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Similarities, familiarity for Texas A&M, West Virginia

They might need some extra electricity in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, because the scoreboard probably will be in frequent use.

Texas A&M and West Virginia have never met on the football field in their respective histories, but that will change on Dec. 29 when the two clash in Memphis. Though they’ve never played, there are definitely similarities between them and some familiarity between members of the coaching staffs.

The similarities exist primarily with offensive philosophies. Each team is known for scoring a lot of points and throwing for a lot of yards. Both team’s offenses are rooted in Air Raid principles, and the Aggies and Mountaineers both rank in the top 12 nationally in passing yards per game (West Virginia is ninth, averaging 314.5 yards per game; A&M is 12th at 306.4).

That isn’t a coincidence because of the relationships that previously existed between the head coaches. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen served as Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin’s offensive coordinator in Sumlin’s first two years as a head coach in Houston, from 2008 through 2009.

Holgorsen left Houston after the 2009 season to accept the offensive coordinator position at Oklahoma State and took a young graduate assistant named Jake Spavital with him to Stillwater. When Holgorsen went to West Virginia, Spavital joined him there to coach quarterbacks for two seasons before Sumlin hired Spavital at Texas A&M after then-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury left Aggieland to accept the Texas Tech head coaching job.

The Liberty Bowl will serve as a reunion of sorts for the offensive trio, as well as other assistants who crossed paths with them.

For the Aggies (7-5), the season didn’t go as one might expect after their scorching 5-0 start, and there were many ups and downs throughout the journey. They made a quarterback change (Kenny Hill to Kyle Allen) and after the regular season finale, Sumlin fired defensive coordinator Mark Snyder after three seasons (linebackers coach Mark Hagen is serving as the interim defensive coordinator for the Liberty Bowl).

But Sumlin is aware of Texas A&M’s history, which doesn’t include an Aggie team that won four consecutive bowl games. It is the motivational factor that Sumlin will be preaching to his team throughout bowl practices and will be a carrot to dangle for the departing senior class that wants to leave a legacy.

“It’s a huge opportunity for our team to win a bowl game in four consecutive seasons, which is something we’ve never done in 119 seasons of football at Texas A&M,” Sumlin said in a statement after Sunday’s bowl announcement.

The Aggies also could use the positive momentum from a win. Losing three consecutive games to close out the season would be a bad way to end the year and with expectations expected to be raised in 2015, a positive result would be helpful as they look forward. Next season will be year four in the SEC for Sumlin and the Aggies and it will be a pivotal one for sure.

A win over a quality Big 12 team like the Mountaineers would serve Texas A&M well as it closes out 2014.