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Oklahoma football: Cotton Bowl rematch a historic rarity

by Berry Tramel Published: December 11, 2012

The OU-Texas A&M Cotton Bowl will be an important factor in some Ph.D. student’s future dissertation on conference realignment psychology. The Sooner-Aggie showdown, in the year after their separation, is historic.

When schools leave a league, hardly ever do they keep playing any opponent from the previous conference. Long-time ties are broken quickly.

Oklahoma's Kenny Stills (4) scores a touchdown in front of Texas A&M's Terrence Frederick (7) during the college football game between the Texas A&M Aggies and the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) at Gaylord Family- Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011, in Norman, Okla. Oklahoma won 41-25. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Oklahoma’s Kenny Stills (4) scores a touchdown in front of Texas A&M’s Terrence Frederick (7) during the college football game between the Texas A&M Aggies and the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) at Gaylord Family- Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011, in Norman, Okla. Oklahoma won 41-25. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Texas refuses to play A&M. Kansas refuses to play Missouri. No matter where you fall on that debate, know that that’s the norm.

I looked at every major-conference shift of the last 40 years and found only a skeleton list of continued rivalries.

*Arizona State joined the Pac-10 for the 1978 season. The ’78 Sun Devils played two left-behind members of the Western Athletic Conference. Arizona State had played Brigham Young 13 straight seasons through 1977 and did so again in ’78, beating the Cougars 24-17. The Sun Devils also had played Colorado State 27 straight seasons through 1977 and did so again in ’78, winning 27-0.

Over the next several years, revivals with old WAC rivals were rare. ASU played Utah in 1981-82 and 1985-86, plus UTEP again in 1987 and Colorado State in 1988.

*Utah joined the Pac-12 for the 2011 season. The Utes continue to play arch-rival BYU. That’s a series that’s uninterrupted since World War II. And before you say, of course they kept playing, remember A&M-Texas and Missouri-Kansas. It wasn’t automatic that even an in-state rivalry like Utah-BYU would continue. Utah has beaten the Cougars 54-10 and 24-21 the last two seasons.

*Penn State joined the Big Ten for the 1993 season. The Nittany Lions didn’t really leave a conference, but they also weren’t a traditional independent. Eastern football back in the day was a loose confederation. Before joining the Big Ten, Penn State had played Pittsburgh 58 straight seasons, West Virginia 46 straight seasons, Boston College 12 straight seasons, Rutgers 11 straight seasons, Temple 17 of the previous 18 seasons and Syracuse 46 straight seasons through 1990.

Penn State in ’93 beat Rutgers 31-7. The next year,Penn State beat Rutgers 55-27 and Temple 48-21. The other rivalries have either died or been renewed rarely.

And that’s it. Conference realignment ends most rivalries.

So here comes a Cotton Bowl bonanza. The extension of the OU-A&M rivalry, which has no plans for future games.

Sooners-Aggies never was a bitter rivalry, but it was an interesting rivalry. Even the divorce was amicable.

OU was not upset with A&M’s departure. The Sooners would have been hypocrites otherwise. OU dallied with the Pac-12, A&M dallied with the SEC, and A&M jumped. The Sooners can’t throw stones.

Big 12 administrators will tell you that A&M’s departure was above board. The Aggies were clear about their intentions and always approachable. Missouri was a different story. No one outside of KU seems to care that Mizzou left the league, but the way that Missouri left put a bad taste with administrators. Not so with A&M.

So the Aggies and Sooners play a Cotton Bowl that sizzles with plot lines, not the last of which is the rarity that a conference split gives us a rematch this quickly.

 


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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