TIS THE SEASON to begin speculating on college football bowl destinations for South Carolina and Clemson.
Let’s start with Clemson. In all likelihood, Clemson will play LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
That means the Tigers will conclude the season where they began it, attempting to prove themselves against an SEC opponent. That worked out fine on the first day of September, when Clemson defeated what turned out to be a highly overrated Auburn team at the Georgia Dome.
It might not turn out so well for Clemson on the last day of December in the same building against an LSU club that is an eight-point loss to Florida and a four-point loss to Alabama away from playing for the national championship.
While it appears LSU is a lock for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Clemson’s invitation hinges on the outcome of the ACC championship game on Saturday between Florida State and Georgia Tech.
Should heavily favored Florida State win, it represents the ACC in the Orange Bowl and Clemson goes to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Should Georgia Tech win and go to the Orange Bowl, Florida State would knock Clemson out of the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
The latter result would drop Clemson to the Russell Athletic Bowl played Dec. 28 in Orlando, Fla. The likely opponent for Clemson would be Louisville as the No. 2 representative out of the Big East.
Should Clemson play in Florida, it would be joined four days later by USC, which is all but assured of playing in either the Outback Bowl in Tampa or the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. Both games are played on New Year’s Day with the Outback Bowl kicking off one hour after the Gator Bowl’s noon start.
The outcome of Saturday’s SEC championship game should not affect USC’s bowl standing. The winner of Alabama-Georgia will play in the BCS national title game, and the loser will head to the Capital One Bowl. Florida is locked into the Sugar Bowl by virtue of jumping the loser of the Alabama-Georgia game in the BCS standings.
That leaves the Cotton Bowl drooling over the possibility of having Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy front-runner Johnny Manziel in its game. Since Clemson is likely to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, USC is not a candidate from the SEC, and the bid would go to LSU.
In most years, extending an invitation to USC to play in the Outback Bowl would be a done deal. But there always is some wiggle room, and it could be that USC does not want to return to the Tampa-based bowl for the fourth time since 2001.
On top of that, USC’s likely opponent in Tampa is Northwestern of the Big Ten. Spin that game any way you want, but it is just not a very appealing matchup. The game would garner little, if any, attention nationally and would have a difficult time drawing TV viewers away from the other three games played at the same time — Heart of Dallas Bowl (likely Purdue vs. Iowa State), Capital One Bowl (likely Georgia vs. Michigan) and the Gator Bowl (likely Mississippi State vs. Wisconsin).
All that would change, though, if heavily favored Nebraska loses the Big Ten championship game on Saturday against Wisconsin. The winner of the Big Ten title game goes to the Rose Bowl. The loser goes to the Outback Bowl, which is not likely to stage a rematch of the USC-Nebraska Capital One Bowl of a year ago.
That scenario would force USC to the Gator Bowl, which is not a bad landing. In fact, if you polled USC’s fan base, you just might find it is more interested in the possible down-and-back in one day trip to Jacksonville.
There is much wrangling that goes on behind the scenes, mostly done by conferences that negotiate the best deals possible for their member programs. Conferences often buck the pecking order in bowl selections for various reasons, including fan travel and geography.
It would be wise for USC to approach the SEC about pitching for a Gator Bowl bid. Understand, the Gator Bowl is no more or less prestigious than the Outback Bowl, or Capital One Bowl or Chick-fil-A Bowl, for that matter.
A USC-Wisconsin matchup in Jacksonville probably would sell more tickets to the Gamecock fan base. Plus, USC has not played in the Gator Bowl since 1987, when the ninth-ranked Gamecocks fell to seventh-ranked LSU, 30-13. USC also lost Gator Bowls to Wake Forest in 1946, Pittsburgh in 1980 and Oklahoma State in 1984.
Steve Spurrier has touted the many “firsts” his teams have accomplished at USC, and by playing in Jacksonville, he could chalk up another one by winning a Gator Bowl.