Texas A&M puts exclamation mark on 1st SEC season

For everybody who wondered how Texas A&M would do in the

SEC, Johnny Football and the Aggies had an emphatic answer.

Led by their Heisman Trophy-winning freshman quarterback, the

10th-ranked Aggies won 11 games, and never even trailed while

winning the last six. They capped their SEC debut season with a

41-13 Cotton Bowl victory over No. 12 Oklahoma, a former Big 12

rival that had dominated them so often.

”It’s momentum for everything. It’s momentum for next year and

all the people that are returning,” Johnny Manziel said. ”We went

to the Cotton Bowl this year. A BCS bowl and national championship

is the goal next year.

”For people to see what we’re in the SEC and what we did this

year and with the people that we have coming back it’s a big

exclamation point,” he said.

Four weeks after becoming the first freshman to win college

football’s highest individual award, Manziel was finally back on

the field. He responded with a Heisman-worthy performance.

Manziel accounted for four touchdowns and had a Cotton

Bowl-record 516 total yards, including an FBS bowl record for

quarterbacks with his 229 yards rushing on 17 carries. The redshirt

freshman who wasn’t named the Aggies starter until two weeks before

the season opener finished with 5,116 total yards, the most for a

Heisman winner and the first SEC player over 5,000.

The Aggies (11-2), barely a .500 team in their final Big 12

season, were the first SEC team to gain more than 7,000 yards.

Their only losses were by a combined eight points to Florida and

LSU, current Top 10 teams. The season-ending winning streak

included a win at SEC champion Alabama, which plays Monday night

for the league’s seventh consecutive national title.

”We never doubted ourselves. Everybody acts like I didn’t know

what we were getting into when I took the job. We were already in

the SEC,” first year Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said. ”We weren’t

coming in the league just trying to play games.”

Texas A&M had lost in its previous six Cotton Bowl

appearances, and was 0-4 at Cowboys Stadium.

”I think with the exposure that we’ve had, answering some

questions about being able to not only compete, but win against the

co-champion of the Big 12, for us to come out and play the way we

did, you’ve got to figure out what kind of statement that makes,”

Sumlin said.

Oklahoma (10-3) had won 11 of the previous 13 games in the

series, including a 77-0 victory in 2003 that is the worst loss in

Aggies history.

It is only the Aggies’ fourth 11-win season, and the first since

1998 when they won their only Big 12 title. That was the only time

in their 16 Big 12 seasons that they won more than nine games and

they left that league with a 7-6 record only after beating

Northwestern in a bowl game.

”It’s been a rough and long ride, but we ended it with a

success,” senior cornerback Dustin Harris said.

The Aggies have scored first in 18 consecutive games, and went

ahead to stay in the Cotton Bowl when Manziel tiptoed the sideline

on a 23-yard touchdown run to end the game’s opening drive. He had

already had a 24-yard run.

His other TD run was a 5-yard bootleg when he got into the end

zone untouched, two plays after his impressive fake throw before a

pitch to a receiver who then threw a 20-yard pass.

Among the other highlights for Manziel was a 44-yard run when he

started left, then reversed and ran parallel to the line of

scrimmage before finding a seam and not getting tackled until the

Oklahoma 11.

Manziel completed 22 of 34 passes for 287 yards with two

touchdowns, one a short pass to Ryan Swope on fourth-and-5 that

became a 33-yard score and the other hitting Uzoma Nwachukwu in

stride for a 34-yard pass.

There was an interception, but that pass deflected off the hands

of receiver Malcome Kennedy and was picked off in the end zone.

Texas A&M had 633 total yards in the Cotton Bowl even

without offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who was hired last

month as Texas Tech’s new coach.

And there was obviously no Heisman hangover for Manziel, the

20-year-old who did plenty in the aftermath of winning the award.

He made late-night show appearances with David Letterman and Jay

Leno, played golf with members of the Jonas Brothers and was seen

in a suite at a Dallas Cowboys game and sitting courtside at a

Dallas Mavericks game.

”`They weren’t distractions. People tried to make it out to be

`He’s doing all these things; he’s going to games; he’s going

everywhere.’ I just did the same thing before and people just

didn’t care,” Manziel said. ”My teammates never changed on me. I

never changed on them. It was never any different after I won the

Heisman, and it never will be.”