Strange. That's the best way to describe the OU-Texas A&M Cotton Bowl.
Strange. Doesn't feel like a bowl matchup. Doesn't feel like a Big 12/SEC showdown. Doesn't feel like a chance for the Sooners to post some conference pride.
OU-A&M feels like an experiment. Like OU-Texas II, played over in JerryWorld, 15 miles west of the Dallas fairgrounds. This will be the 19th OU-A&M game in the last 20 years. Feels like just another conference game, only moved to a neutral field.
“It is a little strange,” said OU quarterback Landry Jones, who isn't prone to outlandish theories. “We played 'em last year. It still seems like a Big 12 game.”
Which is a problem for the Sooners and the Big 12. Lose this game, and OU will suffer all the ignominy that goes with losing a marquee bowl showdown. Win this game, and OU will receive none of the benefits that usually go with beating an SEC team in the Cotton Bowl.
And that's no small thing.
A&M was splendid in its first Southeastern Conference season, going 10-2 and producing a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Johnny Manziel.
But in many ways, the Aggies are still seen as a Big 12-style team. Spread offense, flashy quarterback. Took the staid SEC by surprise.
If the Sooners win, well, they always beat the Aggies. Bob Stoops is 11-2 vs. A&M. It won't be like if the Sooners had topped LSU or Florida or Alabama or one of those other SEC teams meaner than a seasick crocodile.
And here's why that's important. The rest of college football is going to have to start restoring its reputation against the SEC.
The SEC has been fabulous on the field for more than half a decade. And equally fabulous in the boardroom. The SEC knows how to play and knows how to politick.
With the four-team playoff coming in 2014, the SEC — through scheduling and through marketing — is angling to get two of the four slots every year. That (Crimson) Tidal Wave can be stopped only by strong administrators — I'm not optimistic — and winning football games.
Stoops says he's not necessarily interested in playing for Big 12 pride.
“We've got an OU flag we're trying to carry, too,” Stoops said Tuesday. “How many flags can you carry? We've got a lot of pride. We want to play well, too.”
Again, there's a Big 12/SEC difference. The SEC has created a culture of self-promotion. From its coaches talking about how tough is every week in the SEC (even though Alabama played Ole Miss, Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi State in successive weeks this season), to its fans chanting “SEC! SEC!,” the league has fostered a superiority complex.
SEC schools fly the SEC flag.
Thus when a newcomer joins the league and has immediate success, to the tune of a Heisman and an upset in Tuscaloosa and a 10-2 record, to the tune of 39 points and 546 total yards a game in conference play, the plot is portrayed as the Aggies getting with the program and stepping up their game in the tall grass of the SEC.
But in 2011, A&M had a quarterback who became a first-round draft pick and now starts for a team that remains in AFC playoff contention, and those Aggies averaged 39 points and 484 total yards a game in conference play, yet finished 4-5 in the Big 12.
“They weren't great, but they were always pretty good,” OU defensive end David King said of A&M in the Big 12. “It's good to see that … go to the SEC and do all the things they have done.”
The Aggies have done too much. They played their way into the Cotton Bowl, and now they offer the Sooners little bounty. The Big 12 will get no credit should OU be fortunate enough to win.
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.