When the CFP rankings were released Tuesday night, TaxSlayer Gator Bowl President Rick Catlett made two phone calls: one to South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner and one to Texas A&M Athletics Director Scott Woodward.
Woodward was on a hunting trip with Aggies boosters, but Catlett got ahold of Tanner.
“His cellphone is on speed dial,” Catlett said. “The fan base has always favored South Carolina, and the fact that their athletic director is probably one of the best people in the business certainly helps things.”
South Carolina’s chances of landing in the Gator Bowl, which will be played at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 31, increased Tuesday night when LSU was ranked No. 10 in the CFP rankings, which means the Tigers will play in a New Year’s Six bowl game. That moves everybody else in the SEC pecking order up one spot.
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“With the SEC playing four up, that kind of shuffles everything it looked like we were going to do,” Catlett told The State on Wednesday. “I think it’ll take the SEC a few days to sort through that.”
Bowl selections will be finalized Sunday. Bowl officials will send the SEC office a list of their choices ranked Nos. 1-3. The conference office will call each bowl game back later in the day with the options that are available to them.
“We have wanted to have South Carolina now for a couple years,” Catlett said. “Their fan base is tremendous. Ray Tanner is an unbelievable guy to deal with. Will Muschamp is a great coach. I have liked him for a while now, the way he coaches, the kind of kids he recruits. We would love to have them in our bowl game. The process goes through the SEC office now.”
The Gamecocks last played in the Gator Bowl in 1987, losing 30-13 to LSU.
The Aggies have a résumé advantage over the Gamecocks when it comes to the selection process. Texas A&M is ranked No. 19 in the CFP standings, 8-4 overall and beat the Gamecocks 26-23 in Williams-Brice Stadium earlier this season.
South Carolina is 6-5 overall and unranked heading into Saturday’s final regular season game against Akron. The Gamecocks’ main advantage in the process is geography.
“Texas A&M is the furthest SEC team away but probably has the largest fan base, and they are coming off an instant classic game so their fans are probably pumped up,” Catlett said. “For South Carolina, they haven’t been here in so long, and I can make it up there in four hours. I understand the Florida game didn’t go their way, but there isn’t any shame in losing a pretty well fought game against Clemson.”
Catlett planned to talk to Woodward on Wednesday, he said. He did not call any other schools Tuesday night.
“South Carolina and Texas A&M are the two teams we have been focused on,” he said.
LSU playing in a New Year’s Six game likely clears the way for Kentucky, 9-3 and 15th in the CFP rankings, to play in the Citrus Bowl. Mississippi State, which is 8-4 and ranked No. 18 in the CFP rankings, could then go to the Outback Bowl.
If the Gamecocks don’t land in Jacksonville, the most likely spot appears to be the Dec. 29 Belk Bowl in Charlotte. Tanner said Wednesday on 107.5 The Game that he has submitted a list to the SEC ranking USC’s preferences from among the six bowl possibilities. Tanner did not reveal the order he submitted. The six bowls that remain a possibility are the Outback, TaxSlayer, Belk, Music City, Liberty and Texas bowls.
“We would like to get in a situation where our fans could travel,” Tanner said.
SOUTH CAROLINA BOWL PROJECTIONS
▪ ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura — Liberty Bowl (Memphis) vs. Baylor, Dec. 31
▪ ESPN’s Mitch Sherman — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. Pitt, Dec. 29
▪ Sports Illustrated — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. Duke, Dec. 29
▪ CBS Sports — Liberty Bowl (Memphis) vs. TCU, Dec. 31
▪ SB Nation — Gator Bowl (Jacksonville) vs. Michigan State, Dec. 31
▪ 247Sports — Gator Bowl (Jacksonville) vs. Purdue, Dec. 31
▪ College Football News — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. North Carolina State, Dec. 29
▪ Sporting News — Gator Bowl (Jacksonville) vs. Northwestern, Dec. 31
▪ Saturday Down South — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. North Carolina State, Dec. 29
▪ Bleacher Report — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. Pittsburgh, Dec. 29
▪ NBC Sports — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. Georgia Tech, Dec. 29
▪ The Athletic — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. Virginia, Dec. 29
▪ USA Today — Belk Bowl (Charlotte) vs. Virginia, Dec. 29
▪ Athlon Sports — Music City Bowl (Nashville) vs. Michigan State, Dec. 28