Duke has another chance to take on Heisman Trophy level competition.
A day after the Blue Devils couldn't contain this year's leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy, Jamies Winston, they learned they're next assignment comes against the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.
The Blue Devils will hope for better luck against quarterback Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.
"I've coached against Heisman Trophy winners before, and they're Heisman Trophy winners for a reason," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
As for "Johnny Football," his college career could come to a close against a renowned basketball school.
The game will be the first-ever football meeting between Texas A&M and Duke. The game will be played at the Georgia Dome, where the bowl has attracted sell-out crowds for the last 17 years.
Manziel's season has been spectacular again, if not uneven at times. He has been the focal point since a year ago, so dealing with the attention is nothing new to him.
But the redshirt sophomore is eligible to head to the NFL Draft in the spring, so his status will be one of the storylines from the bowl.
"Right now we're looking through that and evaluating his future," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said, sounding purely noncommittal about what's next for his quarterback.
Sumlin said his team should be plenty motivated even though the bowl assignment isn't against a tradition-rich football program. Sumlin said the Aggies are aware that any 10-win team playing on New Year's Eve is a worthy opponent.
Strange as it might seem, with the Aggies done with the regular season on the last day of November, it was Duke that stuck around in the spotlight with its appearance in the ACC championship game.
The 45-7 loss to No. 1-ranked Florida State was humbling, and filled with pitfalls for the Blue Devils after a scoreless first quarter.
"We're going to take what we learned and we're going to go get our 11th win in a bowl," tight end Braxton Deaver said.
That tended to be the immediate theme in the aftermath of Duke's first setback since September. Already, it has been a record-setting season for the Blue Devils and they know there's a chance to build on that.
"We're going to come back stronger than ever for the bowl game," Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell said.
The Aggies have been tangling on a regular basis with some of the country's elite teams. A September showdown with then-No. 1 Alabama has long passed, but there are goals for the Aggies nonetheless.
All four of Texas A&M's losses came to nationally ranked Southeastern Conference teams, each of which finished in the top 16 of the BCS standings.
Texas A&M has encountered its first stretch of on-field adversity under Sumlin because it has lost its last two games, the first consecutive losses with him in charge.
Their regular-season finale was a defeat to Missouri, which handed the Aggies their first night loss in 12 games.
If the polls are on the mark, this figures to be a good matchup because Texas A&M checks in at No. 20 and Duke sits at No. 22 in the Associated Press rankings. The teams are tied at No. 21 in the coaches' poll.
--WR Jamison Crowder of Duke holds the school single-season school record for receiving yards (1,197) and catches (96). He's also a threat on punt and kickoff returns and he'll be one playmaker the Aggies might be most concerned with.
--LB Kelby Brown tends to be the most physical of Duke's linebackers and he's also recognized as one of the leaders on the defense. He has been nicked up from time to time and his absence has been reason for concern for the Blue Devils. His mobility could be put to test against QB Johnny Manziel and that high-powered Texas A&M offense.
--QB Anthony Boone was erratic in the ACC championship game, completing 20-of-40 passes, and those numbers were bolstered by a late-game drive well after the outcome had been determined. Boone is coming off the only loss in his 11 career starts for the Blue Devils. He's mobile enough to stay away from some pass rushes, but Duke will look for ways where he can be more effective in locating open receivers.
--QB Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M is the headliner wherever he goes and this will be no exception for the bowl game. He directs the passing attack, but he's also a threat to run the ball for the Aggies. That combination figures to be troubling for a Duke defense that can be vulnerable at times, as it surrendered chunks of yards the last two games to North Carolina and Florida State. Manziel threw for 33 touchdowns and 3,732 yards this season, and he's also the team's top rusher with 686 yards.
--LB Darian Claiborne of Texas A&M has reached the double-digit mark for tackles in five games this season. He's a true freshman and his run-stopping ability is something the Aggies will want to use to prevent Duke from becoming multi-dimensional. Claiborne shares the team lead with 89 tackles. He ranks third all-time among Texas A&M true freshmen in tackles, needing five to catch second-place Dat Nguyen (1995).
