For the past week, a Cotton Bowl insider said the "dream matchup" on the top of the selection board pitted Texas A&M against former Big 12 foe Oklahoma. Unfortunately, he said, it was looking like too many things would have to occur during the last week of the season for it to come to fruition.
Somehow, all the cards fell in the Cotton Bowl's favor.
The 10th-ranked Aggies and 12th-ranked Sooners will play in the Cotton Bowl at 7 p.m. on Jan. 4 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
"We hit a home run today," Cotton Bowl Chairman Tommy Bain said in a statement. "When our team selection committee met for the first time a few weeks ago, we circled this matchup as the one we most wanted."
Multiple outlets projected Friday that A&M would be playing in the Capital One Bowl, as the Orlando-based bowl coveted Heisman frontrunner Johnny Manziel and the Aggies. But on the heels of Georgia's 32-28 loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship Saturday, sources say, the SEC forced the Capital One Bowl into taking the Bulldogs.
Mid-major Northern Illinois was the beneficiary of the BCS' rule where a team outside the BCS automatic-qualifying conferences gets a bid if it finishes in the top 16 of the BCS standings and ranks ahead of the champion of an AQ conference. Northern Illinois finished 15th in the final BCS standings and ranked ahead of Big East champ Louisville and Big 10 winner Wisconsin. That earned Northern Illinois an at-large bid to the Orange Bowl. Northern Illinois' good fortune cost the Sooners an at-large bid and a spot in the Sugar Bowl and onto the Cotton Bowl's radar.
The Cotton Bowl insider said that had Oklahoma stayed in the BCS, the matchup in Arlington would have been Texas and LSU, and the Aggies would have fallen to the Chick Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta to play Clemson.
Cotton Bowl president Rick Baker said in a statement that he couldn't believe everything fell into place.
"Every time I stood at the chalkboard to jot down dream matchups in the last couple weeks, this game between the Aggies and the Sooners kept coming up," he said. "Yes, I was dreaming and I had no idea that it might happen. However, when things began to fall just right, we jumped at the opportunity. Needless to say, we are ecstatic to put this game together."
It will be the 13th appearance in the Cotton Bowl for A&M -- but the first time as a member of the SEC. The Aggies lost 41-24 to LSU in the 2011 Classic, and 19 current players, including senior receiver Ryan Swope, saw action in the game.
"I know our team is excited to go back to a great venue," Swope said. "We were treated very well, and it is also nice to be able to enjoy the holidays with family and then focus and report for bowl preparations."
It will be the first time A&M plays a Big 12 team since the school departed the conference in July. And it will pit Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin against his mentor, Bob Stoops. Sumlin coached under Stoops at Oklahoma from 2003-2007.
Sumlin said in a statement that it's another test for the Aggies, who have played one of the most difficult schedules in the country.
"Our football team is excited to play another game against a storied program such as Oklahoma," Sumlin said. "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."
OU holds a 19-11 advantage over A&M. The last time the two teams played was last season, when the Sooners defeated the Aggies 41-25 in Norman. The Sooners finished the 2012 season at 10-2 and with a share of the Big 12 Championship.
Manziel was a big reason why the Aggies -- who finished their regular season with a 10-2 record -- were such a hot commodity. He finished his redshirt freshman season with 4,600 total yards, breaking Cam Newton's SEC record for total offense at Auburn in his 2010 Heisman season. If Manziel is to win the Heisman on Saturday, he'll be the eighth winner to end his season by playing in the Cotton Bowl.
All club and reserved seats are sold out. Tickets are available through Oklahoma and Texas A&M.