By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Gator Bowl officials had no questions about what Mississippi State would bring to the table.
Two bowl officials – chairman Stephen Tremel and executive director Rick Catlett – visited the MSU campus in February and took in a basketball game. They saw Jarvis Varnado break the NCAA career blocks record in front of nearly 8,500 fans at Humphrey Coliseum.
Then they saw the Bulldogs sell out all seven home games in football this year and break the single-season attendance mark for Davis Wade Stadium.
So it was an easy call Sunday to invite the No. 21-ranked Bulldogs (8-4) to the New Year’s Day game in Jacksonville. They’ll play Michigan (7-5) in the first meeting between the schools.
Kickoff is 12:30 p.m. Central time, and the game will be televised by ESPN2.
“Just by watching them all year sell out their stadium, talking to Scott (Stricklin, athletics director) this weekend and understanding how many tickets they’ve already sold with the anticipation of this game, really made our decision very easy,” Tremel said.
The invite ended about 24 hours of nervous anticipation, as MSU was led to believe it might slip to the Music City Bowl because of the Outback Bowl’s interest in Florida (7-5), which MSU beat on Oct 16.
The Gators were indeed invited by the Outback, which has a shared pick with the Cotton Bowl, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl took SEC title game runner-up South Carolina.
After MSU closed the season with a 31-23 win over Ole Miss, it was thought to be headed to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which is played Dec. 31 in Atlanta.
But the Gator, in the first year of a four-year deal with the SEC, stuck with MSU, which is the first SEC team to play in this game since 1994 (Tennessee).
“It doesn’t matter where we’re going to, we’re going to end up in a great bowl, and we’re awfully happy it’s with the Gator Bowl and in Jacksonville,” Stricklin said.
Both teams are in their first bowl game since the 2007 season, when MSU won the Liberty Bowl and Michigan won the Capitol One Bowl.
It’s the first bowl for Michigan, which finished the regular season 7-5 overall and 3-5 in Big 10 play, since Rich Rodriguez took over as coach.
His struggles have many questioning whether Rodriguez is a good fit in Ann Arbor. Much of this year’s success is owed to dynamic sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson, who leads the Big 10 in rushing with 1,643 yards and 14 touchdowns.
He’s also passed for 2,316 yards and 16 TDs with 10 interceptions. Robinson was recruited by Mullen in high school while Mullen was at Florida.
“He’s going to be the most dynamic football player we’ve faced this season,” Mullen said.
MSU will return to the practice fields Friday.
State was allotted 15,000 tickets by the Gator Bowl, and Stricklin said 16,000 have been ordered, so he’s asking for extra tickets. Michigan has an allotment of 12,500.
EverBank Field has a capacity of 77,000.
One question MSU fans are asking is whether cowbells will be allowed at the game. The SEC passed a policy in the summer that allowed MSU fans to ring their cowbells at games, so long as they did so at appropriate times. The rule applied only to SEC home games.
“We’re looking for more cowbell,” Tremel said.
Mullen addresses reports
– There have been several reports in recent days of Mullen being considered for the Miami head coaching job. He said Sunday that the “only administrator I’ve talked to at any university about coaching football is Scott Stricklin.”
He added, “There’s a lot of great things that I think we can get done here at Mississippi State that I want to accomplish here at Mississippi State, and I plan on being the head coach here for a long time.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.