--P Drew Kaser is among the top punters in the country and he gives Texas A&M a special weapon. He has the ability to pinpoint his boots and that could come in handy if the Aggies try to keep the ball away from WR Jamison Crowder, who has a knack for big returns. Kaser is coming off the regular-season finale when he had a career-high eight punts, averaging 44.8 yards against Missouri.
BOWL HISTORY: This marks the 35th bowl for Texas A&M, which has a 15-19 bowl record. This will be the first postseason trip to Atlanta for the Aggies. It's also the eastern-most bowl assignment for Texas A&M since going to the Gator Bowl to play Tennessee in 1957. Duke is in a bowl for consecutive years for the first time in school history. The Blue Devils own a 3-6 bowl record after last year's Belk Bowl loss to Cincinnati.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think the invitation to the Chick-fil-A Bowl is the perfect medicine. (This matchup) will revive our guys quickly." -- Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team had an eight-game winning streak end with a 45-7 loss to unbeaten Florida State in the ACC championship game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: Texas A&M can move the ball on the ground and there's the added benefit that QB Johnny Manziel is a significant threat as the team's leading rusher. Duke's ground game had been one of the breakthrough elements for the team, with multiple running backs seemingly interchangeable, but that came to a halt against Florida State. Backup QB Brandon Connette is used in specialty situations for the Blue Devils and that adds a rushing element to the offense.
Scouting the passing game: The Aggies aren't shy about throwing the ball around the field and down the field and that's bound to be part of the plan against Duke. With QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M will put pressure on Duke's secondary. The Blue Devils have sputtered in the passing attack in some recent games, particularly when QB Anthony Boone has failed to find a rhythm. Duke's receiving corps is led by WR Jamison Crowder, who has rewritten the school's record book this season.
Scouting the run defense: Texas A&M was able to overwhelm a few opponents when the Aggies simply outmatched opponents across the line of scrimmage. But that doesn't mean it has been all well and good for the Aggies in the this department, because teams are prone to look to establishing a rushing attack to control the clock matters and keep that dynamic Aggies offense off the field. Duke has a veteran presence across the front and that has enabled the Blue Devils to compete better along the line of scrimmage than in most recent seasons. The key for Duke in this area tends to come from LB David Helton and LB Kelby Brown, who have been the ACC's leading tacklers.
Scouting the pass defense: Texas A&M has had some holes develop in defending the pass, although part of that has come because the Aggies have seen some solid throwing teams. When the pass rush is up to par, that Aggies tend to be a credible group in keeping teams out of kilter in looking to throw the ball. Duke has been stung by teams looking to throw the ball down field, though the Blue Devils sorted out some of those problems by the middle of the season when some of the younger defensive backs gained experienced. Duke posed a particularly hard-hitting element in the ACC title game against Florida State, and so the Blue Devils will look to carry that over to the bowl game.
Scouting the special teams: This is an area that Duke counts on against more talented teams, and with WR Jamison Crowder they have a game-changing returner. K Ross Martin is a weapon, though he missed his only field-goal attempt in the ACC championship game. P Will Monday had some strong direction kicks in the ACC title game. Texas A&M has a renowned group of coverage players on special teams and that's always an aspect to look at. The Aggies are also bolstered by P Drew Kaser.
Intangibles: Texas A&M is used to going against top-notch competition, but the Aggies probably feel as if they've underachieved this season. Duke will have to rise to the moment as it looks to build on a school-record 10 victories.
--T Perry Simmons of Duke won't play in the bowl game because he'll need surgery for a knee injury sustained in the ACC championship game. Simmons, a senior, had started in 50 consecutive games, marking the longest stretch on the Duke team.
--DE Jay Arnold, a true freshman for Texas A&M, is coming off a two-sack outing against Missouri. That contributed to the 24 tackles made by Aggies freshmen in that game.
--S Dwayne Norman of Duke will sit out at least the first half of the bowl game because of his ejection from the ACC championship game for a targeting violation for an end zone hit that broke up a pass play against Florida State. Norman had been a starter for most of the first half of the season, although since then his role had been more along the lines of an extra defensive back.
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