The savior of traditional SEC vs. ACC regular-season football rivalries that were eliminated from the 2020 schedule might be the bowl system.
And the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl would likely jump at the chance to host one of those games – especially Florida vs. Florida State.
“Our game matches an SEC vs. and ACC team, so we could host Florida vs. FSU and not worry about it being a regular-season re-match,” Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett said on Monday. “I absolutely would think our selection committee would love that game. It would be perfect for us.”
Catlett has announced his retirement and if his replacement is hired before the bowl selection process begins, he said he would serve in a consulting role to the new Gator Bowl president and the selection committee.
“But I would consult them and say grab a Florida vs. FSU game if they could,” he said.
For any bowls to be played, however, a season will have to have been completed, which isn’t guaranteed given the coronavirus pandemic.
And if the Gators were in the Gator Bowl, it would have meant performing below expectations.
UF has made a New Year’s Six game in each of coach Dan Mullen’s first two seasons (winning the Peach and Orange) and with quarterback Kyle Trask, the usual cast of talented skill-position players and defense that is reloading, UF is headed in that direction again.
However, after back-to-back losing seasons, a Gator Bowl spot for the first time since 2009 would be a sign of progress for the Seminoles under new coach Mike Norvell.
The other regular-season SEC vs. ACC games that were eliminated when the SEC released its conference-only schedule last week are Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, South Carolina vs. Clemson and Kentucky vs. Louisville.
Those games could theoretically be slotted in one of the College Football Playoff semifinals (Sugar and Rose) or the Orange Bowl (ACC vs. the highest-ranked available team from the SEC or the Big Ten).
Based on preseason projections, the only teams involved in the traditional SEC vs. ACC rivalries who realistically are in the mix for a CFP or New Year’s Six game are Florida, Georgia and Clemson.
That would leave the Gator and the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., as the only other games that match the SEC vs. ACC.
The only drawback is that no bowl game, regardless of the matchup, would generate huge ticket sales or bring a substantial economic impact to the host city.
Because of COVID-19 safeguards issued on the state and local level, only about 17,000 fans could attend a game at TIAA Bank Field (25 percent of capacity) – unless the positivity rate of COVID-19 cases in the area and Florida takes a dramatic downturn between now and the end of the college regular season.
Catlett said the two participating teams would likely receive most of the tickets.
“Once they tell us they’re going to have a bowl season, we’ve got to find out how many tickets the universities are going to want and what that leaves for our people.”
The Gator Bowl sold more tickets locally (20,000) for last year’s Tennessee vs. Indiana game than the total amount that will be available this year.
Catlett said bowl trips may also be downsized.
“They may decide to send the teams in the night before a bowl game and leave after the game, like a regular-season road game,” Catlett said. “The first thing for them is to get a season put together and last week [the SEC announcing a schedule] was very encouraging. It was a positive step to actually having a bowl season.”
Catlett said he doesn’t anticipate bowl dates being set for about another month.
The process for finding his replacement has been slowed by the uncertainty over the 2020 college football season. John Duce, the 2020 Gator Bowl chairman and head of the search committee, said there is to firm timetable.
“With the fluid environment in football, we think taking our time is better for candidates and us,” he said. “So, we are engaging but we are taking a slow approach until we have some more clarity on the season.”
Catlett announced his retirement on June 4 after 28 years as the Gator Bowl president.