COLLEGE STATION (AP) – For the first time in a long while, No. 9 Texas A&M won’t spend Thanksgiving week preparing for rival Texas.
The more than 100-year rivalry, which had been played during Thanksgiving week since the mid-90s, ended with A&M’s move to the SEC.
But the Aggies won’t miss the Longhorns this week. In their finale against Missouri, they have a chance for their first 10-win season since they went 11-3 in 1998.
“It’s going to be a little different,” senior defensive back Steven Terrell said. “But this whole year has been different. We’re not going to cry about it or anything. We’re not too worried about it.”
The Aggies have won four straight behind the strong play of quarterback Johnny Manziel, a Heisman Trophy hopeful.
His chances to become the first freshman to win the award likely improved after a three-interception performance by Collin Klein in Kansas State’s loss to Baylor on Saturday night.
Manziel accounted for five touchdowns in just over a half of a 47-28 win over Sam Houston State on Saturday. He is second in the nation in total offense with more than 378 yards a game, and the 20.73 points a game he’s responsible for are tied for third in the country.
Manziel broke the NCAA freshman quarterback rushing record of 1,029 yards set by Missouri’s Brad Smith in 2002, and the freshman record for total offense of 3,827 yards set in 2000 by Jared Lorenzen on A&M’s first drive Saturday.
He is the fifth player and first freshman in FBS history to pass for at least 3,000 yards with at least 1,000 yards rushing in a season, and his 4,161 yards are a school record for total offense in a season.
Manziel’s increased ability to make throws downfield has helped the Aggies offense in the last few weeks.
“(Offensive coordinator) Kliff Kingsbury has done a great job of working with him throughout the year to develop his confidence in the passing game,” coach Kevin Sumlin said. “I think it’s an understanding by him of the defense and our personnel.”
The seniors on this team have been on a roller coaster in their careers. They were 6-7 in 2009 and 9-4 in 2010, then entered last season as a top-10 team only to finish a disappointing 7-6, which led to Mike Sherman’s firing.
“This team has been through a lot,” Terrell said. “We have had seasons that we weren’t ranked at all, and we have been on winning streaks. It has been up and down. It feels good to be on top again and to play meaningful games in November.”
Sumlin loves the way this group has responded to him and the rest of the new coaching staff, and how the Aggies have handled the challenge of moving from the Big 12 to the SEC.
“The seniors have shown tremendous leadership this year,” he said. “They have really gotten better as the season has progressed. The most impressive thing that they have done is deal with the adversity.”
Texas A&M struggled to close out games last season, and four of their six defeats were by a combined 10 points. This season they’ve done a much better job, a trait that was illustrated in their 29-24 upset of then top-ranked Alabama two weeks ago.
“I’ve always thought we have the talent to compete with anybody in the nation, but I think that it took all of us coming together,” said senior linebacker Sean Porter, who caused and recovered a fumble Saturday. “I think coach Sumlin and his staff really helped us to do that and clean up some of the little mistakes. I think we finally put the pieces together to do what we were supposed to be doing all along.”
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