ATLANTA — Despite a 6-6 record, the University of Tennessee football team could find itself invited to a New Year’s Day bowl game.
Auburn’s Southeastern Conference championship game win over South Carolina on Saturday set up a possible scenario putting the Volunteers into the Gator Bowl, possibly against Michigan.
“That game would excite a lot of people. I can see why [the Gator] would do that,” another SEC-partnered bowl representative said Saturday afternoon.
Many people, including UT administrators, have thought for weeks that the Vols would go to Nashville’s Music City Bowl — and the Music City still hopes for that. But the Outback Bowl, which occasionally has ignored SEC standings to make better business decisions, might do so again today and pick Florida over South Carolina. That could set up the following chain of events: South Carolina to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, UT to the Gator Bowl, Mississippi State to the Music City Bowl, Georgia to the Liberty Bowl and Kentucky to Birmingham’s Compass Bowl.
UT men’s athletic director Mike Hamilton said he’d be pleased if the Vols play in either the Gator or Music City. And he confirmed those are the two options.
“We have a lot of momentum right now, and that’s always a good thing this time of year,” Hamilton said. “There’s a lot of interest in Tennessee, and there should be.”
Gator Bowl chairman Steve Tremel didn’t comment specifically on any teams in contention for the Jacksonville bowl, but he said its new partnership with the SEC and Big Ten practically guaranteed quality choices.
The Gator recently had been affiliated with the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East.
“One of the big draws for us was getting to conferences like the SEC and Big Ten, that are storied conferences that draw big crowds throughout the year,” Tremel said. “We knew going into this year that we were going to end up with a good pick. At the end of the day, regardless of who we pick, it’s going to be a good team and well-recognized team coming out of both the SEC and the Big Ten.
“When we picked these conferences, we looked at their regular-season, home-game numbers — how they packed the stadiums and the number of fans that come in comparison, as compared to the [previous] two conferences.
Tremel wouldn’t get more specific than that, but other bowl representatives at the Georgia Dome speculated that the Gator — which doesn’t have a title sponsor — would try to snag the best possible TV matchup. Using those parameters, many agreed the best bet would be Tennessee and Michigan.
Had South Carolina upset Auburn and secured a BCS berth, most of the bowl scouts speculated that UT would probably end up in the Music City,which is still an option if the Gator Bowl committee picks Mississippi State over the Vols this afternoon.
Music City officials have said all season they would be very pleased with UT making the short trip on Interstate 40 to Nashville.