Oklahoma State football: Old foe Texas A&M awaits in the Texas Bowl
Texas A&M Outland Trophy winner Luke Joeckel stood on the JerryWorld turf seven years ago and said the words that no Big 12 loyalist wanted to hear.
"Things are better," Joeckel said of the Aggies’ first season in the Southeastern Conference after leaving the Big 12. "Things are way better."
A few days later, things got even better for A&M. The Ags routed Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl. Armed with an 11-2 season and the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Johnny Manziel, A&M seemed poised for SEC greatness.
But the A&M program that plays OSU in the Dec. 27 Texas Bowl has not met those hopes. Since that Cotton Bowl, the Aggies are 56-34 overall, 28-28 in the SEC. The Aggies’ conference record their final eight seasons in the Big 12: 32-33.
“You want to have the 10 and 11 and 12 wins consistently, but when you have to play Alabama and LSU and Auburn every year…” said 1995 A&M graduate Bryan Garcia, who has lived in Oklahoma since 1996 and currently resides in Edmond.
The 2019 Aggies are 7-5 and lost to teams now ranked No. 1 (LSU), No. 3 (Clemson), No. 5 (Georgia), No. 12 (Auburn) and No. 13 (Alabama). LSU, Clemson and Alabama were ranked No. 1 the week each played A&M.
But of the four schools – A&M, Nebraska, Colorado and Missouri -- that left the Big 12 in 2011-12, the Aggies by far have settled well into their new home. From fans to players to administrators, the SEC experience has been widely hailed in Aggieland. The major bummer for A&M was the end of its rivalry with Texas.
“Big part of my growing up, seeing the bonfire for Thanksgiving, knowing it revolved around the University of Texas (game),” Garcia said. “That’s a tough one. It would be awesome if we could get back to where we play it on Thanksgiving.”
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Other than a stretch in the 1990s, in the last gasp of the Southwest Conference, Aggie football has not been dominant. A&M won the Big 12 South Division only twice, in 1997 and 1998; the Aggies upset Kansas State in the ’98 title game for their only conference title of the last quarter century.
But A&M has reaped massive benefits from SEC membership and its bigger profile. Improved recruiting. More resources, which has led to enhanced facilities. Kyle Field now seats 102,733.
“Getting to the SEC has been beneficial for A&M,” said Aggie coach Jimbo Fisher, who was lured from Florida State two years ago by a 10-year, $75-million contract.
“It's let us grow and expand a lot of different avenues which for the future and where this organization will go, I think can be really beneficial. We love being in the SEC. It’s tremendous challenges.”
Give A&M credit. The Aggies have adjusted better than the other Big 12 expatriates.
Nebraska’s Big Ten record: 40-36. Nebraska’s Big 12 record in its final nine seasons in the league: 40-32.
Missouri’s SEC record: 30-34. Missouri’s Big 12 record in its final eight seasons in the league: 38-27.
Colorado’s Pac-12 record: 20-61. Colorado’s Big 12 record in its final nine seasons in the league: 31-41.
A&M’s SEC record: 34-30. A&M’s SEC record in its final eight seasons in the league: 32-33.
None of the expatriates have won a conference title in their new league, and none won the Big 12 since in the 21st century.
“I think it’s been a positive move,” Garcia said. “The excitement around football is outstanding. The atmosphere … it’s just a different level of what the fan engagement is.”
The Aggies are doing in the SEC what they did in the Big 12. Win some, lose some. But they’re doing it on a bigger stage, because Joeckel was right. Football is just better in the SEC.
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.