COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) – The Big 12 championship game and a potential matchup with top-ranked Southern California will wait for Texas.

This one’s about good, old-fashioned tradition.

The No. 2 Longhorns (10-0, 7-0 Big 12) meet Texas A&M today in the 112th installment of a rivalry that draws many eyes of Texas every Thanksgiving weekend.

The Aggies (5-5, 3-4) are counting on those emotions to carry them through what looks like a total mismatch.

“On paper, there are a lot of different things that show up. On paper, I’m sure we’re the underdogs,” A&M safety Melvin Bullitt said. “But the paper doesn’t play the game. The paper doesn’t mean anything. You can wash all that out. This is the game of the year.”

Texas, of course, has everything to lose at Kyle Field – namely that national title shot against the Trojans. But Texas coach Mack Brown said beating A&M has deep meaning for the Longhorns, too.

“It is not about championships this weekend; it’s not about anything other than state pride,” Brown said. “A lot of people have said, Well, you know, A&M doesn’t have a lot to play for.’ But they do: winning the Texas game. For ours, it’s the same, and it’s enough to play for.”

As much as the Longhorns have struggled with Oklahoma in recent years, they’ve dominated their other main rival, winning the last five meetings with A&M by an average score of 37-14.

And while the Longhorns have returned to national prominence during that span, winning at least 10 games the past five seasons, the Aggies have been barely above average, going 37-33 since a 20-16 win over Texas in 1999.

A reversal of fortunes seems as unlikely as ever this time.

The Longhorns are the only team in the country averaging more than 50 points per game, while the Aggies have one of the nation’s worst defenses, allowing 454.6 yards per game.

Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione likened the Texas offense to the Oklahoma offense from two years ago – the one that hung a 77-0 loss on the Aggies in Franchione’s first season.

Franchione said those teams’ offensive lines are similar, but that the Longhorns’ offense might be better because of Vince Young’s ability to escape and create. Young, a junior, became the Longhorns’ all-time leader in total offense in last week’s 66-14 rout of Kansas.

“You couldn’t get to Jason White that year either, and teams haven’t been able to get to Vincent Young,” Franchione said. “When they do get there, he has the uncanny ability to get the ball down and make something happen with his legs. You cannot focus on just one area of their offense. You’ve got to defend everything, and that’s what makes them difficult.”

The Aggies’ offense has put up decent numbers this season, but injuries have ravaged the receiving corps and left quarterback Reggie McNeal to largely fend for himself. That hasn’t worked very often.

After throwing for 2,791 yards last season, McNeal hasn’t even made it to 2,000 this season. He’s thrown nine interceptions – more than double his total from last season – and completed 53 percent of his passes, down from 58 percent last year.

McNeal was considered slightly ahead of Young in his development when the two came out of separate Texas high schools in 2002. Young redshirted, while McNeal played as a freshman and engineered an upset of then-No. 1 Oklahoma.

Now, of course, Young is a Heisman Trophy candidate while McNeal is at the end of a topsy-turvy career.

McNeal said a victory today would erase many of the lowlights.

“We had high expectations coming into this year, but I mean, things just happen sometimes that you just can’t control,” he said. “We’ve got a chance on Friday to cancel all of that out.”

The Aggies think an upset would reverberate for years. A win would also make them eligible for a bowl game.

“We could save the whole season,” Bullitt said. “This game, right here, if we win this game, it could be momentum into next season, it could be momentum into the next couple of years. This could change a whole lot of things.”

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