Both Texas coach Mack Brown and LSU coach Nick Saban extolled the bowl's long-standing tradition and praised the other's team for otherwise successful seasons, even though impassioned supporters of the two universities generally had loftier expectations.
"Both schools and both staffs wanted to win a conference championship and then win the national champship," Brown said. "That's the way it is across the country. Now, there are only two happy teams, Miami and Ohio State. We're not in that group. But we're fortunate, with the way the bowls are set up, to get to go to a place that you enjoy, and that you can go to a regional bowl that can attract a lot of your fans. We love the Cotton Bowl. If you look at Texas football, you look at the Cotton Bowl where much of it has been developed."
While the matchup represents Texas' 22nd appearance in the Cotton Bowl Classic (third in the past five years), it will be the Tigers' first trip back to Big D since it upset Arkansas 14-7 in 1966. Texas will be the home team with kickoff slated for 10 a.m. (CST). Texas' Cotton Bowl record stands at 10-10-1 and the Horns have participated in the New Year's Day contest more than any other university.
"This was the bowl game our fans and our staff was the most excited to play in," Saban said. "Our players are extremely excited about this opportunity."
Saban's statement, frankly, needs a qualifier. The Cotton Bowl became the game its fans were most excited to play after his Tigers got punked at home, 31-0, by Alabama. Then, after dropping a last-second decision to the same Arkansas team that you saw get slapped by them ‘Dawgs Saturday, then just about the only thing resembling redemption for the 2001 SEC and Sugar Bowl champs is a chance to end its topsy-turvy season with a win over a storied program like Texas.
"We're pleased and excited to have the opportunity to come to the Cotton Bowl," Saban said. "We feel it's a great bowl and it's a great opportunity for us to play The University of Texas. Mack Brown and his staff have done a great job and they've had a successful season."
On paper, this has the makings of a two-touchdown Texas victory. The time off will allow the defense to finally heal some of the injuries that have sidelined its interior linemen as of late, so the only thing that should conceivably stand in the way of the Horns finishing with back-to-back 11-2 seasons is relative disinterest. But don't count on the latter, Brown assured.
"Our players are excited about playing LSU," Brown said. "They know most of the (LSU) guys because we play in the same region. A guy in Texas who can't get ready to play LSU shouldn't be playing college football."
Added Brown, "We're fortunate to be playing a school like LSU because it's a university that we respect so much and because it's a program that will get the players' attention. Baton Rouge is a tough place to win on a Saturday night but there will be a lot of crazy fans from both schools at the Cotton Bowl on New Years Day."
The payout is projected at $3.0 million. All tickets are priced at $75 each. Both Texas and LSU officials requested approximately 19,700 tickets for the game, according to Cotton Bowl representatives. It is generally the same allotment Texas requested in 1999 and 2000.
"This game will create a lot of excitement," Brown said. "We sure think this will be a sell-out."
Texas resumes practice next weekend and will arrive in Dallas on Christmas night. Both coaches said the New Year's Day television exposure is a boost for recruiting purposes.
"Every kid in the country can see the game because it starts early enough that it will have a lot of viewers," Brown said.