September 09, 2016

(STATS) - Prairie View A&M and Texas A&M each are celebrating their 140th year of existence, yet Saturday marks the first time these schools from the same university system will meet on the football field.

It's also the first time Prairie View, out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, faces a program from the mighty SEC. The challenge is even greater for the FCS Panthers against an Aggies squad that cracked the Top 25 after opening with a 31-24 overtime victory over then-No. 16 UCLA.

"We definitely have our hands full," second-year Prairie View coach Willie Simmons said. "We signed up for this one. We know the stakes at hand."

Though separated by some 50 miles, it's understandable why these programs have not met until now. Texas A&M is a perennial bowl participant at the highest level with a school enrollment of more than 58,000. Prairie View has better than 8,000 students and lost a Division I-record 80 consecutive games from 1989-98.

A winner of seven straight, Prairie View A&M is seasoned enough to be favored to win the SWAC West title. However, its immediate focus is not to feel intimidated amid the 12th Man at 102,000-plus capacity Kyle Field.

"This is probably the biggest environment I've been in," Simmons said. "(As the offensive coordinator at Alcorn State from 2012-14) we went to Mississippi State and played there; same type of environment. Of course, Kyle Field is probably twice as large as Mississippi State's stadium.

"It is one of the most intimidating places to play in all of college football. It will definitely be a tough challenge for our guys."

The Panthers opened by rallying from a 17-6 halftime deficit to beat Texas Southern 29-25 on Sunday. Receiver Khadarel Hodge caught six passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 7:07 left in the fourth quarter.

"I'm proud of the young men," Simmons said. "Proud of their resilience. It's great to start the season on a good note.

"We have to work to be the very best we can be. Regardless of the opponent, that's the goal every week - to be the very best we can be."

Though Texas A&M is looking for a 23rd consecutive nonconference home victory, Simmons wants to make sure his squad doesn't think too much about the aura surrounding the Aggies program and simply do what it can to be competitive.

"I learned a long time ago you can't look at who you're competing against," Simmons said. "I've always respected every opponent I've faced as a player and as a coach.

"If we give our very best, our very best, then we can walk away with our heads held high. If we go up there and play our very best, we'll have a chance to make history."

Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin obviously knows his team holds the upper hand in this contest, but made a point to remind them not to take anything for granted.

"Don't take any of these games lightly," Sumlin told the Texas A&M's official website. "Starts with us in games like this. Things we have to get better."

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