Texas A&M hasn’t played Oklahoma State in football since leaving the Big 12, but they’ve often crossed paths while recruiting.
That battleground will be amplified when the two play in the Texas Bowl at 5:45 p.m. Dec. 27 at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.
“[Houston] is a huge Aggie fan base and a lot of our players are from there,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It’s going to be big for us, and we need to play well and do well because … everybody in the world is coming in to recruit, and we need to make sure we get our share of guys out of there, that’s for sure.”
There are 43 players on A&M’s roster from the Greater Houston area. Oklahoma State has only five players from the Greater Houston area, but 60 others are Texans.
“We’ve got over 25,000 active alumni south of Stillwater, Oklahoma City, all the way through Texas, central Texas, east Texas, all the way down to Houston,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “It’s a great location for us, and as always, we’re very, very excited to be in a bowl game. … We’re excited about being in the city of Houston for a week, and looking forward to preparation.”
Oklahoma State, ranked 25th in the final College Football Playoff rankings, is 8-4 and tied for third in the Big 12 with Texas, Kansas State and Iowa State at 5-4. A&M (7-5) was 4-4 in the Southeastern Conference to finish fourth in the Western Division.
“I think they are the best 7-5 team in the history of the NCAA in my opinion,” Gundy said. “They have lost to No. 1 [Clemson]; they have lost to No. 1 [Alabama]; they have lost to No. 1 [LSU]; they lost to No. 4 [Georgia]; and they lost to No. 12 [Auburn]. That’s their five losses. They are definitely a Top 20 team.”
OSU is led by running back Chuba Hubbard, who has rushed for a nation-leading 1,936 yards on 309 carries (6.3 avg.) with 21 TDs.
“He has great balance, body control, explosive, great pad level, has the ability to make you miss and hit home runs, and he can catch a football,” Fisher said. “He’s a complete back, and he blocks well, and he’s done it the whole time he’s been at Oklahoma State. He’s going to be a tremendous challenge, and they know how to use him and utilize him and get him in space and do the right things; so it will be a huge challenge for our defense.”
Behind Hubbard, the Cowboys rank 16th in the country in rushing at 236.3 yards per game. OSU is 71st in passing (227.7 ypg) and 17th in total offense (463.9 ygp). Oklahoma State ranks 86th in total defense (418.1 ypg). The Cowboys allow 267.1 yards passing per game to rank 113th.
“Hubbard, he can run the football, but they’re playing great defense,” Fisher said. “They mix it around, they’ve done a really good job in that league. And it’s going to be a heck of a challenge for us and it’s a good challenge. It’s what football games are all about.”
Hubbard could leave school early by declaring for the draft and not play in the bowl game, which has become a trend in recent years.
“I haven’t talked to him about it, but I would expect him to play in this game,” Gundy said.
OSU starting quarterback Spencer Sanders had surgery on his thumb on Nov. 18, but it’s possible he could play.
“I mean, everybody knows that he’s coming off of an injury; that he’ll be released in I guess about 10 days,” said Gundy, adding that if Sanders got released he would have missed about half of the bowl practices.”
One of OSU’s starting safeties is Kolby Harvell-Peel (5 interceptions, 71 tackles, 13 passes broken up), a sophomore who played at A&M Consolidated. He’s also forced two fumbles and recovered two.
A&M leads the OSU series 17-10, including a 10-6 edge in Big 12 play from 1996-2011. A&M won the first six conference games, but the Cowboys won the last four meetings, including 30-29 at Kyle Field in 2011. The two met in the 1981 Independence Bowl with A&M grabbing a 33-16 victory.
While at Florida State, Fisher opened the 2014 season against Oklahoma State at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium with the Seminoles grabbing a 37-31 victory.
“It came down to last possession. It was a shootout, a heck of a game,” Fisher said.
This will be A&M’s third Texas Bowl appearance in the decade. The Aggies defeated Northwestern 33-22 in 2011, and then lost to Kansas State 33-28 in 2016.
This will be A&M’s fifth bowl trip to Houston. The Aggies lost to Southern Cal 20-0 in the 1977 Bluebonnet Bowl in the Astrodome and beat TCU 28-9 in the Galleryfurniture.com Bowl in the Astrodome in 2001. Oklahoma State hasn’t played a bowl in Houston since beating Southern Miss 33-23 in 2002 in the Houston Bowl.
A&M is making its 11th straight bowl appearance, the nation’s 10th-longest active bowl streak. Oklahoma State is ninth at 14 straight.