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Why the SEC Should Scrap the Outback to Get the Gator Back On Board

It was first brought to my attention by Dr. Saturday, and later noted at Team Speed Kills, that the Gator Bowl may become one of the SEC’s automatic postseason tie-ins.

Significant logistical hurdles stand in the way of this becoming a reality, most notably the Capital One Bowl’s exclusive right to host an SEC team in that particular New Year’s Day time slot. In addition, the Gator Bowl would have to be given a top five pick among league teams, which would require bumping another bowl down in the pecking order. The likelihood of a Gator Bowl/SEC partnership, therefore, is low.

You know what? I’d like to see the conference dump one of its other Sunshine State bowl slots in order to get the Gator Bowl back on board. The SEC already boasts tie-ins to the Sugar Bowl (with certain BCS-imposed restrictions), the Cotton Bowl, and the Chick-fil-A (nee Peach) Bowl. Adding the Gator Bowl to that lineup at the expense of the Capital One Bowl or the Outback Bowl would give the league the best set of guaranteed bowl bids of any conference in the country.

The Gator Bowl is the sixth-oldest existing bowl game, behind the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Sun, and Cotton Bowls. Beginning with its inception on January 1, 1946, the Jacksonville-based postseason tilt hosted at least one team from either the ACC or the SEC eighteen of the first nineteen times the game was played. (The Big East is threatening to bail on the Gator Bowl, in which the other guaranteed slot belongs to the ACC.)

The Georgia Bulldogs’ history in the Gator Bowl dates back to the 1947 season and the game holds a special place in Georgia history, as the bowl played host to Vince Dooley’s final game as the Red and Black’s head coach. On occasion, the Gator Bowl has paired SEC squads against one another, matching the Auburn Tigers with the Vanderbilt Commodores in 1955, the Florida Gators with the Mississippi Rebels in 1958, and the Florida Gators with the Tennessee Volunteers in 1969.

The Gator Bowl offers a long history as a bowl game, a strong connection to the Southeastern Conference, and a stadium seating almost 77,000 fans in a city that has proven its ability to host an annual affray involving SEC teams. What, by contrast, do the Capital One and Outback Bowls have to offer?

Admittedly, the Capital One Bowl (in its earliest incarnation) originated only one year later than the Gator Bowl, but its genesis as the Tangerine Bowl filled a niche reserved especially for small schools, by which I do not mean mid-majors, but rather teams that later would play in Division I-AA or the Sun Belt.

The Tangerine Bowl, as it was called prior to becoming the Citrus Bowl in the early ‘80s, initially featured the likes of Catawba, Maryville, Murray State, Emory & Henry, Stetson, Arkansas State, East Texas State, Omaha, Juniata, Presbyterian, The Citadel, Western Kentucky, and---no kidding---Coast Guard. (Insert your Notre Dame Fighting Irish scheduling joke here.)

What is now the Capital One Bowl did not host a ranked team until 1968, did not host a major conference club until 1973, and did not host a top ten team until New Year’s Day 1987. The Capital One Bowl is a Johnny-come-lately to postseason prominence, but even it has a better pedigree than the Outback Bowl.

Before acquiring its current corporate sponsor, the Outback Bowl was known as the Hall of Fame Bowl and the first Hall of Fame Bowl was played at the end of the first quarter of my freshman year of college. The 42nd Gator Bowl was played four days after the inaugural Hall of Fame Bowl.

Although the ‘Dawgs played in that initial Hall of Fame Bowl, and although the Tampa-based postseason tilt welcomed an SEC team in each of the contest’s first four games, that destination has never been anything other than a disappointment for any squad in the league not named the Kentucky Wildcats.

The Florida Citrus Bowl, home of the Capital One Bowl, seats 70,000. Raymond James Stadium, home of the Outback Bowl, seats a little under 66,000, although the arena is expandable to 75,000. Neither stadium is as spacious as the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars and neither Orlando nor Tampa has even half the SEC pedigree of the venue by the St. John’s River.

Get the Gator Bowl back on board. Set up a second SEC bowl tie-in to the ACC, a league that shares much of the same geographic footprint as our own and supplies one-fourth of our conference’s members with their season-ending in-state rivals. Ditch the Outback Bowl (preferably) or the Capital One Bowl (if necessary). Lose the Big Ten tie-ins with which neither league is pleased and get us back into the business of playing teams with which we share some history.

Be honest, now. From the standpoint of history and interest, wouldn’t you rather play the Clemson Tigers than the Michigan St. Spartans? Wouldn’t you prefer to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels than the Iowa Hawkeyes? Wouldn’t you derive more enjoyment from beating the N.C. State Wolfpack than from defeating the Wisconsin Badgers? Heck, at this point, I’m even starting to miss meeting the Virginia Cavaliers in bowl games every now and again. (Three times in a six-year period did get to be a bit much, though.)

Tell the Outback where they can stick their bloomin’ onion. Tell the Capital One we don’t care what’s in their wallet. With all due apologies to U.S. Representative Corrine Brown, go Gator!

Go ‘Dawgs!