Trivia time. When was the last time a school from Texas played in the Sun Bowl? If you guessed any year this millennium, you would be incorrect. 1998 was the last year that a school from the Lone Star State went out to the West Texas town of El Paso for the venerable bowl. That year, TCU from the WAC filled the tie-in the Big Ten left open and beat USC 34-19. This drought is surprising since the Big 12 had a tie-in with the Sun Bowl in alternating years from 2006-2009.
Now, the conferences have shuffled seemingly in the Sun Bowl’s favor. Yesterday, news broke of the ACC beginning talks to add SMU along with Cal and Stanford after the departure of six PAC-12 members to the Big 12 and Big Ten.
These moves benefit the Sun Bowl twofold. First, should SMU join the ACC, they give the ACC a Texas school. The ACC has sent a school to the Sun Bowl ever since the 2010 game. SMU would be the easy choice as the ACC pick for the Sun Bowl as they would become the closest team to El Paso in the ACC at 600 miles away.
Additionally, they are overdue for a Sun Bowl bid. The Mustangs’ last appearance in the El Paso bowl was in the 1983 edition. Since their notorious Death Penalty in the mid-1980s, SMU has yet to appear in a bowl as prestigious as the Sun Bowl, with the closest competitor being their appearances in either the Armed Forces Bowl or BBVA Compass Bowl.
Conference realignment also opens the door for something the Sun Bowl has not seen in over 80 years. 1937 was the last time the Sun Bowl featured a matchup between two Texas schools when Hardin-Simmons played the Texas School of Mines, now known as UTEP. Gas was 10 cents, and Snow White was the highest-grossing film the last time two Texas schools played in the Sun Bowl.
With the PAC-12’s demise, the Sun Bowl and the other PAC-12 bowl partners must frantically search for new conference partners. Currently, the Sun Bowl hosts a matchup between the ACC and PAC-12. The Big 12 is a front-runner featuring two Arizona and four Texas schools. A matchup between SMU and one of their former Southwest Conference foes would create an incredible rivalry game atmosphere. It could start a new trend where bowl matchups cater to a return to tradition as conferences continue to escape their original geographic footprints. Also, featuring two fan bases within a drivable distance from the bowl could give the Sun Bowl its first sellout since 2010.
While there is much concern with the direction of college football after recent realignment developments, one of college football’s oldest traditions benefiting from the shuffling is a small silver lining everyone can enjoy.