ATHENS — Another trip to Jacksonville may be on tap for the Georgia football team. The TaxSlayer Bowl – formerly and more commonly known as the Gator Bowl – has emerged as the strongest possibility for the Bulldogs, according to several people familiar with the situation.
The most likely opponent is Penn State, which would set up a couple interesting dynamics.
For one, the schools have only played once before: In the 1983 Sugar Bowl, when the second-ranked Nittany Lions upset the top-ranked Bulldogs, 27-23.
Then there’s also the James Franklin factor.
Franklin is in his second year as Penn State’s coach, after coaching for three years at Vanderbilt, which included: a) the 2011 postgame shouting match with then-Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, and b) the 2013 upset by Vanderbilt over Georgia.
Georgia faced Grantham (now at Louisville) in last year’s Belk Bowl. So this would mean Georgia facing the two verbal combatants in consecutive bowls.
Don’t go making refundable flights and reservations until it’s official, because bowl assignments are notorious for changing on the final day. But many are proceeding with the assumption it will be Georgia and Penn State in Jacksonville, on Jan. 2 at noon.
If that somehow falls through, Georgia’s other most likely bowl destination is the Music City Bowl in Nashville. The bowl assignments will be announced on Sunday night.
The SEC bowl selection process, as of last year, rests with the conference office, which assigns teams based on word from the bowls and schools on their preferences. Six bowls – Taxslayer, Music City, Outback, Belk, Liberty and Texas- are all considered in the same tier. Alabama is headed to one of the national playoff games, then the Sugar Bowl gets the next SEC team, followed by the Citrus.
Georgia has lost the last three times in Jacksonville: The past two seasons against Florida, and the Gator Bowl against Nebraska following the 2013 season.
Attendance will be interesting to watch on Georgia’s side. It was relatively low two years ago for the team’s second trip to Jacksonville that season. And with Mark Richt out as head coach and incoming coach Kirby Smart expected to stay with Alabama until its season is over, the team will be led by interim coach Bryan McClendon, as well as a patchwork staff. It’s unknown what the team’s coaching staff will look like at that point.
Staff writer Chip Towers contributed to this report.