Cotton Bowl better than the BCS?

IRVING, Texas — For years the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic has been operated on the level of a BCS bowl. In terms of tradition, organization, hospitality and facilities, the Cotton Bowl is the equal of the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta.

This year, the Cotton Bowl’s matchup is even better than a BCS bowl.

Today’s game pits two teams in the Top 10 of the final BCS rankings: No. 6 Arkansas against No. 8 Kansas State.

It’s two of the nation’s top teams from two of the nation’s best conferences. That’s something not every BCS bowl can brag about this year.

“We look at it as a BCS game,” Arkansas receiver Joe Adams said. “We’re 6, and they’re 8. We didn’t make it to the BCS, but we’re two top 10 teams.”

Arkansas’ players know what playing in a BCS bowl is like. They were in the Sugar Bowl a year ago.

“It feels like a great matchup,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “To be able to have two Top 10 teams play, to be in the nicest stadium in the United States, to be hosted by the Cotton Bowl, one of the most traditional bowls there is, in a place where the University of Arkansas has been many times, is great for our fans. I don’t think we could ask for a better bowl to be in.”

The BCS system is set up to match the two best teams in the country for a national championship game. Once again, arguably, the BCS has done that by pitting LSU and Alabama in a rematch of their regular season game.

Beyond that, the BCS has no responsibility to assure the best matchups in the Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Rose. The best teams don’t always get to play in BCS bowls, and in this case, the Cotton Bowl is the beneficiary.

Arkansas’ only losses are to the two teams playing for the national title, and both times the Hogs were on the road. Kansas State lost only to Oklahoma and Big 12 champion Oklahoma State. The Wildcats took the Fiesta Bowl-bound Cowboys to the wire in a 52-45 shootout.

Now, Kansas State gets to measure itself against one of the best teams from the Southeastern Conference.

“We haven’t played an SEC team before, and we don’t what their speed is like or how big the guys are on the field. You can only see so much on film,” Kansas State receiver Chris Harper said. “It’s totally different on the field. You can watch film as long as you want to, but you’ve got to see it on the field to realize what it’s like.”

Kansas State has a strong case that it should have been picked for a BCS game. The Wildcats finished a strong second in the respected Big 12. They feature a dynamic quarterback in Collin Klein and a stingy defense.

Arkansas could also make a case for a BCS bowl bid with a 6-2 showing in the SEC West. The Hogs also beat South Carolina, 44-28, which finished 11-2.

“We all think we should be in the BCS, we lost to the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in college football,” Arkansas running back Dennis Johnson said. “But we are happy to be in this bowl in Jerry Jones’ stadium. We are all just focused on winning this game to show everybody.”

Something else the Hogs and Wildcats have in common: Their fans buy lots and lots of tickets.

Virginia Tech has struggled to sell its ticket allotment for the Sugar Bowl. That wouldn’t have been a problem for either of the two schools playing in the Cotton Bowl.

And when it comes to facilities, no BCS bowl can match Cowboys Stadium. There’s no debate there.

So when the national TV audience settles in for the Cotton Bowl on Friday night, viewers might think they’re watching a BCS bowl game. In everything but the name, they are.

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire