December 3, 2012 1:49:53 AM
STARKVILLE - Mississippi State Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin wasn't fazed by the projections, speculation or rumors.
The leader of the school's athletic department was as certain as you can be that he'd be spending his New Year's Day in Jacksonville, Fla., at the 2013 Gator Bowl.
"I've been comfortable for probably more than a week but certainly the last week that we were probably heading to Jacksonville," Stricklin said in phone interview with The Dispatch Sunday. "Publicly I just wasn't saying anything."
Despite a perceived frantic 48-hour period that saw major news organization like CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated change their bowl projections to have MSU (8-4) in the Music City Bowl, Stricklin sources inside the bowl committees were telling him to ignore such prognostication.
"One of the things that any bowl game looks at and specifically are game looks at is creating economic impact for our city," Gator Bowl chairman Stephen Tremel said in 2010. "What that really boils down to is the fans of that particular team will travel."
Inside the Bryan Building, MSU officials were reviewing schedules and procedure packets from the Gator Bowl committee in the likelihood that they would be the selection. The anticipation became an official reality Sunday evening when it was announced MSU will play Northwestern University out of the Big Ten Conference in the 2013 Gator Bowl at EverBank Field on New Year's Day.
Brock Dulaney, MSU's Coordinator of Video and Computing Services, confirmed before the Egg Bowl in Oxford that the Bulldogs had already swapped film with Northwestern after inquiring for it days prior in anticipation for a Gator Bowl matchup.
"If you did know to start watching each other's film, you knew more than I did and you knew more than the directors knew because everything changed last night," Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett said to both head coaches on the media teleconference Sunday. "With Northern Illinois getting into the Top 16 and qualifying for a BCS bowl game, everything changed."
MSU coach Dan Mullen and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald both confirmed they have swapped film during the Gator Bowl media teleconference.
"I know our young graduate assistants in the office have been grinding away at that to try and get it broken down," Mullen said. "A lot of that isn't just getting ready to play them but the respect that we have for their team and how they are as coaches on both sides of the ball."
After Northern Illinois University qualified for a Bowl Championship Series bowl that would eventually be a Discover Orange Bowl berth and the University of Wisconsin, with a 7-5 record, won the Big Ten Championship Game to ensure a Rose Bowl berth, it was wondered if the next tiered bowls would have to be reshuffled.
"People kept asking me if we were headed to the Gator Bowl and I'd always say 'I'd be really surprised if we don't end up in Jacksonville'," Stricklin said. "Everybody kept projecting other things and I would touch base with the people I was close to and they would say 'nah, you're still set'. I never heard any different from anybody from the Gator Bowl or the Southeastern Conference office."
In 2010, some controversy arose in the last 48 hours as it was being reported by multiple news outlets the Bulldogs and SEC Easter Division champion University of South Carolina were being passed over by the Outback Bowl for the University of Florida despite both schools beating the Gators during the regular season in Gainesville.
MSU was then again passed over for the Gamecocks for the Chick-fil-A Bowl played in Atlanta on New Year's Eve questions arose as to whether the Gator Bowl committee, representing a game played in Jacksonville, would also skip MSU for a Tennessee squad with a 6-6 record.
You can read more about this topic in Monday's edition of The Dispatch.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
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