Texas visits Texas A&M for the college fare on Thanksgiving night and the media coverage quite reasonably centers around the end of this historic rivalry with the Aggies’ move to the SEC next season. That is the biggest story, but for 2011 don’t overlook how critical this game is in the fight for bowl berths. Both teams have six wins and are eligible, but there’s a lot of fluidity in the Big 12 from fourth place downward. Furthermore, the conference is only guaranteed seven spots and has eight teams currently eligible, with Texas Tech one win away. We can allow that the league will almost certainly pick up an at-large spot in the BCS games, but that still potentially leaves one team hung out to dry. It’s hard to imagine tonight’s loser being that team, particularly if it’s Texas, but it is a possibility. More importantly, the winner will get an opportunity to play somebody halfway decent in a bowl and redeem their season. The champion of this conference goes to the Fiesta Bowl (or the BCS National Championship Game). Here is how the rest of the bowls line up, in order of importance. Keep in mind that this does not include an at-large spot in the BCS. I have included a potential opponent in each one, based on the bowl’s position in another conference’s pecking order. While it won’t be exact, it does give a good idea the caliber of team you can expect to face.
Insight (Penn State)
Car Care (Iowa)
The Alamo would normally get a more attractive opponent. The opponent is Pac-12 #2, but if you factor in the virtual certainty that both Stanford and Oregon will be in the BCS, while USC is on probation and you get left with the conference leftovers. Certainly a game with a potentially 10-2 Trojan team in San Antonio would have carried a lot of weight.
You can lock in the odd team out in the Oklahoma State-Oklahoma-Kansas State trio for the Cotton Bowl, but after that it’s anyone’s game. Baylor is sitting on 7-3, while everyone else has four or five losses. The winner of Thursday’s night rivalry showdown will be position to move high up the ladder. The loser’s a good bet to be going somewhere cold for the holidays—like say Yankee Stadium for the Pinstripe Bowl against a mid-level Big East team.
The Longhorns-Aggies game itself offers a contrast in styles. A&M wants to open it up and with a porous defense they have no other choice. Both teams are dealing with injuries in the backfield, a circumstance that works to the Aggies’ benefit as they would prefer a passing contest between Ryan Tannehill and David Ash. The ‘Horns have had a lot offensive problems and have only scored a combined 18 points in consecutive losses to Missouri and Kansas State. What they can do is play defense, and with A&M not able to balance out their offense with the running of Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael, I expect the Longhorns to contain Tannehill and give themselves a chance to win. And if there’s one thing we know about this year’s Texas A&M squad it’s that if you get a shot to beat them late, you probably will. Texas pulls out a 24-20 win.