The day is nearly upon us.
Friday night, we'll finally be able to see the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas A&M Aggies take the field in the Cotton Bowl Classic, easily one of the most hyped bowl games of the season.
The matchup feels like a reunion of sorts since just one year ago, the Aggies and Sooners were playing every season as members of the Big 12. It's as if nothing has changed. In reality, however, so much has changed.
This is a different Texas A&M team than the ones that frequented Owen Field over the years. Sure, they still have the same traditions and those strange yell leaders in their pristine white uniforms doing all sorts of odd hand gestures and chants. And of course, there's the never-changing Aggie Band. But on the field, the Aggies are very different than just a year ago when they went 6-6 in their last season in the Big 12.
No one expected a lot out of A&M in its first season in the SEC. In fact, many expected a lot more out of Missouri than Texas A&M, which seems absolutely preposterous now. However, A&M hit the SEC with the perfect storm of new things. A new coach in Kevin Sumlin, a new offense, a new star in Johnny Manziel, and a new mindset thanks to those sending them straight to the bottom of the SEC barrel.
The Aggies used all that newness, plus the enormous chip on their shoulder to shock the country by going 10-2 and knocking off No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Probably most important, the Aggies proved to the country that the SEC is vulnerable to the spread offenses that no one believed would ever work in a conference defined by power running offenses and hard-hitting defenses. Needless to say, the excitement level surrounding the program has never been higher.
For Oklahoma, it seems as if nothing has changed at all. Another 10-win season, another (shared) Big 12 championship, another year without a national title, another big bowl game. Ho hum. But the Sooners are quite different from last year as well.
Gone are troublemakers that were at OU for themselves and had no desire to work within the scope of the program Bob Stoops has built in Norman. Last season was a humbling experience for OU, falling flat after being crowned preseason No. 1 in nearly every poll.
This season, Oklahoma responded with a positive attitude and dedication to get better no matter what the season threw its way. Sure, the Sooners weren't perfect, but when there was an issue, it was corrected rather than allowed to ferment and become a much bigger problem down the line.
There's a lot on the line for both teams in this game. For Texas A&M, it would be a continuation of a dream season and another win over a marquee program. For Oklahoma, it would be a victory over a very good SEC team (even though it won't feel like it), and validation for a season in which it often felt like the Sooners just weren't quite good enough to be considered amongst the elite teams in college football.
The atmosphere should be electric when these two teams clash Friday night at Cowboys Stadium. It's not the national championship, or even a BCS bowl, but to think that diminishes the excitement and meaning of this game would be foolish.