Headed South either way

Will it be San Antonio, Houston, Shreveport or Orlando? Three of the bowl cities are interested, but only one gets first pick.

Most of the world already has its plane tickets for the holidays, but until Sunday, Oklahoma State fans will have to keep their credit cards in their wallets.

OSU (7-5, 5-3 Big 12) became bowl-eligible with its sixth win over Baylor and upped its stock with an upset over then-No. 3 Oklahoma.

Finishing out the regular season with three wins, the Cowboys are a hot commodity among top-dollar bowls. Possibilities for OSU include the Houston Bowl, Independence Bowl and the Tangerine Bowl.

And like many other things in life, saving the best for last is an appropriate end.

All three systems said they will wait until the Big 12 Conference Championship before making a public choice.

"Obviously (the OU) win made them more attractive in the eyes of all the bowls," said Tom Starr, Independence Bowl associate executive director. "Certainly any time you better your record like that and have upsets like that, they do help — there's no question about it."

Out of the trio of bowls the Cowboys could attend, the Houston Bowl will make its selection first.

"In all honesty, before the season even started we looked at some teams and marked five or six teams that we thought would be good teams to have," said David Ippoliti, Houston Bowl executive director. "Oklahoma State was surely on that list."

Ippoliti said Texas Tech and Iowa State are also on the remaining list of prospects and the enthusiasm from OSU fans on message boards and talk radio is very appealing to the panel.

"They have a great fan base, a great fan base down here in Houston," Ippoliti said. "We've had 30 to 40 calls a day from locals as to why we should take Oklahoma State, so that tells us a lot about the school — a lot about the support it has."

The Houston Bowl selection committee consists of 16 members. At its meeting Monday, Ippoliti said the panel still wasn't in agreement in who its choice may be for the Dec. 27 game, but later hinted that OSU was leading the three.

"You could have split hairs with the different scenarios," Ippoliti said. "There was not one clear-cut favorite in that group. It is interesting to say that because we even have a Texas Tech alum and an Oklahoma State alum in that group. It's hard to say, because there are so many choices with the BCS and what they do, and Oklahoma State could be picked before we the time we get a shot at them."

Ippoliti was referring to the slim chance that the Alamo Bowl, which chooses its Big 12 participant before the Houston Bowl, may take OSU if Kansas State and Texas receive BCS bids.

"Obviously (OSU) opened a lot of eyes with a 5-1 record (at home) and they traveled great when you came here previously," said Rick Hill, director of marketing for the Alamo Bowl. "The good news is that a lot of your guys are back next year, but this year I think we are going to have access to a Colorado, or a K-State, or Oklahoma, who are all Top 25."

Hill said the Alamo committee will choose a Top 25 team no matter the outcome of the Big 12 championship game or BCS selections.

"There will be one or two teams of those three left over," Hill said. "It is very safe to say Oklahoma State is no longer in contention for a spot here."

No matter the destination of the Cowboys, Starr said he believes there will be disappointment for the ones who aren't lucky enough to host OSU in its stadiums.

"It would be very safe to say that Oklahoma State is a favorite of ours," Starr said. "We are excited about the opportunity that OSU may be available when it is our turn to pick. But, there are a couple of guys who get to fire their guns before we do. Looking at it realistically — when we get our turn, OSU will probably be off the market.

"They are the hottest team in the eyes of most bowl guys — including us."

Starr said the extended list for the Independence Bowl includes Texas Tech, Nebraska, Iowa State and Texas A&M. The Dec. 27 showdown will be between a Big 12 team and the SEC No. 7 team.

"If we had to narrow it down, it would be the first three — most definitely Oklahoma State, and then Texas Tech and Nebraska," he said.

The Dec. 23 Tangerine Bowl, which hasn't been shy of voicing interest in OSU, is hoping for a matchup between OSU and Clemson. Clemson has already accepted the bid to be the ACC representative in Orlando, and representatives are excited about the possibility that Clemson's new athletic director, Terry Don Phillips, may face his old school and the coach he hired to turn the OSU program around.

"That is a nice little sidebar to the game," said Tom Mickle, Tangerine Bowl executive director. "I am sure it will be written about quite a bit if that happens."

Phillips — who left as OSU's athletic director in June — still has a fondness in his heart for OSU and said he is proud of the way OSU coach Les Miles has brought the program to a higher level.

"No one can be happier for them more than I am," Phillips said. "I think if we were to have a matchup in the Tangerine Bowl it would be a very good ball game. I think it would be an exciting bowl game and one that both Oklahoma State people and Clemson people would enjoy watching."

Phillips said congratulations were in order after Miles and the Cowboys beat the Sooners Saturday, and he called Miles after the game.

"The great thing about it is that Oklahoma State is going to get a really good bowl bid, and deservedly so," Phillips said. "They finished the second half of the year with great improvement and they are a great football team now — and I think they have showed the nation that. I know that Oklahoma State has caught the imagination and the attention of the people on the eastern seaboard."

Tangerine Bowl officials are also lying low until Saturday's winners have been decided, Mickle said.

"We are waiting patiently for the championship game and then the BCS decision on Sunday whether Texas or Kansas State may still be a BCS participant," he said. "Once that is done, the dominoes will start to fall and then we can go from there.

"As far as OSU goes — they are deserving of a bowl and we hope they are still around when we are able to pick."

Out of the three bowls, the Houston Bowl has the highest payout, with a $1.1 million guarantee. The Big 12 pools all bowl money and divides it evenly between all schools in the conference.

"To have these choices tells you a lot about what kind of football was played in the Big 12 this year," Ippoliti said. "Most teams eligible out of any conference — that says a lot. For coach Miles and Oklahoma State to be a among that group shows the great strides he has taken in such a short period of time."

Ippoliti said the panel in Houston will meet again Friday to "gather their thoughts." Being prepared for the variety of possibilities that could take place in title games across the nation will be very important.

"The Big 12 Conference is awfully tough, and what coach Miles has done to get that program on the right track is tremendous," he said. "For us — to be honest with you — whoever plays in our bowl game is going to be good for us, good for the teams and it's going to be a great team."

Even though bowl committees won't make their bids until Sunday, the hopes that fans have for a Houston Christmas may come true, said Jerry Ippoliti, the bowl's director.

Will orange-and-black invade the Houston Bowl in late-December?

"If everything goes right, I hope so," he said.

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