|Written by Chris Coleman.
The great thing about the BCS and all of its arguments and controversies is that is provides excellent subplots to some of the other games, and in no other is there a "well we beat such and such" angle as there is to this year's Cotton Bowl.
The Texas Longhorns, by most accounts, have a pretty good argument for being in the title game. And, of course, Florida is in the national title game. So, how does that affect this match-up in the Cotton Bowl? Any good fan could tell you that the only team to beat #3 Texas was Texas Tech, and the only team to beat #1 Florida was Ole Miss.
And, of course, Texas looms large in this match-up already, with Ole Miss's quarterback being former Texas backup Jevan Snead, who tired of sitting behind Heisman-snubbed Colt McCoy.
While Snead will be out to prove to Texans, and the nation, that he was the man for the job at Texas, the Red Raiders will be out to avenge what they saw as a serious snub by the chatterati. While Mike Leach's team may have been the only ones to beat Texas this year, they got the smack laid down on them by Oklahoma, preempting any consideration for the title game. Beyond being left out of the title game, thanks to the arcane BCS rules, the Red Raiders now find themselves on the outside of all the BCS games looking in from Dallas.
Further snubbing was given to Red Raider quarterback Graham Harrell, who, despite eye-popping, record-setting numbers, was not even invited to attend the Heisman ceremonies in New York City in December.
The Red Raiders and Leach, who has been the subject of constant coaching rumors since the last week of the season, will be out to put an exclamation point on what would be their winningest season ever.
It won't come as easy as people think, and leaping into the top five in the final standings may prove harder than many assume. While Harrell and all-world receiver Michael Crabtree come into the game with a polished and fluid offensive scheme under the tutelage of Leach, they will be facing a coach that is no stranger to the bright lights of the Cotton Bowl.
After leading Arkansas to the Cotton in 1999, 2001 and 2008, coach Houston Nutt is back prowling the Dallas sidelines with a bit of redemption to be gained himself. Nutt resigned before last season's Cotton Bowl to go take the helm at Ole Miss. Many felt the time had come for Nutt to move on from Arkansas, but few expected him to have the success he has had in his first year at Ole Miss. Nutt took a team that won only one game in the SEC last year to a very respectable 8-4 finish this year, with victories over SEC powers and the last two national champions, LSU and Florida.
While the Rebels were not able to play well under the newfound attention they received after beating the Gators, they have come on strong in November, winning five in a row. And despite their stumbles following the big win at The Swamp, the Rebels are better than their record shows. Their four losses this season were all close, with none being by more than a touchdown, and each loss being by an average of only five points.
Looking back to the beginning of the season, the Rebels beat a ranked Wake Forest team in non-conference, while the Red Raiders took on such lightweights at Massachusetts before taking down Texas and Oklahoma State in conference.
While Harrell's numbers have been astounding, the Raiders were exposed as a fairly one dimensional team against Oklahoma. The Rebels may not have the speed and talent as the Sooners, they will provide as tough a challenge as the Raiders have faced outside of Oklahoma and Texas. While some poo-poo'd the idea that the Big 12 was a defenseless conference, the early bowl games are starting to bear that out to be true.
The Rebels rely on a veteran defensive line, linebacking core and defensive secondary that will throw all sorts of problems at Leach's offense. If they can get pressure on Harrell early and get him to commit some turnovers they can take Tech out of their game and force them to try and make big plays against a defense that doesn't give up many.
The Rebels challenge will be to try and establish a running game against the small but feisty Tech defensive line. If the Red Raiders line can come with the energy they displayed against Texas, they can shut the Rebels attack down, but it seems as if the Raiders shot their defensive wad in an emotion-charged victory over Texas.
If the Rebels establish the run and allow Snead to start picking apart their suspect secondary, they could pull off one of the bigger upsets of the bowl season, running the Raiders' cries of inequity in the BCS.
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Last updated on November 21, 2011.