HOUSTON — Once upon a time, Texas A&M was the kind of football program Oklahoma State aspired to be. Successful year after year. Often in the hunt for conference titles. Stable coaches.
Now, Texas A&M is the aspirational one, no longer a bastion of success or stability.
The Aggies enter their 8 p.m. Texas Bowl matchup against the Cowboys (8 p.m. ESPN) in disarray as much as any team in recent history. That’s saying something considering the bowl-game upheaval caused by opt-outs, transfer and coaching changes.
Here’s how kooky things have gotten in College Station: Texas A&M named Elijah Robinson as its interim coach after firing Jimbo Fisher with two games left in the year. No harm there. But after Robinson took the defensive coordinator job at Syracuse, Texas A&M decided to keep him as the interim through the bowl. So part of the day, he’s prepping the Aggies for the Texas Bowl and part of the day, he’s recruiting or whatever for the Orange.
But that’s the state of Texas A&M football right now.
And even though OSU has its moments of wackiness — letting Ollie Gordon carry the football a total of 19 times during non-conference play comes to mind — these programs have swapped places in the college football hierarchy. The Cowboys are regularly in the top 25, regularly winning 10 or more games, regularly competing for high stakes while the Aggies long for such days.
Since leaving the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012, Texas A&M has seven seasons with five or more losses. On the flip side, it has just four seasons with nine or more wins.
Only once during that span did the Aggies record double-digit wins.
One double-digit win season in 12 seasons.
At Texas A&M.
OSU, by comparison, has five seasons with five or more losses since 2012 — and will add another if it loses Wednesday night — but the Cowboys also have six seasons with nine or more wins.
Five have been double-digit win seasons.
Beat the Aggies, and the Cowboys will add a sixth.
Honestly, we may well have seen signs of OSU and Texas A&M heading in different directions before the Aggies left the Big 12. In regular-season games since 2000, the Cowboys and Aggies have both won six games. And in the last 10 of those games, OSU is 6-4.
When Les Miles, then Mike Gundy started building OSU football (by the way, Texas A&M is on its fifth head coach since Gundy took over in Stillwater), you figured the Cowboys would eventually have to climb over the likes of Texas Tech and Texas A&M to regularly contend with OU and Texas in the Big 12. Getting over the Mike Leach Red Raiders seemed like no easy task, but overtaking the Aggies? With all their history and success and pedigree? That seemed darned near impossible.
But it has happened.
OSU now has the kind of football program Texas A&M longs for.
Here are some other tasty nuggets to chew on before OSU and Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl gets underway at 8 p.m. in Houston:
Cowboy to watch: All eyes on Ollie Gordon. It’s been that way for months, but after announcing his return to OSU, the Cowboy tailback is sure to be juiced. And the OSU faithful in Houston will likely feed that energy; the Ollie ovation could be deafening. Texas A&M had one of the nation’s best run defenses, allowing less than 110 yards a game — but that was the regular season. The Aggies have been decimated by opt-outs and transfers, so it’s anyone’s guess who they’ll have trying to stop Gordon, much less whether they’ll be any good at it.
Aggie to watch: With so many moving parts in Aggieland, Texas A&M will actually start a quarterback who has played a fair amount of snaps. Sophomore Jaylen Henderson started two games and was 52 of 77 for 704 yards and six touchdowns. Who will he throw it to in Houston? Receiver looks to be the position group most depleted, so Jahdee Walker (453 yards and two touchdowns receiving) is likely the top target for Henderson.
A familiar face in Houston: Tulsa Booker T. Washington High product Micah Tease is a freshman receiver on the Texas A&M roster, and after an early-season suspension after a drug arrest, he saw limited action. He may get a chance in the bowl. Also, Oklahoma native TJ Rushing is the Aggies’ defensive backs coach. After a standout high school career at Pauls Valley, he played at Stanford and in the NFL. His future at Texas A&M under new coach Mike Elko remains unclear.
Cool stat going into the Texas Bowl: Cowboy receiver Brennan Presley has made two or more catches in 29 consecutive games dating to his sophomore season. Presley, a senior, has yet to indicate whether he will return to OSU next season for a fifth season (he has a COVID year), so if the Texas Bowl is his finale, extending that streak to 30 games would be pretty cool.
Something to watch in Houston: The Aggies still have a roster with big-time athletes. It’s difficult to know how well they’ll play or how well they’ll play together, but rest assured, they still have dudes who are big and strong and fast.
Did you know?: OSU head coach Mike Gundy is 11-9 against SEC opponents and is .500 or better against five of the six teams his Cowboy teams have faced. Most of the games Gundy’s Cowboys played against two of those teams came when they were in the Big 12. Gundy is 4-2 against Missouri and 4-4 against Texas A&M. Only one of those games (the 2019 Houston Bowl against the Aggies) came after Missouri and A&M moved to the SEC.
If you go to Houston …: Be sure to take a look at the Astrodome. Yes, THAT Astrodome. The world’s first domed stadium still sits next door to NRG Stadium. It’s been abandoned for years, so it’s in bad shape. But it’s still worth checking out. If nothing else, you’ll see how small a marvel once referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World looks next to one of today’s modern monstrosities.
If you don’t go …: The remote control is your friend. Several interesting bowls are Wednesday, and you can watch West Virginia vs. North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl before OSU kicks off. Then an hour before the Texas Bowl, you’ve got the start of the Holiday Bowl between Louisville and Southern Cal. Check in during breaks in the OSU-Texas A&M action.
Playing favorites: Shoutout to all the OSU students who are giving up part of their winter break to be part of the Cowboy contingent. Players, yes, but also team managers, student trainers and other team support staff. Then you’ve got the marching band, the cheerleaders, the pom squad and of course, Pistol Pete. Kudos to all.