Cotton Bowl: Aggies' Window of Opportunity

The stage is set for what is anticipated to be one of the better match-ups this bowl season as the No. 11 LSU Tigers face off against the No. 18 Aggies in the 75th Cotton Bowl. But Aggie Websider's David Sandhop writes that there's more at stake for Texas A&M than simply ending the 2010-2011 season in style. This game will have long-term implications.

In the first time in program history, the Texas Aggie football team will square off in a post New Year's Day bowl when they battle regional rival Louisiana State in the 75th edition of the AT&T Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium. Not only will the contest take place in the Cadillac of all American football stadiums at Jerry Jones' masterpiece, but the game is front-and-center nationally and will be the only football game on the docket. In addition, Fox Sports is televising the game in prime time and utilizing many of the production features that will be utilized in their Super Bowl coverage next month in the same stadium. So all eyes will be on the Aggies and the Tigers.

There are several intriguing storylines to the game. First, it's a battle of BCS conferences as the Big 12 hopes to show the nation its No. 18 Aggies can match blows with the No. 11 Tigers from the SEC. Second, with realignment a hot topic this past year and strong rumors that Texas A&M will eventually join the SEC in the next few years, this game serves as a preview of things to come and will be a measuring stick for those skeptical whether the Aggies can compete and win in the nation's most competitive football conference. Finally, there's a long athletic history between the two schools from a heated football series in the 1960's through the 1990's to a last second LSU 3-pointer to break the hearts of Aggie fans in the 2006 NCAA basketball tournament to the 1989 NCAA baseball regional upset that eliminated the No. 1 ranked Texas A&M men's baseball team from a national championship run.

But the biggest storyline for Aggie football fans is finishing off the 2010-2011 season in style and setting up a run at the Big 12 title and a potential Top 10 preseason ranking to begin the 2011 campaign next fall. A win over LSU will be the cherry on top to an incredible mid-season turnaround. Just over two months ago, the Aggies sat 3-3 coming off an embarrassing home beat-down by the Missouri Tigers. The next week, head coach Mike Sherman inserted junior Ryan Tannehill into the starting lineup and the team hasn't looked back with an improbable November run through the heart of the Big 12 elite with wins over Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas.

But there's a possible bigger picture here and it involves taking advantage of a window of opportunity. With Nebraska bolting for the Big Ten and Texas retooling a coaching staff in the wake of a 5-7 season, the 9-3 Aggies can reach the double digit win total tonight, and in the process signal to lone star blue chip football talent that the Aggies are a legitimate contender not only for the conference crown next year, but also that the perennial "sleeping giant" in College Station is ready to assume elite status in a revamped Big 12 and the national scene.

The next three weeks is critical to that goal. Certainly, there's tonight's prime time match-up for all the pundits and college football fans across the nation to see, but then there's the most critical three weeks in Texas A&M recruiting. No, we're not talking about college seniors who will sign their letters of intent next month. We're talking about the junior prospects and their recruiting process begins in earnest later this month with consecutive junior day events where the coaching staff gets its first crack at selling the junior blue chips on College Station. That sales job becomes much easier with a Cotton Bowl win over LSU on the resume' and 17 starters returning in 2011.

What makes this month especially intriguing for the Texas A&M program is this turnaround coincides with the Longhorns' demise and subsequent coaching staff shuffle that has seen Mack Brown lose not only his offensive and defensive coordinators, but also several key assistant coaches and even football operations personnel. Sure, Texas will eventually land on its feet and piece together a quality staff, but Mack Brown has been focused on filling these vacancies and not evaluating junior talent. And with so much turnover in the coaching staff, the Longhorns simply haven't been recruiting and inviting next year's prospects to their junior day event.

In talking to several of the top prospects in next year's class, most have been very receptive to the Texas A&M message, and the Aggies are expecting huge turnouts for its first two junior day campus events scheduled for January 22 and 29. Thus, Texas A&M will host two major junior days before the Longhorns bring in recruits later in February. Of course, LSU has come across the Sabine River in recent years to raid the state's top prospects, and mostly at the expense of Texas A&M. So a win over the Tigers should help slow the tide of defectors eastward. The Aggies have already beaten its biggest recruiting competitors to the north, Oklahoma and Nebraska.

So the stage could be set for a big 2012 recruiting year for head coach Mike Sherman. The goal for the coaching staff is to land the first blow and secure through verbal commitments a handful of elite prospects in January for the 2012 class…and an impressive win over SEC power LSU in tonight's Cotton Bowl in front of a national television audience will be an effective selling point to show these blue chips that the sleeping giant is awake and ready to take the next step.

Tonight is Texas A&M's window of opportunity.

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