Mississippi State is very well end up in the Gator Bowl for the second time in three years, but it’s far from settled.
I just spoke with Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett, who said MSU (8-4, 4-4 SEC) is one of “two, possibly three teams” being considered for the Jan. 1 game in Jacksonville, Fla. The others are South Carolina (10-2, 6-2) and Vanderbilt (8-4, 5-3).
“South Carolina is in the mix only because if they were to fall to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Chick-fil-A Bowl’s got Clemson on the other side,” Catlett said. “If it shakes out the way it should shake out, we’re going to be sitting here looking at Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. That would be my guess.”
So the question is, which team will be more attractive to the Gator Bowl? Catlett wouldn’t let on, but he did say that MSU being in this game just two years ago doesn’t hurt its chances at all. It actually probably helps.
“We had a lot of fun with them, their fans were great,” Catlett said. “Their administration is really easy to work with; they’re professionals. You remember that and think about that when you’re trying to to figure this whole thing out. But Vanderbilt is a very deserving team. They’re on a winning streak, up and coming.”
The Commodores have won six in a row, while State stumbled to a 1-4 finish, including a 41-24 loss to rival Ole Miss. Catlett noted the poor finish but also said that considering who the Bulldogs lost to – including Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU – it shouldn’t be too big a strike against them.
A lot of other factors go into the selection, like pre-sold tickets (both MSU and Vandy are pre-selling), how well the hotels are selling, and of course what the bowls above the Gator are planning. Catlett has been speaking with other bowl executives as well as SEC officials – namely executive associate commissioner Mark Womack and consultant Larry Templeton. Talks will continue through the weekend, and the bowl selections will be announced Sunday evening.
Anyone concerned about Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5) leap-frogging MSU into the Gator Bowl can rest easy. Not gonna happen.
“We will not pass (up) an 8-4 team for a 6-6 team,” Catlett said. “That’s just an integrity thing. It’s usually a bowl deal where if you’ve got a guy with two less wins, you really don’t do that. It’d have to be really strange circumstances for us to do that. And we did it one time, and the year we did it was when (Florida State’s) Bobby Bowden announced he was going to retire. It was going to be his last game. That’s a pretty big circumstance to change your policy.”