Gator Bowl president: 'I truly believe it's going to be Iowa, Michigan or Penn State'

Daily Sports Editor
Published December 3, 2010

For the first time in three years, the Michigan football team will be among those waiting and anticipating bowl announcements this Sunday.

Throughout the latter part of the season, media observers and fans have speculated that Michigan would play in the Insight Bowl, in Tempe, Az. on Dec. 28.

But last night at the team’s banquet, Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon hinted that the Wolverines could be playing in a New Year ’s Day bowl out east — which fits the description of both the Outback Bowl and the Gator Bowl.

In a phone interview with the Daily, Gator Bowl President Rick Catlett said that Michigan is one of the teams that could be picked to head to Jacksonville for the afternoon New Year’s Day game.

“I truly believe it’s going to be Iowa, Michigan or Penn State,” Catlett said. “And I’ve got a sense that Penn State’s going to be in the Outback Bowl. But I don’t have any facts to back that up.”

The bowl selections on Sunday should be interesting for the clustered Big Ten conference.

No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 8 Michigan State sit atop the Big Ten with 11-1 records and top-10 BCS rankings. When the final BCS standings are released, the highest-ranked team will represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl and a second team could also receive a BCS bowl bid.

After the BCS bowls, the Capital One Bowl and then the Outback Bowl get their pick of Big Ten teams before the Gator Bowl. Iowa, Michigan and Penn State — and maybe Illinois, depending on the outcome of Friday night's game against Fresno State — all are 7-5 and candidates to be selected after the upper echelon.

This Sunday, once the top bowls select Big Ten teams, Catlett will meet with the Gator Bowl committee to discuss their options and make a decision.

Catlett said Michigan, Penn State and Iowa "all fill the major criteria."

"They have large alumni bases. They have large stadiums, with fans filling up their stadiums on Saturdays," he said. "As it relates to traveling, there’s a tremendous amount of people that live in the state of Florida who are Michigan alumni, Penn State alumni.”

Throughout the season, Catlett and those involved in the decision-making process evaluate teams on a weekly basis. They look at the school’s alumni base, location, school size, stadium size and TV ratings, among other factors. Schools are moved up and down on a big board in the Gator Bowl offices along the way.

The Wolverines are an attractive team for any bowl based on their giant alumni following and because they have the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year at quarterback.

“Michigan ranks very high with TV ratings,” Catlett said. “There’s interest in Michigan and Penn State football all over the country. So you’ve got the number of people who can travel, the number of heads in beds and you also have that national image. … They really fill all three criteria. Then if you take the next step, the star power. One of the best quarterbacks in college football plays at Michigan.

“On television I’ve probably seen five Michigan games this year. And I probably saw one of the best games I’ve seen in my life against Illinois. That was an unbelievable game.”

But one knock against the Wolverines is that they lost to both of their main competitors for a spot in the Gator Bowl — Iowa and Penn State.

The Gator Bowl’s other conference tie-in is with the Southeastern Conference, which still has to play its conference championship game on Saturday. When that is decided, the picture will be much clearer. Catlett mentioned Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi State and South Carolina as potential schools for the other spot.

Though economics will enter the decision for Catlett, he said he won’t schedule a game that would likely be a blowout.

“The last thing you want is for a team to score 100 points and other to not score at all,” Catlett said.