AT&T Cotton Bowl preview


Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. Oklahoma (10-2, 8-1 Big 12)

Where: Arlington, Texas

When: Friday, Jan. 4, 8 p.m. ET


Pivotal matchup: Oklahoma OTs Lane Johnson and Tyrus Thompson vs. Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore

The strength of the Oklahoma offense the last five years has been protecting the passer. This season has been no different.

In 522 passing attempts, the OU offensive line has surrendered just 14 sacks this season. That’s one of the primary reasons the Sooners passing assault behind quarterback Landry Jones has been so lethal.

But the few times opposing defenses have gotten to Jones over his career, he’s been careless with the ball. Two Jones turnovers under pressure doomed the Sooners in their loss to Kansas State earlier this season.

Johnson has been tremendous at left tackle, and Thompson has filled in nicely in place of the injured Daryl Williams on the right side. But they will face their toughest test of the season in Moore, who is one of the top defensive prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft.

The first-team All-American leads with Aggies with 80 tackles, and is tied for seventh nationally with 12 ½ sacks. ESPN’s Todd McShay has Moore going second overall at the moment in his mock draft.

Jones enters the bowl season on a roll, having thrown for more than 500 yards twice in November. But if OU can’t keep Moore off its quarterback, it could be a long night in Arlington for the Sooners.

Up-and-comers to watch:

Texas A&M DE Julien Obioha: As a true freshman, Obioha started every game for the Aggies, and could be the next great player off the edge in College Station. Moore figures to garner the majority of OU’s attention up front, which could give Obioha plenty of one-on-one opportunities. Against tough SEC offensive lines, Obioha held his own all season, and with Moore gone after the Cotton Bowl, the Aggies will lean even more heavily on the rising star in 2013.

Oklahoma LB Frank Shannon: This week, former OU linebacker great Brian Bosworth suggested that the Sooners “spy” Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Shannon might be best equipped for such a role. As the Sooners turned away from using linebackers prominent in their defense late in the season, Shannon’s playing time was sporadic. But earlier in the season, he was a force against the likes of Texas Tech and Texas. The freshman is speedier than OU’s other middle linebackers, and could play a big role in this game. Either way, he’s the future of the position in Norman.

Recruits to impress:

Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee): ESPN’s No. 1 WR prospect is expected to make his college announcement shortly after visiting Oklahoma State the weekend of Jan. 11. Ole Miss has been the favorite to land Treadwell, but the Sooners have made a late strong push. A win over Texas A&M would keep the momentum flowing.

Isaac Savaiinaea (Honolulu/Punahou): The No. 4 linebacker in the country has narrowed his decision to Texas A&M and UCLA. Savaiinaea has said he wants to go somewhere on the rise. The Aggies can continue their ascendancy with a win in Arlington.

Cameron Hampton (Dallas/Carter): The Class of 2014, ESPN Watch List linebacker has offers from both the Sooners and Aggies. Ohio State and Oklahoma State are on Hampton’s radar, too, but the winner of the Cotton Bowl will have something more to pitch.