division likely will include Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa. No reason the Huskers can't be annual contenders with that group.
Biggest downside: None, really. Nebraska culturally was Big Ten-ish anyway, and its Big Red rivalry with OU had lost meaning on the Sooner side.
Since leaving: 5-7 overall, 2-6 in its first year in the SEC. Beat only Tennessee (in overtime) and Kentucky in the league.
Big 12 legacy: Limited. The Tigers became competitive in recent years and twice won the Big 12 North, but Mizzou never won the conference.
SEC outlook: Rough. From recruiting base to schemes to even desire to be in the conference, Missouri was ill-prepared to compete in the SEC.
Biggest downside: Culturally, Missouri is not a fit for the SEC. The Tigers would prefer to be in the Big Ten.
Lots of people would agree, including no small number of fans in Oklahoma who wanted the Sooners to head for the SEC, too.
But the Big 12 stabilized, and now OU seems bound to the conference that not long ago included not only Texas A&M, but Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado, too.
None of the expatriates were prospering in the Big 12. But only the Aggies have found immediate euphoria.
“There was a lot of great players and great teams” in the Big 12, said A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews. “But what we have in the SEC is something special. We came into the SEC because we wanted to play with the best.”
Listening to the Aggies throw out terms like “special” and “best” and “bigger and better,” the Sooners couldn't be blamed for feeling a little sting. Like an old girlfriend talking about how fabulous is her life now.
Of course, had A&M gone 6-6, like it did in its final Big 12 season, the Aggies wouldn't necessarily be talking like this. But give A&M credit. The Aggies answered the challenge. They went 6-2 in the SEC and became nationally relevant.
“You go to all those stadiums and stuff, you realize SEC football is a big deal,” Swope said. “They say it's the best conference in the country, and you really find out why when you travel to these different venues.”
Said Lamothe, “it was just fun, man.”
The Aggies are living the high life. Win the Cotton Bowl, and this maiden SEC season gets even bigger and better.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. 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.
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