SEC teams scramble to salvage, upgrade bowl hopes

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) The Florida Gators haven’t sat out the
postseason in nearly a quarter century. The Vanderbilt Commodores, who
had been to four bowl games in 120 years before James Franklin’s
arrival, have a good shot at making it three in a row.

Plenty of
other Southeastern Conference teams are also jockeying for postseason
eligibility or trying to spruce up their bowl resumes for more
prestigious, better-paying games in the season’s final weeks.

Making
a bowl means more money, practice time and exposure to recruits. Of
course, the SEC can fill its coffers even more if a team is playing for
the league’s eighth consecutive national title.

The bowl scramble
goes well beyond the BCS championship game hopes of No. 1 Alabama and
perhaps No. 7 Auburn. No. 9 Missouri, No. 10 Texas A&M and No. 11
South Carolina all have hopes of making a BCS game and/or playing for
the SEC title.

Eight teams are already eligible for the SEC’s 10
guaranteed bowl slots, and only Arkansas and Kentucky don’t have a shot
at making the postseason.

The injury-plagued Gators (4-6) are
trying not to let the heat get to them but they have to beat either
South Carolina or No. 2 Florida State to become eligible, assuming
they’ll triumph over Georgia Southern in between.

“We’re taking
everything one game at a time, one snap at a time,” Florida center Jon
Harrison said. “If we focus on things too far in the future, we lose
sight of the task at hand. We’re trying to work on Florida and
eliminating the self-inflicted wounds that Florida has been suffering
from.”

Vanderbilt’s 34-17 victory over the Gators changed the
bowl situation significantly for both teams. The Commodores are 5-4 and
need only one more win against a favorable ending schedule: Kentucky
(2-7), Tennessee (4-6) and Wake Forest (4-6).

Franklin, who led
Vandy to its first bowl game since 1982 in his debut season, isn’t
interested in looking beyond going 1-0 each Saturday.

“From an
outside perspective, talking to the media or things like that, we do
bring up some of the historical things because we’re still trying to
change people’s perception about Vanderbilt football and what we’ve been
and where we’re going,” he said. “We’ll talk about it a little bit.

“Internally and with our program, we’ve been pretty consistent with our 1-0 message.”

The bowl scramble is a nice issue for the SEC, which didn’t fill the 10th bowl spot in Shreveport, La., last season.

Vanderbilt
has the inside track among the four teams trying to get to six wins and
bowl eligibility. Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi State (4-5) all
still need two more wins.

The Volunteers must beat Vanderbilt and Kentucky after an open date after failing to make a bowl the past two seasons.

Ending that drought, says safety Brian Randolph, is “definitely our No. 1 focus.”

“It’s all we’ve been thinking about,” Randolph said.

Guard Zach Fulton said Tennessee players met to stress the importance and benefits of getting to the postseason.

“You
have a lot of fun, you get to bond with your teammates on and off the
field and you go to different sites and places you’ve never been before,
and just the bonding and having extra practices is great,” Fulton said.

The money’s not bad, either, for the programs.

For
teams like Mississippi and No. 25 Georgia, upgrading their bowl
destination can mean a much higher payday. Among the non-BCS games, the
payout can range from $1.925 million for the BBVA Compass Bowl in
Birmingham to $8.5 million for Orlando’s Capital One Bowl, which gets
first dibs on teams that aren’t in the BCS.

The SEC champion will go to either the Sugar Bowl or the BCS title game in Pasadena, Calif.

Schools
get anywhere from $1.175 million to $1.875 million for bowls outside
the championship game, plus a travel allowance. The rest of the pie is
divvied 15 ways, with one slice for each member and one for the SEC.

“Certainly
to move a second team up into the BCS structure, there’s a significant
payout for that as far as additional revenues are concerned,” said Mark
Womack, the SEC’s executive associate commissioner and CEO.

The
league is hoping it has the problem of trying to find a bowl site
elsewhere if it has more than nine eligible teams beyond the BCS.

“We have teams that become very attractive teams to those bowls,” Womack said.

Now, the challenge is getting to them.