While Alabama prepares to play for the BCS championship, the Oklahoma State Cowboys can only wonder how they would match up with the SEC's best.
Oklahoma State finished No. 3 in the final BCS standings Sunday night, missing out on the title game thanks to a loss at Iowa State last month.
"You just want everything for the players. They wanted to play in that game and they believe they could have won that game," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said.
The Cowboys were one of a handful of top teams settling for less this weekend. Michigan State narrowly missed out on a Rose Bowl trip by losing in the Big Ten title game, then fell all the way to the Outback Bowl. Boise State, which finished No. 7 in the final BCS standings, is going to the MAACO Bowl. Kansas State was one spot behind Boise State but is headed to the Cotton Bowl after being passed over by the BCS.
"We understand why certain programs are picked at certain places," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. "You don't beg for respect, you earn it."
Oklahoma State was hoping its 44-10 win over Oklahoma on Saturday night would be enough to push the Cowboys past the idle Crimson Tide and into the No. 2 spot. Instead, Alabama held on to set up an all-Southeastern Conference BCS title game against LSU. The SEC is now guaranteed its sixth consecutive BCS championship.
Burns Hargis, Oklahoma State's president, offered his critique of the outcome. The Cowboys were ahead of the Crimson Tide in the computer rankings but trailed in the Harris and coaches' polls, which also play a role in the BCS rankings.
"I think there's some bias toward the SEC right now, and I think some of it is deserved just because of their winning the national championship so much recently," Hargis said. "I'm sure there was some negative effect there."
Oklahoma State will play Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.
Michigan State narrowly missed a BCS bid for a second consecutive season. Last year, the Spartans tied Wisconsin and Ohio State for the Big Ten title, but the other two teams went to BCS bowls and Michigan State went to the Capital One Bowl.
This weekend was even more excruciating. The Spartans lost to Wisconsin 42-39 in the Big Ten title game, and now they'll face Georgia in the Outback Bowl. Meanwhile, in-state rival Michigan, a team Michigan State finished ahead of and beat during the Big Ten season, is going to the Sugar Bowl.
The Spartans have three losses to Michigan's two, although Michigan State's final loss came in the conference title game the Wolverines didn't qualify for.
"That's how the BCS works," Spartans receiver B.J. Cunningham said. "That's the system. It's not fair. Life isn't fair, but that's how it is."
The BCS bowls did not have the option of picking Michigan State because the Spartans didn't finish in the top 14 of the BCS rankings.
For Boise State, any shot at a national championship slipped away when the Broncos lost by a point to TCU last month. With no at-large berth forthcoming from the BCS, Boise State will face Arizona State in the MAACO Bowl.
TCU could have snagged an automatic bid to a BCS bowl if it had finished in the top 16 of the BCS standings. Instead, the Horned Frogs were at No. 18 and will play Louisiana Tech in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Kansas State could have received an at-large bid to the BCS but was left out. The Sugar Bowl took Virginia Tech and Michigan, who were 11th and 13th in the BCS rankings. Now Kansas State will take on Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. The Razorbacks were ranked No. 6 in the BCS, the highest team not to receive a bid to one of those coveted bowls. Arkansas couldn't be selected because the SEC already had two participants with LSU and Alabama.
That was good news for the Cotton Bowl, which was happy to snap up the Razorbacks and Wildcats.
"Kansas State vs. Arkansas is a blockbuster matchup for us," Baker said. "This is exciting. Few bowls have a matchup that is as intriguing as our game."