Gator Bowl eyeing UGA

Bulldogs could be heading back to Jacksonville if they win final two games

Mark Richt

Mark Richt

Athens — How does Georgia versus Michigan sound?

It sounds real good to the people who run the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. If the Bulldogs (6-4, 4-3 SEC) win their final two games of the season and finish 8-4, that’s very likely where they’ll end up.

“We’re focused on Georgia,” said Rick Catlett, president and CEO of the Gator Bowl Association. “Right now that’s where we’d like to go if they win the rest of their games.”

Catlett said the Gator is focusing on Michigan and Nebraska on the Big Ten side of the matchup. Because Georgia and Nebraska played last year in the Capital One Bowl, “we would probably lean more toward Michigan in that case,” he said.

The Wolverines are 7-3 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten’s Legends Division. Nebraska is 7-3 and 4-2.

If Georgia-Michigan comes to pass, they will meet on the football field for the first time in almost 49 years and just the third time ever. The last time they played was 1965 when a young coach named Vince Dooley took his second UGA team to Ann Arbor and beat heavily-favored Michigan 15-7 in 1965. The Wolverines won 26-0 in Ann Arbor in 1957.

“They haven’t played Michigan in many years, which would be interesting,” Catlett said of the Bulldogs. “It will be Aaron Murray’s last game as a Georgia quarterback. He may end up in a Jaguar uniform — you never know — and he’s a real marquee guy. So we’d be excited about having them.”

Dooley was still coach the last time the Bulldogs played in the Gator Bowl. He had already announced his retirement and was coaching his last game after 25 years as head coach when Georgia defeated Michigan State 34-27 on Jan. 1, 1989.

Catlett feels like the Gator Bowl will be getting a steal if Georgia is available when it makes its selection on Dec. 7.

“Not many teams could survive what Georgia has been through from an injury standpoint in the Southeastern Conference and still win eight games,” he said. “Had we started talking about (getting Georgia) in August we probably would have laughed. No way. Then to be a fluke away from beating Auburn and maybe finishing 9-3 and tying for the Eastern Division, there’s a lot of very, very strong positives about Georgia….”

Of course, much still has to happen before all the SEC bowl scenarios are solidified. Right now the Bulldogs are in a three-team mix along with LSU and Ole Miss for the Outback, Chick-fil-A and Gator. But it still has to be determined what’s going to happen between Missouri and South Carolina. Missouri (9-1, 5-1) has games remaining with Ole Miss on Saturday and Texas A&M on Nov. 30. South Carolina (8-2, 6-2) is finished with conference play and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Missouri. If either team makes it to Atlanta and loses in the SEC title, they’ll also be in that mix.

“The talent in the SEC teams is pretty strong for the bowl selection,” Catlett said.

The Gator is sixth in the SEC selection order after any BCS qualifiers. Should Georgia drop another game either to Kentucky (2-8, 0-6) or Georgia Tech, they could drop a spot to the Music City Bowl in Nashville (No. 7) or the Liberty Bowl in Memphis (8).

Some Georgia players have explored the bowl possibilities while others have not.

“Just amongst the players I’ve heard the Gator Bowl is a possibility,” said sophomore tackle John Theus, who hails from Jacksonville. “I think that’d be cool. I could save some money and eat at home.”

Said senior receiver Rantavious Wooten: “I’m not really concerned about bowls. I’m looking at it like I’ve got three games left. We can play in Alaska for all I care.”