“San Antonio just called!”
Photo by Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic

The Alamo Bowl remembered the Arizona Wildcats.

In a surprising turn of events the San Antonio-based bowl ignored the last month of the season and selected slumping Arizona over surging Washington to play in the Dec. 29 game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

After five weeks of frustration the Cats caught a break. The best available bowl with the highest possible payout against a top-15 team. No other 7-5 team got it so good.

The UA caught a number of breaks, actually. Arizona tied for 5th in the final Pac-10 standings with Oregon State and ASU. Considering the Wildcats lost to both teams it’s not hard to argue the UA was the 7th-best team in the conference.

But the Cats played a 7-5 Iowa team this year instead of the 11-2 Hawkeyes from last year. Oregon State over-scheduled, Arizona State under-scheduled and USC cheated. Oregon went undefeated which made Stanford look good enough to get a very rare second BCS bid for the Pac-10.

All that adds up to an invitation from a $3 million bowl for a team that hasn’t won since before Halloween. If bowl bids were divvied up by the March Madness selection committee the 2010 Wildcats would be sweating out the bubble. Instead they’ve been given a free pass to the Sweet 16.

Now the question is: What are you going to do with it? Are you going to lay an egg and give everyone just cause to say you had no business being there (see Bowl, 2009 Holiday)? Or are you going to show up prepared and conditioned, play good football and give yourself a chance to pull off the upset?

The Wildcats also caught a break in the opponent. Not because Oklahoma State isn’t good. You don’t go 10-2 with the #1 offense in all the land (the Cowboys outgained Oregon by exactly one yard over 12 games) without being a very strong team.

What makes it a favorable matchup for the Cats is OSU isn’t a traditional football factory. The Cowboys don’t have a defense that will hold you to 46 passing yards. Quite the opposite; Oklahoma State is 90th in total defense and 115th in pass defense.

Yes, OSU will be a large favorite and deservedly so. But the Cowboys’ weaknesses nicely align with Arizona’s strength – passing for over 300 yards a game – so there’s a source of competitive optimism.

It’s the first year under the Pac-10’s new contract with the Alamo Bowl but it will be the third time a Pac team has played in the game. The winner of the very first Alamo Bowl game was the 1993 Cal team. Wildcat fans may remember them as the subject of many a horrid dream.

This will be Oklahoma State’s third postseason visit to San Antonio. The Cowboys lost both the 1997 and 2004 Alamo Bowls to Big Ten teams. OSU has played a Pac-10 team in a bowl game once before, losing to Oregon in the 2008 Holiday Bowl.

It’ll be very interesting to see how Wildcat Universe treats this game. It’s not an easy trip from Tucson. You’re either going to be spending a ton of time on the road (867 miles one way) or you’re going to be digging deeper into the travel budget. And, as we all know, this squad isn’t exactly on fire. The Cats are currently Smokey the Bear’s favorite team.

If a large red-and-blue contingent descends upon the Alamo Dome it would boost Arizona’s reputation among the bowl community. But if the stadium is a sea of orange, this big bowl break may be the Wildcats’ last big bowl break.

One year after the embarrassing shutout in San Diego the Cats will get another crack at a top Big 12 team. It’s a tremendous opportunity to right a bunch of wrongs. Does one win in a non-BCS bowl make up for four losses to end the regular season? No. And it certainly won’t make any Wildcat forget the Extra Point Game. But it would stop the backslide and give the program a good taste in its mouth as it prepares for the birth of Pac-12 play.

This game is also a chance to exorcise some demons. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the first time a Pac-10 team returns to the Alamo Bowl it’s the team afflicted by the Curse of Davy Crockett?

Thems the breaks.

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Scott Terrell remembers the nine-year bowl drought too well to miss this game. Follow him on the road to San Antonio via Facebook and Twitter.