By BRAD LOCKE / NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Rick Catlett said the Gator Bowl wasn’t coerced into inviting Mississippi State, but it sure did receive an education about the Bulldogs.
Catlett, president of the Gator Bowl, was on campus Monday – a day after his committee matched up No. 21 MSU with Michigan in the Jan. 1 game in Jacksonville, Fla. (12:30 p.m., ESPN2).
“Your athletic director worked very, very hard to convince my board to make this selection,” Catlett said.
Scott Stricklin indeed was tireless in pitching the Bulldogs, even taking to Twitter on Sunday outlining why State deserved a good bowl. At the time, the lower-tier Music City Bowl seemed a possible destination.
There was a report in the Florida Times-Union insinuating that SEC commissioner Mike Slive pushed the Gator Bowl toward taking the Bulldogs if the Outback Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl both passed on them. Catlett said while there was communication with Slive, there was no arm-twisting.
The Gator Bowl selection committee met for 20 minutes Sunday and voted unanimously to invite MSU.
“It’s sort of a rule or feeling around bowl games, in conferences, that you don’t pass a team that’s had the kind of season Mississippi State’s had for a team that might’ve had two less wins – in other words, a 6-6 team over an 8-4 team,” Catlett said. “While (Slive’s) not going to tell you who ought to play where, he is going to kind of walk you through the season they had, TV ratings and things like that.”
• Catlett confirmed that cowbells would be welcome at EverBank Field, saying fans “can ring them any time they want to.”
He later checked himself, saying he’d “prefer them to do it the way they learned to do it this year and not do it during plays.”
The SEC approved a policy over the summer to allow cowbells into Davis Wade Stadium for SEC games so long as they were rung at appropriate times.
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has heard the cowbells before, so he knows he’d better prepare his players to hear them Jan. 1.
He was the head man at West Virginia when the Mountaineers played MSU in 2006 and ’07. They beat the Bulldogs both times, and the first game was played in Starkville with the cowbells ringing.
Rodriguez told reporters Monday that the Wolverines will practice with a cowbell soundtrack, just like he did it at West Virginia. “Our guys were annoyed with it,” he said.
• The Gator Bowl was within a few hundred tickets Monday of selling out the game. EverBank Field has a capacity of 77,000, and MSU was allotted 16,500 tickets. That allotment has been sold out.
Michigan was given 12,500 tickets.
Michigan the ‘home’ team
• Michigan will wear its blue home jerseys and is designated as the home team, which means MSU will wear its white uniforms. Conferences rotate home team status each year.
Like MSU, Michigan begins bowl work on Friday. The Wolverines will report to Jacksonville on Christmas, while the Bulldogs report on Dec. 26.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.