All week, Bob Stoops kept insisting that playing A&M was like playing a Big 12 team -- and not an SEC-style team. And sure enough, OU had as much trouble containing the Aggies Heisman Trophy winner as they did with Baylor's RGIII.
Johnny Manziel dropped a bowl-record 516 total yards on the Sooners in a 41-13 Cotton Bowl win, and the freshman is also paying dividends off the field. A&M added another stellar receiver, four-star Florida native Tony Stevens, who picked the Aggies over Ohio State and Florida State. A&M's recruiting class is now currently rated #6 in the nation.
But another important benefit from Manziel and the Aggies' storybook season won't be felt until next September. That's when A&M will play more often in front of the network TV cameras.
The Cotton Bowl win gave FOX an overwhelming victory over the other networks, as 11.2 million viewers tuned in to watch the rout.
When it comes to live sports, TV is a reactive industry. That means most of the Aggies surprising season played off center stage. That will change in 2013. A returning sophomore Heisman Trophy winner playing in the SEC! SEC! SEC! will be an attractive draw for the networks.
Just how the 2012 season played out in terms of TV exposure for A&M and Texas offers how having a national "brand" can buy you some time to regain your footing, while building that brand doesn't happen overnight.
Texas A&M TV Schedule
2.9 (4.5M) Florida vs. Texas A&M 2:30 PM ESPN
2.8 (4.2M) LSU vs. Texas A&M 11:00 AM ESPN
1.3 (1.9M) Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State 11:00 AM ESPN
6.1 (9.6M) Alabama vs. Texas A&M 2:30 PM CBS
0.7 (1.1M) Texas A&M vs. Missouri 6:00 PM ESPN2
6.7 (11.2M) Cotton Bowl vs Oklahoma 7:00 PM FOX
The Aggies immediate benefit to joining the SEC was the impact of the league with the networks. They appeared on ESPN three times, the first two against Florida and LSU which drew over 4 million viewers. Their one game on over-the-air CBS was the high point of the season and was second only to the Alabama-LSU telecast in audience for CBS during the regular season.
Still, A&M had only six of their 13 games on one of the major outlets for SEC games. Their other seven games were seen on channels with limited exposure Two games were on the regional Fox Sports Network and one on the SEC regional package. They had three games on ESPNU where if you come close to having a million viewers the suits will do handstands. Their game with Sam Houston State was pay-per-view.
Johnny Heisman and A&M's performance Friday night will change that for 2013. For Texas A&M, next season will no doubt afford them the opportunity to build on their name identification with the casual fan and to continue to grow their popularity with hardcore college football fans. The Aggies schedule is in some ways perfect to build on this season. A&M plays 8 of their 12 regular season games at Kyle Field, including the first four:
Sam Houston State
The Aggies then go on the road for two games (Arkansas & Ole Miss), with a week off in between. Then it is back home for 4 more home games (Auburn, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State & New Mexico). They then finish up with road games with LSU and Missouri.
The non-conference schedule is weak, but with Manziel they will probably get some network exposure. Their conference schedule is where they will have a chance to impress fans (and recruits) because more of those games will be on CBS or ESPN. There will be a lot more eyeballs watching A&M play next year, and performing well could be a building block for making the Aggies a stable force in the SEC.
Texas TV Schedule
1.5 (2.4M) Texas vs., Mississippi 8:30 PM ESPN
2.5 (3.8M) Texas vs. Oklahoma St. 7:00 PM FOX
2.9 (4.6M) West Virginia vs. Texas 6:00 PM FOX
3.5 (5.5m) Texas vs. Oklahoma 11:00 AM ABC
3.1 (4.8M) Baylor vs. Texas 7:00 PM ABC
2.7 (3.4M) Texas vs. Texas Tech 2:30 PM ABC/ESPN2
1.1 (1.9M) Texas vs. TCU 6:30 PM ESPN
3.3 (5.2M) Kansas State vs. Texas 7:00 PM ABC
4.7 (6.7M) Alamo Bowl vs Oregon State 7:00 PM ESPN
Despite being 13-12 over the previous two seasons, Texas had nine of its 13 games in 2012 on a major network -- seven of them in prime time. The ratings for the OU game were down dramatically from recent years, for obvious reasons.
The other four games for Texas were on FSN (Kansas) and the Longhorn Network (Wyoming, New Mexico, Iowa State). The FSN ratings are minimal, but the LHN gives a whole new meaning to miniscule. Estimates have the highest rated programming on the LHN getting a little more than 1/10 of one percent -- or less than 200,000 viewers.
There was a reason as to why the Longhorns wanted to play in the Alamo Bowl. That game traditionally has been one of the best ratings draws for a non-BCS bowl on ESPN. The Texas-Iowa Alamo Bowl (7.7M) was the highest-rated non-BCS game on ESPN until the LSU-Clemson Peach Bowl (8.6M) this post-season.
Texas is still a strong draw for its network partners and has a better non-conference schedule with at least two games (BYU, Ole Miss) that will be attractive to the networks. The Big 12's package with Fox and ABC also allows for more opportunities for prime time appearances.
Television exposure is an essential step to building a successful college football program, but it is not a zero sum game. Of course, the key isn't just having your games get the widest exposure possible, it's winning when you are on the big stage.
In 2013 Texas A&M will have more opportunities to show the nation that they are a viable contender in the SEC and for national honors.
In 2013 Texas will have its share of opportunities to reassert their relevancy on the national stage.
And while these two don't show up on each others schedule, they do show up in many of the same living rooms of recruits, and that's where taking advantage of your national perception can come into play.