The 76th AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic shared something only the BCS bowl games had in their games and that was matching two top ten teams to going head to head with No. 8 Kansas State taking on No. 6 Arkansas.
The last time that happened in was 1994 when two teams in the Cotton Bowl would feature two schools ranked that high facing off versus one another.
On paper this game looked to have the ability to have plenty of scoring, since the two schools combined to have 12 games where they scored 40 or more points during the 2011 season.
Early on, it was all Arkansas, leading 13-0 with nearly 10 minutes to go in the second quarter, ironic though that the teams where tied with two first downs a piece with 7:00 in second quarter.
Big plays led to 10 points for the Razorbacks. The first three resulted from a Jake Bequette forced fumble on Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein that was recovered on the Wildcats 13 yard line.
The next seven points resulted by the punt return of Joe Adams, who tied a single-season SEC record with his fourth punt return for a score of 2011/12 and his fifth overall in his career.
“You know, offensively at that point, I think it was two possessions where we hadn’t got much going. Joe really sparked us, said Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson.
The play did seem to have a immediate lift to the Razorbacks' sidelines, leaving Kansas State coach Bill Snyder to comment that Joe Adams is “a exceptional player.”
With 7:00 to go before halftime, the schools would share big plays with Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson connecting with senior receiver Jarius Wright for a 45-yard touchdown pass.
Kansas State’s special teams would get the Wildcats on the board when the ensuing extra point was blocked by Raphael Guidry and returned by Nigel Malone for two points.
The excitement didn’t end there with Kansas State forcing their own fumble on Arkansas’s own 13 yard line. That led to Wildcats scoring their first touchdown of the game of the arm of quarterback Collin Klein that went for three yards to the 6’8” sophomore tight end Andre McDonald.
Heading into halftime, the bowl that should be in the BCS had a 19-9 score
Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said, "We had a good plan. Coach Haines and our defensive staff did a really nice job on the plan. Our players came out and executed it well. I thought we played very, very fast.
"Our defensive front controlled the line of scrimmage, both when they ran the ball, I think we held them to 87 yards rushing, which was a spectacular job by our defense, we pressured the quarterback, hit him, caused fumbles. I think that's the key.”
Every score resulted from big plays during the first half of the Cotton Bowl, and the second half of football began where the first half ended: with more scoring.
Kansas State would take the opening kickoff of the third quarter 60 yards on seven plays resulting in Klein tying a Big 12 single-season record with 27 touchdowns that he now shares with former Texas Longhorn Ricky Williams.
What looked to be a apparent rout by Arkansas had the tides turned with Kansas State scoring the last 16 points, making the score 19-16.
Great teams, great venue, what else could the BCS committee want?
Junior quarterback Tyler Wilson ended the Arkansas scoring drought, leading the Razorbacks on a 58-yard, nine-play drive, connecting with his big receiving target, Cobi Hamilton, for nine yards.
The only other points of the game would come off the leg of sophomore kicker Zach Hocker from 30 yards away, leading to the final score of 29-16 Arkansas.
The 76th AT&T Cotton Bowl lived up to the glamour of any other BCS Bowl game with all the flair and highlights that could be asked for by the viewing public.
Hopefully that is a sign of things to come when the Cotton Bowl is included in the group of BCS bowl games. Most of us grew up on the Cotton, Orange, Sugar and Rose Bowl games as the staple of college bowl season.
It wasn’t until 1971 that the Fiesta Bowl came into play and lo and behold, a college bowl star was born. The end result was a game with more of a history than even the Orange being left out in the cold.
But the Cotton Bowl isn’t sitting around waiting to reclaim its rightful place amongst the top bowls in college football.
How did the Cotton Bowl get ousted from college football’s golden fraternity? “Basically, it was the weather,” said Charlie Fiss, Vice President of Communications for the Cotton Bowl. He added, “I think there was concern about playing the National Championship Game in prime time, in Dallas, due to its inclement weather.”
That is a valid point when considering last February saw the demise of the Super Bowl with snow, snow and more snow falling in the Dallas metropolitan area, to which I bore witness.
"You know when I came here five years (ago) to observe when I took the job, at the time I was kind of surprised that it wasn’t in the BCS,” responded Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bobby Petrino on if the AT&T Cotton Bowl should be a BCS game.
Petrino coached the most explosive offense in the SEC leading almost every offensive category besides points per game, where the Razorbacks finished second. After the first quarter, the Wildcats of Kansas State's defense held their own.
In order to avoid the unknown of Mother Nature, the powers that be decided to move the Cotton Bowl Classic from its namesake stadium to the brand-new Cowboys Stadium in 2010.
“It’s the greatest football stadium in the world,” said Fiss, referring to Jerry Jones’ playroom. “We hope, if they decide to add another bowl game (to the BCS Series) that we will have the merits to be considered.”
I agree 100 percent on that. Between the four current bowl sites—Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and California—the Cotton Bowl would serve as the bowl located smack in heart of America, in Texas.
The head coach from last year’s Cotton Bowl, Les Miles who will be coaching his LSU Tigers in the BCS National Championship Monday against the Alabama Crimson Tide said after his win last season, “I got to thank to Cotton Bowl Committee for playing in such a great historic game and this game is made more important to us because of the luncheon we had with the great players and great teams.
"We are honored to play in it. I don’t think there is any question that this will become a BCS Bowl game; it has all the makings of and all the strength of environment that you need.”
The Cotton Bowl will continue its push back towards the deserved acknowledgement with another prime-time Friday night spot in 2013. Next year’s game will be played on Jan. 4 at Cowboys Stadium.
The 2013 Cotton Bowl will be the third straight game played on the Friday night after New Year’s Day.
Also worth noting that last year’s game was the highest-rated Friday night program on Fox all year. C’mon, BCS committee, bring the Cotton Bowl back to the place it belongs as one of the elite bowls in all the nation.
“AT&T is our sponsor. We are a football state and one of the original bowl games,” boasted Fiss, commenting on what some of the perks for getting the Cotton Bowl back to where it belongs. “If the powers that be in the BCS decide they want to expand and add another bowl, we’ve made it known that we would like to be that bowl.”
Bo Marchionte is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.