Texas A&M's Joeckel, Matthews set sights on 1st win at Cowboys Stadium

ARLINGTON -- In a breakthrough season for the Texas A&M football program, offensive tackle Luke Joeckel has blocked for a Heisman Trophy winner, collected an Outland Trophy, earned consensus All-America acclaim and wowed NFL Draft analysts.

But there is one piece of unfinished business that concerns the Arlington High School graduate as he prepares for Friday's AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic matchup against No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2).

"We have not won at Cowboys Stadium," said Joeckel, a junior who has an 0-3 mark in his hometown when playing for No. 9 A&M (10-2). "It's not been a good place for the Aggies. But this is the year of changes ... It's a new era. New team. New conference. We really want to change things up, and we want to win here at Cowboys Stadium."

For Joeckel, Friday's game marks his last scheduled appearance in a college game in Arlington. It also could be the last game of his college career for a player projected to be a top pick -- perhaps the top pick -- in the 2013 NFL Draft if he chooses to bypass his senior season.

Both Joeckel (6-foot-6, 310 pounds) and teammate Jake Matthews (6-5, 305), the Aggies' other All-American offensive tackle, said Sunday that they will compare notes with one another after the Cotton Bowl before making a decision about their NFL futures. Matthews, like Joeckel, is a junior and three-year starter who projects as a first-round NFL pick whenever he decides to take his game to the next level.

"I'll definitely take into account what he does," said Matthews, son of Pro Football Hall of Fame member Bruce Matthews. "I'm sure he will with what I do. I wouldn't say it's dead-set that if he goes, I go, or if he stays, I stay ... We're good friends. We'll influence each other a little bit."

Whatever decisions surface, they could have a major impact on A&M's hopes to parlay this season's success as a Southeastern Conference newcomer into a possible national title run in 2013. ESPN college football analyst David Pollack described Matthews and Joeckel as "beasts." He called them "two phenomenal players" that A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, will desperately miss when they no longer are keeping pass rushers at bay in front of him.

But that is a future concern. For now, Matthews simply wants to join Joeckel in a victory celebration at Cowboys Stadium.

"I haven't won here, either," Matthews said, reflecting on regular-season losses to Arkansas (2010, 2011) as well as a 41-24 setback to LSU in the 2011 Cotton Bowl. "We've been struggling with that ever since we got to A&M. It's definitely something that's motivating us and giving us that mindset to really push through."

Matthews joined Joeckel on multiple 2012 All-America teams, with both players earning first-team acclaim on the squad selected by the Football Writers Association of America. Joeckel was a first-team selection on all five squads that determine consensus All-America honors, making him a player gaining steam in the eyes of draft analysts.

It's been that way since November, when analysts from two draft websites suggested Joeckel might be the best available player eligible to enter the 2013 NFL Draft. Because of a dearth of impact-skill and position players, interest in elite offensive linemen is not likely to wane from teams with top picks, said Gil Brandt, analyst and former Dallas Cowboys' vice president of player personnel.

"This is the most unusual draft I can remember," Brandt said. "You think about who is going to come out, and there's about 15 guys who are all look-alikes at the top."

Joeckel said he's received plenty of unsolicited advice about his decision, calling it "pretty cool" that A&M fans serenaded him with chants of "One more year" as he walked the red carpet in Orlando, Fla., before receiving his Outland Trophy on Dec. 6. He also said his father, David, an attorney and former Texas Tech offensive lineman, is helping him sound out his options.

"I'm not too tired of it yet," Joeckel said of the stay-or-go discussions. "I've just been staying out of it. My dad ... I'm lucky enough to have him research it all and take care of all the other stuff. I'm just focused on playing football."

And trying to get his first win in Cowboys Stadium as an A&M player.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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