JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – What makes a successful college football bowl game?
A bowl game is supposed to bring visitors to town, create good television ratings, and on top of all of that, you’d like to see a good football game with storylines going in and compelling action on the field. This year’s Gator Bowl matchup between Notre Dame and South Carolina would seem to check all of the boxes heading into the game.
These are two teams with big fan bases--one of which can drive to Jacksonville. Both the Fighting Irish and the Gamecocks won eight games this year.
South Carolina has played in four previous Gator Bowls, but none since 1987 while Notre Dame last appeared in the game in 2003.
On Tuesday, Gator Bowl sports president Greg McGarity today showed South Carolina officials their practice facility at Ponte Vedra high school (Notre Dame will practice at Fernandina Beach high school) and he was very pleased that all of the moving parts that had to fall into place did just that.
“We were just fortunate that South Carolina and Notre Dame wanted to be here in Jacksonville and wanted to play each other,” McGarity said. “So that was step number one. And then the Atlantic Coast Conference actually assigns Notre Dame here, and the SEC assigned South Carolina here. So all those things had to happen, which they did, which certainly benefited us.”
But before those decisions could be made, the action on the field had to play out just right.
“In our case, you had to have Utah beat Southern Cal because if southern Cal won, we wouldn’t be having this discussion with these two teams.
“So that had to happen. And then it eliminated Tampa from having an ACC team in the Reliaquest Bowl (formerly the Outback Bowl). So those things had to happen, which they did on Friday night.”
So now, Notre Dame and South Carolina will meet on Dec. 30 at TIAA Bank Field. Already, the matchup is generating interest from out-of-town fans.
“Both schools have responded tremendously,” McGarity said. “Obviously, South Carolina, being in close proximity has responded magnificently. So we’re expecting a great, great crowd on the game on the 30th and excited about everything that’s lining up thus far.”
If history is any indication, the tickets should go fast. In 2003 when Notre Dame faced North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl, the announced attendance was 73.491. Four years prior against Georgia Tech, it was 70,791. The following year, Georgia Tech faced Miami and drew only 43,416.
Of course, that was before the College Football Playoffs diminished the importance of bowl games on the national scene.
But since 1991, the Gator Bowl has announced attendance of over 70,000 only seven times. In four of those games, either Florida or Florida State played. In two others, Notre Dame was the featured team. The other game was the 2004 Maryland-West Virginia matchup.
South Carolina’s history in the Gator Bowl came from a different time. In 1980, 1984, and 1987, the Gamecocks played in games where at least one of the teams was ranked in the top 10 and averaged over 78,000 fans per game. The Gamecocks also played in the first Gator Bowl in 1946 against Wake Forest in front of 7,262 fans. At that time, the only other Bowl games played were the Cotton, Oil, Orange, Raisin, Rose, Sugar, and Sun Bowl, all played on New Year’s Day.
With the changes in TIAA Bank Field, the capacity for this year’s TaxSlayer Gator Bowl is 68,190.
Tickets can be purchased via the Gator Bowl website and on Ticketmaster.com.