Do Tigers Have Bite?

Does No. 9 Texas deserve a better bowl opponent than barely ranked (No. 25 coaches poll) LSU? The real question is: does the Big 12 "No. 2" team deserve better than the SEC's "No. 3" or "No. 4" representative assigned to the Cotton Bowl.

Bear in mind that "No. 2" does not imply the Big 12's "runner-up" or the conference's "second-best" team. After all, Texas was not the second-highest ranked Big 12 team at the end of the regular season (Kansas State and OU are ranked higher). Nor was Texas the loser of the Big 12 Championship game (as Colorado was).

The "No. 2" designation simply means that the Cotton Bowl (under the current agreement that runs through 2004) gets the second pick of bowl-eligible Big 12 schools (actually, the first pick of league teams that did not qualify for a BCS bid). Bear in mind, also, that this is not the way SEC teams are selected. In their case, the league more-or-less assigns its teams to bowls (rather than allowing bowls to make selections according to the pecking order).

Including probation-paddled Alabama, there are five (five!) SEC teams ranked higher than LSU (Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Arkansas). So, the question remains: is the 67th annual SBC Cotton Bowl game between Texas and the (paper) Tigers the best we can do?

No coach or player should ever supply bulletin-board material by stating that the opponent is unworthy of being on the same field with them. (The same message can be conspicuously implied when players bitch and moan about their bowl game. Remember what happened when QB Drew Brees and his unheralded Purdue Boilermakers made short work of bellyaching Kansas State in the 1998 Alamo Bowl? The Wildcats, No. 4 at the time, had every right to feel passed over, but you don't go public with it. And, hey, Wildcats!, Texas has just been picked ahead of you again despite your higher ranking. Can you say "17-14"?)

As it is, this is what head coach Mack Brown had to say Wednesday about his team's bowl date.

"When you look at bowls across the country, you try to match up the best teams in the country," Brown said. "It seems like the BCS did a better job of that this year. You've got No. 4 playing No. 5, and No. 1 playing No. 2, so you've at least got better match-ups in the BCS than we had last year. There were some mis-matches. But I don't think you can match all the bowls up unless you go to a playoff, because it's very, very difficult to seed."

The BCS is just in its fifth season, and the formula for seeding and selecting teams for bowl consideration has been tweaked almost on an annual basis. But the BCS is meaningless to teams that do not finish its Top Four or who do not win their conference championship. After that, it comes down to the bowl alliances with various conferences.

"The SEC has been a league that everyone has looked up to for many years," Brown said. "Many consider it to be the best league. I'm from Tennessee, so growing up in that state, it's all people talked about."

It is a testament to the strength of the Big 12 (and to the glut of meaningless bowl games) that there are now eight bowl tie-ins to this league. While the Aggies must be content to stay home and watch re-runs of "The Junction Boys", a record eight Big 12 teams are going bowling this year.

Still -- once it became clear that Texas was no BCS team this season, how much more savory would a Texas-Notre Dame, or a Texas-Penn State, or a Texas-Michigan match-up have been (if only it were possible)?

"The unique thing about the Cotton Bowl is that it matches two leagues that border each other," Brown said. "The SEC has had bragging rights, and the Big 12 is kind of the new kid on the block trying to make sure that we have our place. It ends up being a good match-up in this game."

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