Bowl Season: Everybody's A Winner

IRVING, Texas - You hear them say it. You know they mean it. Both teams want to leave here with wins.

It may be a repeat performance for Ole Miss, but I like the approach Houston Nutt is taking with things.

"It's like a new bowl for us," he has said repeatedly. "New stadium. Different hotel. It's exciting."

It's all true, and I'm sure he's saying that so his players will hear it as well and it will soak in. Some psychology at work here.

But the Cotton Bowl folks do such a good job, and with the new digs, there's little doubt if another BCS bowl spot opens or is added, Arlington, Texas, is an obvious locale.

Thankfully there is the new stadium to play in, and it's indoors. The home of the Cowboys, where NFL tradition reigns like few other places, is shared by the Cotton Bowl.

For 73 years they played the New Year's holiday classic at Fair Park. For the foreseeable future, it will be played in Arlington, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, next to the Ballpark at Arlington where the Rangers play, and by Six Flags. It's an entire playground like few other places in America.

Oklahoma State hasn't played in this game since losing to Ole Miss in 2004 by a 31-28 count. It was fitting, or not, that when the Rebels finished their Sunday workout and the OSU brand of Cowboys were about to start theirs, the gargantuan video boards high above the field were showing Eli Manning and his Giants taking it on the chin in a big way.

There are a lot of pride factors here for Ole Miss this time around. There've been a lot of questions asked of the Rebel coaches and players about The Blind Side, which in a few cases has also led to conversation about Mike Wallace and his exploits with the Steelers – not necessarily a popular team to talk about in these parts. And neither is the Giants.

There's a lot of hype and excitement concerning the Dallas (Arlington) brand of Cowboys since they appear to be playing as well as anybody in the NFC right now. The Cowboys of Dallas/Arlington host red-hot Philly the day after Ole Miss and Okie State play ball.

The Cowboys of Stillwater have stumbled three times this season. They opened their season with a 24-10 win against Georgia at home, and they've mentioned that a few times, how they've already played an SEC team, so they know more what to expect. Of course that was Labor Day weekend, so it's been a while.

They lost the very next week to high-flying Houston 45-35 also at home. Then came a tumble against Texas 41-14, at home as well.

But the killer was the finale. Just like Ole Miss, the Cowboys lost to their arch rival. And the players say that still stings. It was ugly too, a 27-0 loss in Norman to the Oklahoma Sooners.

Both Ole Miss and Oklahoma State say they have to get that losing taste out of their mouths. They both say they want to be remembered as a team that finished strong, not closed it out with a whimper. Both the red and blue and the orange and black know they didn't fulfill expectations, but both know a loss here only adds to a season of what ifs and what might have beens.

So look for two teams hungry for a win. I don't expect a Music City Bowl effort from the Rebels. That was 2000, also a year they didn't live up to expectations. They wanted a bigger, better bowl, one in the sun where they'd have some fun.

That first bowl practice in Nashville was 30-something degrees. The Rebels didn't have winning on their minds as much as going through the motions, it appeared. And the lopsided loss to the Mountaineers, who led 49-9 in the second quarter and went on to win 49-38 after Eli came in and showed what the next three years would be all about, proved it.

With six wins coming in, WVU wanted to hoist veteran and retiring head coach Don Nehlen one last time. And did.

That's the only bowl game the Rebels have lost in their last eight. Ole Miss is all about bowl games and winning them.

The Rebels had thoughts of Disney dancing in their collective heads a couple of days after Thanksgiving and were hopeful of a date with JoePa and Penn State. But it didn't happen, and they genuinely seem happy to be here for the game against Oklahoma State.

So at 8-4 with another bowl game on the Rebels lengthy and impressive postseason resume', Ole Miss is settled into comfortable surroundings, at least as far as locale. That's three Cotton Bowls in a row.

Cotton Bowl Chairman Kathy Saunders gave a big welcome to both teams and coaches at the opening press conference Sunday. Ole Miss was up first as OSU waited its turn outside.

We're pleased to have "one of the most tradition rich teams in the nation in the Ole Miss Rebels" Saunders glanced at Houston Nutt and said with a Texas-sized grin. I thought Kathy knew how special the Rebels' postseason slate is with 33 bowl appearances, searching for their 21st bowl win.

But in the spirit of the bowls, which are all about PR and all things positive for the local community, Saunders burst the bubble when she said the same thing concerning 19-bowl trip Oklahoma State – "one of the most tradition rich teams in the nation."

Happy New Year and welcome to bowl season, where everybody is considered a winner – even the team that eventually loses.

OM Spirit Top Stories