Bowls try to make sense of crazy season

ATHENS – Paul Hoolahan's travel budget has gone up significantly this year.

Hoolahan is the CEO of the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and, as such, is hosting his bowl game and this year's BCS national championship game after this season.

"It was hard to predict that some of these teams that are presently on the radar would be on the radar at the beginning of the season," Hoolahan said. "There are certainly some destinations we didn't anticipate."

Eugene, Ore. Lawrence, Kan. Columbia, Mo. Those airfares add up, but the universities of Oregon, Kansas and Missouri all are in the top six of the BCS standings and thus legitimate contenders for a spot in the final game of the season.

And that doesn't even count all the teams Hoolahan has to follow for the Sugar Bowl, which will be played in the Louisiana Superdome on Jan. 1, six days prior to the national championship game.

Think you're having a hard time figuring out the topsy-turvy college football season? Try being the guys who have to sort it all out at the end of the year.

It is this week each season that Gary Stokan, the president of the Chick-fil-A Bowl, normally begins to make a list of which teams might be selected by BCS bowl games so he can start to concentrate on the teams that will be left for the rest of the bowls to chose from.

"I just started laughing in the middle of it," Stokan said. "I said, ‘You know what? This is impossible. This is going to change before the ink is dry.'"

Stokan still has to pay attention to 11 of the 12 SEC teams. The only team in the league that can't become bowl eligible is Ole Miss, but if the SEC has 11 teams with six wins, it could have a problem. It has just eight bowl tie-ins so it might be at the mercy of another bowl being left without a team and having to invite an SEC team with an at-large bid. Outback Bowl president Jim McVay said he would be disappointed if his bowl already had a good idea of what teams would be available to it.

"You're not supposed to have a clear vision," he said. "They are all going to seek their level. Eventually teams will earn what they deserve. It all really sorts itself out these next couple weeks. We love this uncertainty."

No. 10 Georgia, the second-highest ranked team in the SEC, and No. 18 Auburn will do their part to bring some clarity to the situation when they play at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

"This weekend is a huge weekend in the SEC and the Big Ten (the Outback Bowl's other partner)," McVay said. "Let me tell you something, the Bulldogs are not thinking about us. They are thinking about winning the SEC East; they are thinking about winning the SEC championship."

Georgia's ticket office sent out postseason order forms last week, and the form included more choices than it ever has because the Bulldogs still have such a wide range of fates, ticket manager Tim Cearley said.

Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt votes in the national coaches poll, and this has been the toughest year on voters since he's had a ballot, he said.

"It's taken more time than usual to sort it all out," he said. "It's just been so volatile."

This season is the perfect example of why college football does not need a playoff, Stokan said.

"We have a playoff, and it's going on right before our eyes," he said. "It's just that the majority of the country doesn't realize it."

Sports fans have been conditioned, Stokan believes, to think of playoffs as end-of-the-year events.

"We have the luxury in college football of living week-to-week a 12-week, 13-week playoff," he said. "It benefits everybody."

By everybody, he meant the TV executives whose broadcasts get big audiences and the colleges who benefit from the growing TV contracts those audiences bring, not necessarily the people who have to figure it all out at the end.

"The complexion of the Sugar Bowl obviously is very much up in the air right now," Hoolahan

said. "It's intriguing is what it is. To see a host of new names up there is good for college football and also good for the bowl system."


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