IRVING, Texas -- Let's not pretend here.
Face the facts. It doesn't have the three-letter stamp of approval or the $17 million payout. It doesn't have the shiny logo in the end zone.
It has everything else -- at least, everything else that counts from folks not getting a cut of the bowl money.
The Cotton Bowl isn't a BCS bowl. Yet. But it's the closest thing to it.
It has two top 10 teams. Two BCS bowls can't say that. It's played in an 80,000-seat, shiny new venue that's widely considered the best football stadium in the country. It might very well be filled to the brim on Friday night, as it was in last year's game between Texas A&M and LSU.
We know one BCS bowl definitely can't say that. Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl attracted just 64,512 fans, the third-lowest total in the past 72 years.
It also matches up two teams from college football's two best conferences, the SEC and the Big 12, in the only bowl pairing those leagues.
Should it be in the BCS?
"I only have one answer that I can make here, right? It has to be yes," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder joked on Wednesday.
Joking or not, Snyder says the bowl deserves the designation.
"From the bottom of my heart, I certainly think so," he said. "I think the Cotton Bowl Classic is a bowl deserving to be in the upper echelon of all the bowls throughout the country."
Could that change? The Cotton Bowl hasn't been shy about its desire to be officially designated as one of college football's upper echelon bowls.
Moving out of the stadium for which your game is named and into a primetime slot says plenty. Bowl chairman Tommy Bain said more last year.
"We're really preparing now for 2012 to position ourselves to make a compelling argument that we should be in the mix at the top of the college football landscape," he told the Dallas Morning News.
Well, here it is. Argument made. And it's a strong one.
The BCS exists in its current form until 2014, but the Cotton Bowl's best hope might be the BCS deciding to do away with a rotating national championship game that serves as a second game in the same stadium a week after a BCS bowl.
Instead of the double duty, the Cotton Bowl could become the fifth game. That, however, could renew rifts in conference ties, particularly the Big Ten and Pac-12's deep relationship with the Rose Bowl that was consistently broken before the advent of the additional BCS game in 2007.
The logistics are shaky. The game has to find a place, and there's not a clear one now. But there's no question: Top to bottom, the Cotton Bowl has done its part.
Five years ago, Arkansas played Missouri in this game shortly after the Hogs hired Bobby Petrino. It made an impact on him then, even with its morning kickoff and old home.
"At that time I was kind of surprised that it wasn’t in the BCS," he said. "Certainly we will see what happens here in the near future. Something always changes. That is one thing about college football, there is always going to be something that changes. The way we have been treated here and the move to Cowboys Stadium, I certainly think it will be."
It's not up to Petrino, though. It's not up to the Big 12, either, who would love to welcome a BCS bowl inside its footprint. If you let the ACC and Big East share the Orange Bowl, it joins the Big Ten as the only major conference without a BCS game on its home turf. The Big 12 would love that to change.
Change is slow in the world of college football. And for now, the Cotton Bowl is left at its mercy.