The Big 12 asked for it. The Big 12 got it.
OU-Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. OSU-Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. You want a piece of the SEC? Here you go.
The Big 12 and SEC partnership with the Sugar Bowl, which goes into effect next season, blossomed early. The Sugar Bowl made the good-faith decision to pick the Sooners instead of Oregon to play Alabama on Jan. 2. And the trickle-down effect put OSU in the Cotton against another Southeastern Conference school.
It's a mighty mission for the Sooners. Alabama has won back-to-back national titles and is 57-6 over the last five seasons. And it's no easy task for the Cowboys; Missouri won the SEC East Division and was ranked fifth in the nation before a 59-42 loss to Auburn in the SEC title game Saturday night.
But no time like the present to start chipping away at SEC dominance, which shines as brightly as ever. The SEC has won seven straight national championships. The Big 12 can't do anything about stopping the streak this season — that's Florida State's job, in the BCS championship game against Auburn — but the Sooners and Cowboys could strike a blow for Big 12 prestige.
The Big 12 and SEC have been sending teams to the Cotton Bowl since the 1998 season. The Big 12 won four of the first five but the SEC has won eight of nine since, and the Big 12's only victory came from Missouri, which now is in the SEC. Worse yet, the SEC has won three national-title games against Big 12 foes in the last 10 years.
“They have great programs with the athletes they have down there, the coaching they have down there,” said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “They've been the top conference in college football for many years. Every time you step on the field against a Southeastern Conference team, they play very hard, just great skill all over the field. Tremendous speed. And Alabama presents all of that. They could be the best team in the country. We're certainly going to have to be at our very best to win.”
OSU opened this season with a 21-3 victory over Mississippi State, one of only two Big 12 victories over the SEC in the last three years. Now the Cowboys close the season against the SEC.
“I know that anytime teams from our league play a team from the SEC in a bowl, they're always gonna draw a big television audience and there will be people that are very interested in the game,” Gundy said.
Last offseason, OU coach Bob Stoops famously questioned the SEC's hype, particularly the idea that the league was rugged top to bottom.
“We're not playing the bottom half” in the Sugar Bowl, Stoops said Sunday night. “So there's nothing to talk about, right? Playing the bottom half, that's a different story.”
Both OU and Oregon sport 10-2 records. The Ducks are ranked 10th in the final BCS standings, the Sooners 11th, and though Alabama-Oregon was thought to be a dream title game matchup this season, the Sugar Bowl, apparently by gentlemen's agreement with its new partner, chose the Sooners. Oregon can't really squawk; the Rose Bowl long has shown favoritism to the Big Ten and Pac-12 when it comes to BCS selections.
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione likes to say that the Big 12 and SEC partnership with the Sugar Bowl is “very significant” in the big picture of college football. “I think it helped shape the discussion of the College Football Playoff,” Castiglione said.
It certainly shaped these bowl pairings. Not that Bama coach Nick Saban knows a thing about it.
“I didn't even know there was an agreement,” Saban said. “You're asking me about something I don't know. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the Sugar Bowl and the city of New Orleans. We're happy to have the opportunity to play in the Sugar Bowl. They've had a great tradition with the SEC and the University of Alabama. We're excited to be there and play a great opponent. Sounds to me like it's a great game.”
A great game brought about by the Big 12/SEC partnership.