A month into the season, the Hall of Fame Bowl appears to be in a prime position to land Florida, which virtually would guarantee the game's first sellout.
"We've got the best shot to have the best bowl we've ever had," said Fame Bowl team-selection committee chairman John Adcock.
"The day we pick Florida, it's a sellout," he said, adding that Florida, Florida State and Miami are always the top three picks for a southern host team.
What's different this year is that the Gators (1-2) could be available for the Fame Bowl, played on Jan. 1 and broadcast nationally by ESPN. How?
First, assume Tennessee and Alabama will win the Eastern and Western divisions of the Southeastern Conference, respectively, and meet in the SEC championship game. The winner will represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl.
The Citrus Bowl has a choice between the runner-up and another team, but the loser of the title game likely would be the highest-ranked team and an attractive opponent to pair against the Big Ten runner-up.
The logical third- and fourth-place teams, with all deference to Auburn and Mississippi State, should be Georgia and Florida. The Gator Bowl owns the third choice from the SEC but doesn't have to pick the third-place team. It can take a fourth-place team if it's within a game.
But which team would be more attractive in Jacksonville: Florida or Georgia?
"Either one," said John Bell, the Gator Bowl's executive director. "But we haven't ruled out Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn or Mississippi State. We haven't even had a team-selection committee meeting yet. We're not going out to games until the first Saturday of November, (although) it's possible for a few people to go out Oct. 31. There's some big games that day."
Florida plays Georgia on Oct. 31.
Pencil in Georgia for the Gator Bowl.
"We're not even focusing on bowl games now," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "It's way premature to be discussing that. There's too many games left to go. And we have to win enough games to get into the bowl picture."
The NCAA requires a bowl team to win at least six games against Division I-A opponents. But even a 6-5 Florida team would be attractive to the Fame Bowl. In fact, the bowl probably will cut a contingency deal with at least one team by around the beginning of November since there's no selection date this year.
Florida seemed headed for Tampa for the inaugural Fame Bowl in 1986 but lost to Kentucky and fell to 5-5 with a game against Florida State a week after the team-selection date. The Fame Bowl couldn't risk extending a bid to Florida, which ended up beating the Seminoles, and instead opted for Georgia and Boston College.
Speaking of Boston College, the Golden Eagles could land here again. But West Virginia, Clemson, North Carolina State or even Syracuse all remain in the Fame Bowl's plans.
UF: Defensive coordinator Ron Zook said there's a possibility defensive end Bill Gunter and cornerback Lawrence Hatch, both seniors, may be inserted in the starting lineup Saturday against Louisiana State. Gunter played most of the second half in Florida's 30-6 loss Thursday at Mississippi State in place of Henry McMillian, who became too tired to continue. Hatch, who started four games last season, has played extensively as the top backup to cornerbacks Larry Kennedy and Del Speer. Zook said if Hatch starts, he will replace Speer at right cornerback.
UF announced that 200 tickets for Saturday's game with LSU and 1,400 tickets for the Auburn game Oct. 17 will go on sale to the public beginning this morning. The tickets can be purchased at the ticket office at Gate 1 at Florida Field or by calling (904) 375-4683.
FSU: Senior center Robbie Baker has reclaimed his starting job, unseating redshirt freshman Clay Shiver. Baker was slowed by a knee injury through the early part of the season. Senior nose guard John Nance has a back sprain and is listed as day to day. Freshman lineman Lewis Tyre is day to day with a dislocated finger. Linebacker Marvin Jones has a knee sprain but is not expected to miss practice.
_ Times correspondents Keith Niebuhr and Jim Vertuno and the Associated Press contributed to this report.