ATHENS - Georgia is almost certainly going to end up playing its bowl game in a city it has already played this year: Jacksonville, Atlanta or Nashville. But athletics director Greg McGarity remains confident that the fan base will show up no matter what, because it wants to see this particular Bulldog team play one more time.
“This is a team that people have really enjoyed watching, through the good times and the bad times,” McGarity said on Monday. “I think they always know, and I think it’s been a trademark, that we’re going to give a great effort every week. There may be a little dip every now and then as far as execution, but we certainly have had a year that has kept our fans – and those that watch on TV – we’ve kept them engaged the whole game.
“So they know that there’s a fighting spirit on this team, that is a trademark of our program. And I think that’s why our people enjoy following our team, is they know they’re going to get an exciting brand of football. Offense scores a lot of points. And it’s something that I think our fans just enjoy watching that style of play.
Georgia (8-4) has had a disappointing season as it relates to its preseason top 10 rankings, and will not be appearing in the SEC championship for the first time in three years. They also lost a marketable star in quarterback Aaron Murray, who tore his ACL against Kentucky.
But the Bulldogs have played in so many close games, coming within a tipped pass from beating Auburn, that McGarity believes bowls will remain intrigued. And indeed the Gator Bowl, which is fifth in the SEC’s non-BCS pecking order, has been up front about its interest in Georgia. McGarity and Rick Catlett, the head of the Gator Bowl, have known each other for decades, dating to McGarity’s first stint at Georgia. McGarity was Georgia’s point man on arrangements for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, while Jeremy Foley was Florida’s.
But McGarity said that he doesn't do any personal lobbying with bowls, that those days are over.
"We basically just have communications with the conference office. They take the ball and go from there," McGarity said.
The Chick-fil-A (in Atlanta) picks just before the Gator, and the Music City (Nashville) comes after that. The Chick-fil-A has reportedly keyed in on Texas A&M, which is also 8-4, but McGarity hasn’t discounted going to the Georgia Dome yet.
“We’re gonna be an attractive team to a number of sites. I think we’d be attracted to Atlanta, I think we’d be attracted to Jacksonville,” McGarity said. “Obviously we’re not up in the conversation maybe with Orlando (for the Capital One) or Tampa (for the Outback), just because of where we fall in the ranking, so to speak. But our fans traveled extremely well to Memphis when we were 6-6. And obviously have supported us in the two Florida bowls the past two years.
“If you’re in Atlanta you’re playing an ACC foe, if you’re in Jacksonville you’re playing a Big Ten foe. And they’re both NFL stadiums. So you’re going to a city that has those NFL qualities about it.”
Here's the pecking order of SEC bowls, other than the BCS:
Capital One: Jan. 1, vs. Big Ten.
Cotton: Jan. 3, vs. Big 12.
Outback: Jan. 1, vs. Big Ten
Chick-fil-A: Dec. 31, vs. ACC
Gator: Jan. 1, vs. Big Ten
Music City: Dec. 30 vs. ACC
Liberty: Dec. 31 vs. AAC or Conference USA
BBVA Compass Bowl: Jan. 5 vs. AAC
The SEC is virtually guaranteed to have two teams in the BCS, even if it doesn't get a team in the national title game.
Four teams are virtually guaranteed to be picked ahead of Georgia: Alabama, Auburn, Missouri and South Carolina. In other words, there's no chance Georgia can be picked for a BCS bowl, the Capital One or the Cotton.
The Outback is technically still a possibility. But not if the Capital One picks South Carolina, and the Cotton picks LSU. That would leave one of the double-digit win teams (likely the SEC championship loser) available for the Outback, which would have to take that team over Georgia. Either way, there doesn't seem much chance of the Outback picking Georgia for the second time in three years.
The next bowl in the pecking order would be the Chick-fil-A. That still can't be ruled out, but various indications are that the Chick-fil-A likes the sound of Johnny Manziel in its game.
Then comes the Gator Bowl. Let's assume for a second it is left with a choice of Georgia, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. Rick Catlett, the president of the Gator Bowl, has been pretty open about his interest in Georgia. The loss by Ole Miss made the Gator selecting the Rebels even less likely.
Then there's Vanderbilt. The Commodores have the same record as the Bulldogs, and beat them head-to-head. But Georgia is much more likely to travel in large numbers to Jacksonville. There seems only one way then that the Gator, under this scenario, would take Vanderbilt: The SEC office would lobby on Vanderbilt's behalf, seeking to avoid forcing the Commodores to fall to the Music City (in their own city) or Liberty (in their own state). So far, there are no indications that will happen.
As for Georgia's possible opponent, if it's the Gator Bowl, Michigan remains the most likely Big Ten team to be selected. The Gator Bowl has the third pick of Big Ten teams that don't make a BCS bowl. (The first two picks are by the Capital One and Outback). Ohio State and Michigan State, which meet in Saturday's Big Ten championship, are currently projected for BCS bids, but the loser of that game could fall out. Wisconsin (9-3), Iowa (8-4), Michigan (7-5) and Nebraska (7-5) are the next possible teams.
Clarification: Earlier today this post included information about the SEC rule on selection teams, i.e. not selecting a team with two more losses than an available team. The SEC office informed me later this evening that in fact the rule only applies to the Capital One Bowl, and only if two SEC teams make the BCS. Since that's virtually guaranteed, every SEC bowl is technically free to pick any conference team. However, it's very likely the SEC would exert pressure to make reasonable choices, for example not picking a seven-win team when an 11-win team is available.