Johnny Football, Texas A&M could fly over Cotton Bowl

Depending on your analyst of choice, a case can be made for a Texas-Texas A&M matchup in this season's AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.

But a stronger case can be made for the two rivals heading their separate ways in the postseason as long as A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel remains the flavor of the month -- and the year -- in college football. That is the variable that likely determines whether the Lone Star State rivals cross paths Jan. 4 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

Right now, no name is hotter on the college football landscape than Johnny Football, a redshirt freshman with a legitimate chance to win the Heisman Trophy. And no team is more marketable than No. 8 Texas A&M (8-2), which is coming off last week's 29-24 upset of then-No. 1 Alabama and is a viable option for an at-large BCS bowl berth.

ESPN analyst Brad Edwards projects A&M as a Fiesta Bowl participant against No. 12 Oklahoma (7-2). Other analysts suggest A&M, if left out of the BCS mix, would be snapped up by officials at the Capital One Bowl, which selects ahead of the Cotton Bowl in the SEC postseason pecking order, as long as Manziel is invited to New York for the live announcement of the Heisman Trophy winner on Dec. 8.

Either scenario takes A&M off the table as an SEC participant for Cotton Bowl officials, who also have No. 15 Texas (8-2) as an emerging option from the Big 12 side of the equation.

An A&M-Texas pairing in the Cotton Bowl would be timely and historic. With the Aggies' move from the Big 12 to the SEC, this is the first season since 1914 that the rivals will not play during the regular season. They never have met in a bowl game.

But is it too soon after last year's bitter breakup to bring these two together in a postseason setting? Would such a pairing shift the bowl week focus away from football, and Johnny Football, and back to the tired topic of realignment? Or is this the perfect time to feature a "Bad Blood Bowl" matchup that projects as a Fox TV ratings-grabber?

When members of the Cotton Bowl's team selection committee convene for the first time on Nov. 27, these are questions that must be answered. That's just in case the Aggies, who should finish 10-2 after remaining games against Sam Houston State (today) and Missouri (Nov. 24), remain available after the BCS bowls select their participants on Dec. 2.

I've received plenty of feedback this week from fans of both teams who want no part of an A&M-Texas matchup in Arlington. I've also heard from those who would consider it ideal.

Rick Baker, Cotton Bowl president and CEO, said thoughts about an A&M-Texas matchup at this juncture are inevitable for fans. But premature for bowl officials.

"The whole A&M-Texas matchup has really taken on a life of its own," Baker said. "And to be honest, we just really have not looked at that in any way, shape or form.... We have the luxury of waiting until all the games are played before we have to select. This is one year where I'm glad that we have that luxury. I think we're going to need every game to be played before we can figure out what the best matchup would be."

Because of losses to No. 7 Florida (9-1) and No. 8 LSU (8-2), A&M is far from a shoo-in as a BCS participant. That is why CBS analyst Jerry Palm projects an A&M-Texas matchup in the Cotton Bowl.

The wild card, of course, is whether the Aggies can sustain their momentum and marketability while closing with two under-the-radar games and having a bye on Dec. 1 while other BCS contenders compete for conference championships. That's where the Johnny Football factor can sway bowl officials, including those in Arlington.

From all indications, Cotton Bowl officials will not run from an A&M-Texas matchup if it is the best available option for their game. Nor will they force-feed the pairing to appease fans who miss the rivalry.

Depending on results down the stretch, a laundry list of quality alternatives could emerge: Oklahoma-LSU; Texas-Georgia; Kansas State-Alabama. Or something yet unseen.

"Just about the time you think you've got it all worked out, something happens and changes everything," Baker said.

Like A&M beating Alabama, which has put the Aggies in position to fly higher this postseason than Cotton Bowl officials can reach.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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