NORMAN — Co-Big 12 champion Oklahoma was stunned Sunday upon being squeezed out of its BCS at-large bid by an upstart mid-major.
Players and fans alike — certain they'd locked up a sweet Sugar Bowl spot opposite No. 3 Florida — expressed their anger and frustration on Twitter after OU slid to the Jan. 4, 2013 Cotton Bowl, where it will face Texas A&M at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Heck, even Kirk Herbstreit had trouble controlling his disdain for rules that allowed No. 15 Northern Illinois to move into the BCS spot the Sooners thought they'd locked up.
“Are you kidding me with Northern Illinois playing in the BCS?” an exasperated Herbstreit said during ESPN's BCS selection show.
Everyone needs to take a deep breath; for Oklahoma, a Cotton Bowl clash with the Aggies isn't a huge drop-off from the Sugar Bowl.
In the Cotton Bowl, OU might actually have more to gain.
The inclusions alone of Northern Illinois, Louisville and Wisconsin are evidence that BCS bowls aren't always elite destinations for college football's greatest teams.
With No. 11 Oklahoma and No. 9 Texas A&M, the Cotton Bowl features a matchup most of this year's BCS bowls can only dream about: One of college football's historically elite programs facing quarterback Johnny Manziel, the game's most exciting player and probably, by gameday, a Heisman Trophy winner?
The game is close to home for Oklahoma and its fans, who historically travel well to bowl games; not to mention the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is full of OU fans and alumni.
Having an elite-level bowl matchup against a Heisman finalist — and inside one of the greatest football venues in the country — can't be bad for OU's recruiting efforts in the area, either.
Oklahoma also gets a chance to represent the Big 12 Conference against one of its proud expats; Texas A&M loves being an SEC school, so a Sooner win over the top-10 Aggies — who won at then-No. 1 and national-title contender Alabama this season — on national television would be huge for conference pride.
Much bigger, even, than beating Florida in New Orleans.
Finally, with a month to prepare, Mike Stoops and his much-maligned Oklahoma defense could make a huge statement with a strong performance against the Aggies and Manziel — who, by the way, will be the last of the three leading Heisman candidates to face the Sooners.
OU lost at home on Sept. 22 to Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, and on Oct. 27 to Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.
“To leave teams out like Georgia, and Florida, and Texas A&M and Oklahoma?” Herbstreit continued Sunday evening.
“All of us want to see them in games that matter. And you're gonna give us Northern Illinois?”
All of Sooner Nation is understandly upset to be left out of the BCS party. But there's no doubt that an Oklahoma-Texas A&M showdown in the Cotton Bowl does matter.
And, as it turns out, it matters far more than almost all the BCS bowls.