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Line movement: The game opened Texas A&M -3.5, and early money on the Aggies drove it to as high as -4.5. But line-moving money started showing up on Oklahoma after Christmas and pushed the number all the way back to -3 at some shops as of Thursday evening. There were still a few -3.5s available.
The total is a giant one and is expected to continue to grow. It opened at 73 at the LVH SuperBook.
Did you know: Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has a 13-4 record in games against his former assistants who have become head coaches. Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin falls into that category, as he worked in Norman from 2003-07. Still, this marks the first time that Stoops will face one of his assistants-turned-head coaches in a bowl game. The other matchups (against Mike Leach, Mark Mangino and Bo Pelini) all came during league play in the Big 12, a conference Texas A&M was a member of until this season. "Business is business," Stoops told reporters this week. "We are still friends, but you have to do your job. ... We understand that it is the competitive world we live in."
Well, Texas A&M's season of firsts — coach Kevin Sumlin's first year, quarterback Johnny Manziel becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy and the SEC debut — will end with the 10th-ranked Aggies (10-2) playing a familiar Big 12 foe.
In the only bowl matching the SEC against the Big 12, Texas A&M takes on 12th-ranked Oklahoma (10-2) in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night. Both teams have five-game winning streaks.
"It's a little more than a game," Nealy said. "It's almost like we had a great season but we have to win this one."
In their 16 Big 12 seasons, the only time the Aggies won more than nine games was when they were 11-3 their 1998 conference title season. They left the league with a winning record (7-6) last season only after a bowl win over Northwestern.
Manziel broke 2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton's SEC record with 4,600 total yards in the Aggies' first season in the league, and his coming-out party came at the expense of the then-No. 1 Crimson Tide.
Manziel went 24 of 31 for 253 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 92 yards in a 29-24 win at Alabama on Nov. 10, ending the defending national champion's 13-game winning streak.
He passed for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns while running for 1,181 yards and 19 scores. That made him the first freshman, first SEC player and fifth player overall to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a season.
While thrilled he made history in winning the Heisman, Manziel was quick to get his mind set on his next goals.
"First and foremost, there's the Cotton Bowl," he said. "From there, I have to be the guy who starts the motor for a run at the national title next year."
The Sooners seemed certain of a Bowl Championship Series game after clinching a share of their eighth Big 12 title, even though Kansas State had a tiebreaker giving the Wildcats the league's automatic BCS slot. But Mid-American champion Northern Illinois then qualified as a BCS buster.
"For sure, yes, we were disappointed. I was pretty upset about it," Sooners senior quarterback Landry Jones said. "But fortunate enough for us, we got put into this game, which you can rank them right up with those BCS games. ... It's a really good matchup, so when I heard that we were going to be in the Cotton Bowl, it kind of eased over the disappointment."
Texas A&M and Oklahoma have both averaged more than 40 points and 500 yards of offense per game. The only losses by both were to current Top 10 teams.
It is only the second Cotton Bowl appearance for the Sooners, but will be the 17th consecutive season they will play Texas A&M.
Keep an eye on: Oklahoma's defensive strategy to slow Manziel. While the Sooners edged out spread-style opponents Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State by a combined 12 points down the stretch this season, they also gave up a total of 911 rushing yards in the process. That could cause major problems against Manziel, who made a habit of breaking to the outside and gashing defenses all year. Both Florida and LSU beat the Aggies by containing Manziel and forcing him to run inside or throw from the pocket. That's a blueprint Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has been vocal about emulating this week. "You try to contain him and try to limit his big plays," Stoops told reporters. "Being able to keep him in the pocket is easier said than done. They do a great job creating run plays for him to get him into open space. People don't realize, but the offensive line does a great job of creating space for him."
For the Sooners to succeed, two things likely need to happen. First, they'll need their beleaguered defensive line -- and senior Jamarkus McFarland, in particular -- to turn in a star performance. And second, they'll need a linebacker to step up and keep Manziel in check. Junior weakside linebacker Corey Nelson remains one of Oklahoma's best athletes, but he's often been bypassed in favor of another defensive back.