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Longhorns appear headed to Cheez-It Bowl with an outside shot of another Alamo trip

Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon throws a pass against the Air Force Falcons during the 2019 Cheez-It Bowl. Texas appears to be headed to play in the bowl, which will take place in Orlando this year.
  • Orlando still seems Texas' likely destination unless the Alamo wants a bigger national TV draw.
  • The Cheez-It Bowl has never had Texas in its game and maybe could pair the Horns against Mack Brown.
  • With diminished crowds, bowl games are more concerned about eyeballs and TV ratings.

Texas' bowl destination remains in limbo pending the ramifications of Saturday’s Big 12 championship game, but the Longhorns continue to look like the frontrunner for the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

Hello, Mickey and Minnie.

Texas has never played in the bowl game hosted by Orlando, which will be played on Dec. 29. But there remains a scenario that would return the Longhorns to the Alamo Bowl if Oklahoma beats Iowa State in a close game and both Big 12 teams remain in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings.

That can be hard to predict because committees are fickle. Utah, for instance, lost in the Pac-12 title game last year and fell all the way from No. 5 to No. 11 and were picked by the folks in San Antonio.

“If both teams stayed in the New Year’s Six mix, Texas is very much in consideration to return to the Alamo,” one bowl official said of the two Big 12 teams playing in Arlington.

Of course, the Alamo always desires at least one high-profile television draw and might be able to satisfy that preference with USC if it loses to Oregon on Friday. Substitute a Colorado or Oregon or UCLA, and Texas might move up in the eyes of the Alamo.

Then, there’s the reluctance to take the Longhorns two years in a row, although in this pandemic season, one official said, “There’s no difference between a hotel in San Antonio and a hotel in Orlando.”

Orlando still seems to be the more likely spot. If the Alamo, which picks after the New Year’s Six teams are assigned, chose Texas, it would all but ensure it wouldn’t pick the Longhorns a third straight year in 2021 and, thus, have its hand forced. The Alamo Bowl is also played on Dec. 29.

“We danced around Texas for sure last year,” Cheez-It Bowl CEO Steve Hogan told the American-Statesman on Thursday. “We have a lot of respect for them, for the fan base, for the program, the brand. They only lost by a touchdown to the (current) No. 6 team in the country, and the TCU game was a two-point game. They’ve played some pretty good football to finish up the season, and they beat Oklahoma State head to head. They’re a nice team with some great players.”

Texas head coach Tom Herman holds up the trophy after beating Utah in the 2019 Valero Alamo Bowl. The  Longhorns could be picked to play in this year's game if Oklahoma and Iowa State get chosen for New Years Six games.

The 20th-ranked Longhorns fit the profile of the type of team that bowl game prefers, Hogan said. Texas finished the season a disappointing 6-3 but won four of its last five games with the only loss a three-point defeat by Iowa State. Fan draw is much less of a factor for picking teams this bowl season because of the pandemic, and many bowls are more in search of teams likely to draw eyeballs from a national television audience.

“We’re fond of ranked teams as you can imagine,” Hogan said. “We want successful, ranked, winning teams. That’s what creates the interest. Our game is often rated in the top three or four games in the country that are not part of the CFP, and that’s the way we want it.”

The Cheez-It will pair a Big 12 team with the No. 3 or 4 team out of the Atlantic Coast Conference, probably 18th-ranked Miami unless the Clemson-Notre Dame loser falls out of the CFP mix and winds up in the Orange Bowl. If that happened, the Cheez-It would have its choice of No. 15 North Carolina, Miami and No. 22 North Carolina State but almost certainly would select the Tar Heels and the tantalizing matchup between Texas and former Longhorns coach Mack Brown.

“That’s not lost on us,” Hogan said. “If we did have North Carolina, the country would get a pretty interesting storyline. The two of them would put on a heckuva show.”

Texas’ bowl plans hinge on the outcome of Saturday's Big 12 title game between league frontrunner and No. 6-ranked Iowa State and two-loss, 10th-ranked Oklahoma; there’s a chance both could be selected for New Year’s Six bowls because they are both highly ranked in the CFP standings and the loser might not drop very far.

“They might not penalize them in that championship environment,” Hogan said. “If Oklahoma wins, there’s a fighting chance both could stay in the top 10 and get in the New Year’s Six.”

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Cheez-It Bowl seating will be limited to 20% of capacity, and many of the estimated 13,000 tickets will go to the teams and the players’ families. Disneyworld, Universal Studios and Sea World are all open.