Almost two decades after being left out in the cold — literally — this year's Cotton Bowl Classic ranks as one of college football's best postseason games.
No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 11 Oklahoma meet in prime time Jan. 4 for the game's 2013 edition, its fourth since moving from its namesake in Dallas to nearby Arlington.
By abandoning Fair Park for the majestic, plush — and domed — Cowboys Stadium, the Cotton Bowl took its first step toward returning to college football prominence.
If things go as expected, the Cotton Bowl will soon join a rotation to host national semifinals in the new playoff system.
“It has been our goal to get back to the very top tier of the collegiate postseason,” said Cotton Bowl chairman Tommy Bain.
Bain, a 22-year member of the game's board of directors, watched the Cotton Bowl's status wither after it failed in 1994 to be included in the Bowl Alliance, the Bowl Championship Series' precursor.
“We tried to be one of those, because historically, we were one of the primary bowls,” Bain said. “We had been for 60 years.”
The Cotton Bowl traditionally paired the Southwest Conference champion with an SEC opponent or a highly ranked independent.
Notre Dame made seven appearances; the Fighting Irish routed then-No. 1 Texas 38-10 to conclude the 1977-78 season, becoming the Cotton Bowl's last national champion.
Beginning in 1992, the Bowl Coalition formed with the goal of creating a No. 1 vs. No. 2 national championship game, while also providing with high-quality bowl matchups to major conference champions.
Because the Big 10 and Pac-10 Conference champions were contractually tied to the Rose Bowl, they weren't included in the coalition; the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowls became “Tier 1” coalition games.
The system met its demise two years later, evolving into the Bowl Alliance, which — while still excluding the Big 10, Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl — included just three “Tier 1” bowls.
The Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowls were chosen for the new alliance, which denied the Cotton Bowl because of its older stadium and North Texas' unpredictable, often cold, weather in early January.