In the only bowl matching the SEC against the Big 12, Texas A&M takes on 12th-ranked Oklahoma (10-2) in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night. Both teams have five-game winning streaks.
"It's a little more than a game," Nealy said. "It's almost like we had a great season but we have to win this one."
In their 16 Big 12 seasons, the only time the Aggies won more than nine games was when they were 11-3 their 1998 conference title season. They left the league with a winning record (7-6) last season only after a bowl win over Northwestern.
Once in the SEC, which has six national titles in a row, Texas A&M lost its opener 20-17 to Florida. The other loss was 24-19 to LSU before the current winning streak that includes the Aggies' first-ever road win against a No. 1 team at SEC champion Alabama, which plays in the BCS title game Monday night.
"The first thing we did was we didn't talk about it very much what happened in the past. It seemed to be what everyone wanted to talk about externally, but internally we just didn't," Sumlin said. "Any time you have to get over a hump or clear a hurdle, you have got to win a game in a certain fashion."
Sumlin pointed to a 30-27 win at Ole Miss the first Saturday in October, when the Aggies overcame six turnovers and were down 10 points with 61/2 minutes left. They lost to LSU two weeks later, but haven't lost since.
The Sooners seemed certain of a Bowl Championship Series game after clinching a share of their eighth Big 12 title, even though Kansas State had a tiebreaker giving the Wildcats the league's automatic BCS slot. But Mid-American champion Northern Illinois then qualified as a BCS buster.
"For sure, yes, we were disappointed. I was pretty upset about it," Sooners senior quarterback Landry Jones said. "But fortunate enough for us, we got put into this game, which you can rank them right up with those BCS games. ... It's a really good matchup, so when I heard that we were going to be in the Cotton Bowl, it kind of eased over the disappointment."
Texas A&M and Oklahoma have both averaged more than 40 points and 500 yards of offense per game. The only losses by both were to current Top 10 teams.
P Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma, Friday, 6 p.m., TV • Ch. 13