I posted this article on December 3rd in an attempt to clarify bowl possibilities for Texas A&M. In my article, I revealed that Texas Tech was a near-lock for the Texas Bowl and that Texas A&M was maneuvering to avoid this game and matchup. Since the final bowl match-ups were revealed on Sunday, my article has been used by Texas Tech and Texas (why, you are 5-7?) fans to affirm that Texas A&M is afraid of Texas Tech. Today, Texas Monthly published an article based on pure speculation that reaches the same conclusion: Texas A&M is scared of Texas Tech.
Let's agree that not many people think Texas Tech and Texas A&M are great football teams at the moment. Using this bowl game for Big 12 muscle flexing is silly. The Red Raiders have a potent offense but a horrifically bad defense while the Aggies are somewhat middling on both sides of the ball. Based on most objective measures (record, S&P+ ranking, Sagarin ratings), Texas A&M is marginally better than Texas Tech. I would expect a sloppy, entertaining, high-scoring affair with the Aggies holding a modest edge. So why the avoidance?
These old Big 12 rivalry match-ups become more appealing for Texas A&M administrators and coaches when both teams are better (see the 2013 Cotton Bowl vs. OU for a perfect illustration). With better competition, a loss is not an embarrassment with recruiting downside and fans readying their pitchforks. A win is a real accomplishment that drives offseason momentum. Texas A&M-Texas Tech, from an admin standpoint, is one of those unenviable scenarios where losing creates a clear negative stigma (the media would write endlessly about Kliff Kingsbury beating mentor Kevin Sumlin) while winning does not yield considerable gains.
Now as a fan, I do see beating former rival Texas Tech as a worthy gain. I wanted to see the Texas Bowl matchup come to fruition. I prefer to watch opponents I care about in games that I can attend affordably. But I hold the often unpopular opinion that watching football should be fun. I also believe A&M needs to stop overthinking the embarrassing loss scenario and just go win those games.
But there are a host of other factors to consider, including where LSU and Mississippi State preferred to play this year. Big 12 fans and media quickly turned from saying that Texas A&M did not even yield enough power to be invited to the SEC to professing that A&M unilaterally determines bowl destinations for the entire conference. A&M's early success in the SEC and a dismal slate of games for most Big 12 teams quickly shifted the positions of A&M and Big 12 schools. Remember when A&M was the school saying "anytime, anyplace" while Big 12 rivals were in the "good riddance" camp?
The Aggies have also played Big 12 teams in 2 of their last 3 bowl games. They won both of those games, by the way (2013 Cotton Bowl, 41-13 over Oklahoma; 2014 Liberty Bowl 45-37 over West Virginia). Pairing up with the Big 12 every year the Aggies are bowl eligible does not seem terribly attractive.
Overall, I am disappointed that A&M will not play in the Texas Bowl because that is a game I could have attended in person and I like the idea of beating Texas Tech again. I also like Kliff Kingsbury and good football games so this would have been a very fun game to preview and write about. I understand why A&M might want to avoid the game and I think it has very little to do with Texas Tech being a good team or a team that is expected to win. I also do not buy the reasoning that the SEC did not want the Aggies to open and close their season in Houston.
Hopefully at some point in the near future, the Aggies and one of these Big 12 teams lusting after a rematch will qualify for the College Football Playoff. Otherwise, we'll probably be back here every year arguing about which 6-6, 7-5, or 8-4 team is the most badass.