Tigers' invite to Gator Bowl official

pstrelow@thestate.comDecember 3, 2008 

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney celebrates a Clemson tocuhdown in the third quarter of the game.

JEFF BLAKE/JBLAKE@THESTATE.COM

CLEMSON — Clemson has gotten a lot of mileage out of its latest victory against USC.

First, Saturday’s 31-14 romp cemented Dabo Swinney’s promotion to full-time coach.

Now it has catapulted the Tigers to one of the ACC’s most prestigious bowls.

The Gator Bowl invited the Tigers (7-5) on Wednesday. Clemson appears to be playing Nebraska (8-4). Bowl officials wouldn't confirm that, but hundreds of Huskers fans have booked flights and hotels in Jacksonville, Fla., and Tigers coach Dabo Swinney let it slip that he was excited to take on "a great opponent like Nebraska."

The teams have only played once, and Clemson fans remember it well: The Tigers won 22-15 in the Orange Bowl to win the 1981 national championship.

The Cornhuskers cannot be invited until Sunday when the BCS releases one of three Big 12 teams (presumably Texas Tech) currently up for consideration.

Clemson will break the Gator Bowl record for most appearances (nine), breaking out of a tie with Florida. Nebraska, which has won four of its past five games, would be making its Gator Bowl debut.

Clemson's passionate fans, winning four of five games in November and some serious lobbying from athletic director Terry Don Phillips helped get the Tigers the bid, said Kelly Madden, chairman of the group who selects the teams for the Gator Bowl.

"We believe the Clemson fan base will follow their team and support their team like they always do," Madden said.

The ACC title game winner (Boston College or Virginia Tech) automatically advances to the Orange Bowl, and the Chick-fil-A gets first dibs on the remaining at-large ACC bowl qualifiers.

Bowl insiders consider it a foregone conclusion the Chick-fil-A will take hometown Georgia Tech. The Gator Bowl has the next choice, and bowl president Rick Catlett reportedly acknowledged his bowl was deciding between Clemson and Florida State.

As word of Clemson’s selection trickled down Tuesday, the Champs Sports Bowl then honed in on FSU, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel.

That led to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte to lock in on North Carolina, according to the Charlotte Observer.

As it turns out, the ACC’s bowl tie-ins were not sure Clemson would be an option until Monday, two days after the USC win. NCAA rules stipulate that all seven-win teams must be taken before a bowl can grab a six-win team.

Clemson’s record is 7-5, but only six of those wins counts toward bowl eligibility because of two wins against lower-division teams.

ACC associate commissioner Mike Finn said the league sought clarification from the NCAA and was informed Monday that the Tigers were eligible for conference tie-ins because they are considered 6-5 and given priority over a team with a .500 record.

“So they are in our mix, while N.C. State (6-6) is not,” Finn said.

- The Associated Press contributed to this report

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