By: Matt Moscona
As the assembled media was waiting to enter the LSU postgame locker room for some explanation of the madness that was Saturday, I ended up having a long conversation with a Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl representative about the possibility of LSU heading to Orlando.
The representative, Jonathan Gorman, first asked Lafayette radio host Dave Schultz if he felt LSU fans would be excited to travel to the Orlando-based game. Dave pointed to me and said, “Ask him.” Before I answered, my only question to Gorman was who the Big Ten opponent would be.
His response: The Michigan Wolverines.
I am fairly certain I surprised Gorman when I let out an exasperated expletive when he mentioned a possible LSU-Michigan matchup. Over the years, LSU fans have made it clear that the two games they would most like to see the Tigers play are with Michigan and USC (Yep, there is still lingering resentment from the 2003 split national title.).
My assumption was that LSU would not be a target for Citrus because of the recent three-game losing streak, but there are several factors that could make this matchup a reality.
Let’s start with the SEC Championship game participants. If we assume Alabama wins, they will advance to the College Football Playoff. It is important to note that the Sugar Bowl must take an SEC team in years they are not a semifinal host. That would mean Florida would likely land in New Orleans. I suppose there is a chance Ole Miss could sneak into the Sugar Bowl, which would make Florida a virtual lock for Orlando, but Ole Miss would have to be ranked higher than the Gators by the Playoff Selection Committee. An ugly loss to Alabama could send Florida plummeting down the rankings and land the Rebels in New Orleans.
If Florida is in New Orleans, it would make sense that Ole Miss would then head to Orlando, but that wouldn’t be a great option for the Citrus Bowl since the Rebels are scheduled to open the 2016 season at that same venue against Florida State. It is not unprecedented for a team to finish one season and open the next in the same location (See: LSU playing in to Cotton Bowl in 2010 then opening the 2011 season in the same venue against Oregon.). Gorman made it clear to me that their committee’s objective is to book a matchup that will be attractive for fans to travel to benefit the city of Orlando and the non-profit organizations the committee supports.
The other two East schools that could be a possibility are Tennessee and Georgia. Tennessee could be an intriguing option since they haven’t been to Orlando since January 1, 2002. Georgia has always traveled well to Orlando but has made the trip three times since the 2003 season. There is also uncertainty with how the Bulldogs fans will react to Mark Richt’s firing Sunday.
Which brings the conversation back to LSU. Gorman assured me that LSU made a good impression on the Citrus Bowl committee during its last visit after the 2009 season. He even acknowledged LSU fan disappointment with the stadium and field conditions for the Penn State game that year and was quick to point out the $207 million in renovations to the field and venue itself since then. Gorman noted the attractiveness of a Miles-Harbaugh matchup and even cited LSU fan response for Miles Saturday and Shaquille O’Neal—who still owns a home in Orlando—lobbying for LSU to head to the Citrus Bowl Saturday night as positives for the Tigers.
It is important to note that Gorman is only one member of the committee and cannot predict what other members might be thinking. His objective in Baton Rouge Saturday was to make sure that, if selected, LSU fans would be excited about the Citrus Bowl and not view it as a consolation game. He also made it clear to me that the Citrus Bowl committee picks it’s participants and does not have teams placed in that game as is the case with the Pool of Six: Outback, Belk, Liberty, Music City, Texas, and Taxslayer. LSU is in no way a lock to head to Orlando, but it is a possibility that will receive strong consideration.
For me, the key to LSU fans getting excited enough to spend New Year’s in Orlando relies on the Maize and Blue on the opposing sideline. LSU and Michigan have never played in football (Amazing, right?) and Miles’ affection for his alma mater has put the Wolverines in the forefront of the collective LSU consciousness for the past 11 years. If we were talking about an LSU matchup with any other Big Ten team, it is hard to imagine it moving the needle with LSU fans.
Apparently, there is a likely scenario that would land Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. It would take three Big Ten teams playing in New Year’s Six games, which is not a far-fetched idea. The Michigan State-Iowa winner will likely land a spot in the College Football Playoff. Ohio State is a virtual lock for a New Year’s Six bowl, which would leave the Big Ten title game loser. Would a 12-1 Iowa drop out of the Top 11? Would a two-loss Michigan State settle in a New Year’s Six game? If so, then Michigan heads to Orlando against an SEC school, possibly LSU.
Tiger fans have not traveled well to the past three bowl destinations. New Year’s in Disney with the Tigers lining up against those famed winged helmets might be the right recipe to reverse that pattern.
Note: This post has been updated to correct an error regarding how SEC teams are placed in the Sugar Bowl.