All bowl games are not created equal.
Just about only thing on the table in some of these bowls is who wins and who loses. You always want to be on the right side of that equation, but when that's the lone bait on the hook, it doesn't make for high-stakes football.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have bowls that matter a lot.
The Sooners play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, while the Cowboys play Missouri in the Cotton Bowl, and about the only way these two teams could have more on the line would be if they were playing in the national championship game.
These are big-time bowls with big-time stakes.
Let's start with conference perception.
The SEC is the king of college football, and that's a crown the league has earned by way of seven consecutive national titles. It could very well make it eight if Auburn bests Florida State, and there's nothing OU and OSU can do about that other than hope and pray.
But they can do plenty to help the Big 12.
Notch victories again Alabama and Missouri, and it will do wonders for the perception of the Big 12, which has fallen like Greek stocks in recent years. And lest you think conference perception isn't a big deal, think about the times the SEC's perceived superiority was a boon for that league.
*2006: The Big Ten wanted an Ohio State-Michigan rematch in the national title game, but the SEC argued that one-loss Florida deserved a shot at the title. Voters went with the Gators, who won the title and started the SEC's current run of championships.
*2011: Oklahoma State had a compelling case for a spot in the national title game, but the SEC lobbied for an Alabama-LSU rematch. Voters again concurred with the SEC.
To think that the perception of your league is for the birds is, well, for the birds.
OU and OSU could help their cause by helping raise the Big 12's stock with a win in these bowls.
Then, there is the perception of the programs individually.
Let's start with OU.
The Sooners have slipped. The evidence is abundant that this isn't the same dominant program of the first decade of Bob Stoops' tenure. Not as many runs at national titles. Not as much NFL talent.
Stand toe to toe with Alabama, and that narrative changes.
Beat the Crimson Tide, and it does a 180.
“It's a great opportunity,” Sooner center Gabe Ikard said of playing Alabama. “It can be really good for the program. Where we're at right now, this could be a victory that could really put some things into motion that could really increase the talent we get here.”
Recruiting could get a huge boost, and while Ikard poked fun at pundits who've said the talent level is down, he also didn't deny that.
“We've got to stop making tight ends into linemen,” the converted tight end joked.
Stoops isn't so sure that what happens in the Sugar Bowl would make a ton of difference in recruiting.
“No one is going to base their decision on any one game usually,” he said.
“It never hurts.”
Perhaps Stoops remembered that only a few days after OU's embarrassing loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl last year, the Sooners lost their only pure linebacker commitment to the Aggies. Not saying that game was the only reason he picked A&M over OU, but it had to play a part.
Like the Sooners, recruiting is one of the big stakes for the Cowboys. That's in part because of who they're playing — Missouri still has recruiting roots in Big 12 territory — but it's more about where they're playing.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area is fertile recruiting ground for OSU.
For about a week, the Cowboys will be part of the sports landscape in the Metroplex, and recruits there will be watching. Some may attend practice. A few may even attend the game. Being in the Cotton Bowl gives OSU a chance to make an impression on recruits.
Best make it a good one.
It's likely that this bowl won't pay immediate recruiting dividends for OSU. After all, the Cowboys already have more than two dozen commitments in this year's recruiting class. Not much room is left.
But it never hurts to get a jump on next year. Playing in the Cotton Bowl and being in DFW gives the Cowboys a unique opportunity to do just that.
During bowl season, teams always want to win. Go out on a high note. Build momentum for the spring.
But for the Sooners and the Cowboys, the stakes are higher than that, bigger even than those towering bowl trophies that they want to bring home.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.