MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU

December 2, 2012

OU gets bowl-busted: Sooners lose BCS berth to Northern Ill.

— After missing out on the BCS, Big 12 co-champion Oklahoma will instead take on Johnny Football and former conference rival Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas.

The 12th-ranked Sooners (10-2) had their chances of an at-large BCS bid extinguished Sunday when Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois moved up far enough to claim an automatic bid.

Instead, they’ll take on Heisman Trophy contender Johnny Manziel and the 10th-ranked Aggies, who had been divisional rivals and yearly opponents for the past 16 seasons before A&M left for the Southeastern Conference. The game will be played Jan. 4 at Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

“We hit a home run today,” Cotton Bowl chairman Tommy Bain said. “When our team selection committee met for the first time a few weeks ago, we circled this matchup as the one we most wanted, and the cards fell in our favor today.”

The Sooners split the Big 12 title with Kansas State, but the Wildcats got the league’s automatic bid because they won the head-to-head matchup in Norman, Okla., in September.

At 11th in Sunday’s BCS standings, Oklahoma was the highest-ranked eligible team for an at-large bid that got left out of the field. There were four SEC teams stacked in the standings ahead of them, but none — including A&M — could have been picked because Alabama and Florida were already representing the conference.

With Northern Illinois moving up to 15th — finishing in the top 16 and ahead of all Big Ten and Big East schools to qualify — Oklahoma became available to the Cotton Bowl.

It’s the Sooners’ first time playing in the game since beating Arkansas 10-3 in the 2002 game. A&M lost to LSU 41-24 in the 2011 game, two seasons ago.

“The Cotton Bowl has long been a marquee postseason destination, and we’re excited about being selected to play there a second time,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Cowboys Stadium is a great venue, and I know Sooner fans will be excited to make the trip to support us.”

Bain pointed out that Manziel could potentially be the first Heisman Trophy winner to play in the Cotton Bowl in 14 years — Texas’ Ricky Williams in 1999 is the most recent to do so — and that both programs are finishing strong seasons. But that’s not all.

“To me, the most exciting aspect of this game is the special friendship that exists between the two head coaches. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin spent five seasons on the OU coaching staff under Bob Stoops,” Bain said. “It’s going to be fun getting them back together at this year’s Classic.”

Sumlin was on Stoops’ staff from 2003-07, leaving to become Houston’s head coach after being a co-offensive coordinator at the end of his time with the Sooners. He’s in his first season at Texas A&M and this will be his first chance to coach against his former boss.

“Our football team is excited to play another game against a storied program such as Oklahoma. We have been led all year by a great group of seniors and to be rewarded with a great experience like the Cotton Bowl is something they will cherish,” Sumlin said.

“Plenty of their family and friends will be able to watch them play as well and the hospitality is second to none.”

Oklahoma will be trying to match a school record with a fourth straight bowl win. The teams split their last two meetings as Big 12 rivals, each winning at home.

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