FAYETTEVILLE — Steve Hogan, the chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Sports, said the Capital One Bowl is in an unusual position this week.
The Orlando-based game has long been first in the Southeastern Conference’s bowl pecking order outside of Bowl Championship Series. So getting a team with an impressive resume to play in its bowl game is normal. But the prospects of choosing between three 10-win teams from the SEC in Arkansas, South Carolina and Georgia is different.
“This year is a little unique,” Hogan said Wednesday. “It’s pretty crazy. But there has been a lot of success in the SEC this year for sure.”
The numerous possibilities has left the SEC bowl picture — at least at the top — a little fuzzy as the final full weekend of the season nears.
Arkansas does know this: It will land in either the Capital One Bowl or Cotton Bowl.
But Hogan said the Capital One Bowl won’t be ready to announce its SEC representative until after LSU and Georgia play in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday. If the Bulldogs win, Georgia will secure a spot in a BCS game.
“Some of those years you almost have a little bit clearer picture at this point,” Hogan said. “It’s a decisive type thing. But this year it just feels like it’s a little unique. Everybody’s got plusses and minuses, whether it’s the way they closed out their season or how they played in rivalry games or somebody is a division winner or the overall records are similar or head-to-head wins.”
Arkansas hasn’t played in the Capital One Bowl since the 2006 season, when it lost to Wisconsin 17-14. Michigan beat Arkansas 45-31 in January 1999, the Razorbacks’ only other Orlando appearance.
South Carolina and Georgia, if it loses to LSU, wouldn’t have to travel as far to play in Orlando. But Hogan stressed the bowl has “no allegiances” to the SEC East and is simply looking for the “right fit” and the “best team” for its game.
Arkansas, which is No. 8 in the BCS, should finish higher than South Carolina (No. 12) and Georgia (No. 14). The Capital One Bowl has hosted an SEC West team in five of the past seven years.
“We’re very high on Arkansas and always have been,” Hogan said. “We’ve been lucky enough to host them here in Orlando a couple of times in the recent era and have always been very impressed with them and their fans. They’re a fantastic brand and they’ve had a great season.”
There’s no doubt the Cotton Bowl would be an easier trip for Arkansas fans.
It’s a familiar one, too, considering Arkansas has played Texas A&M in Cowboys Stadium in each of the past three seasons. The Razorbacks have played in the Cotton Bowl 11 times. The last appearance was a 38-7 loss to Missouri in January 2008.
A lot has changed with the bowl since then. The game has moved from the Cotton Bowl into Cowboys Stadium, eliminating the threat of a cold-weather game. It also has moved out of its New Year’s Day morning time slot and into primetime.
This season’s game is set for Jan. 6 at 7 p.m.
“It’s really in the spotlight of college football because there is nobody else playing college football on that day,” said Rick Baker, the president of the Cotton Bowl.
Baker said the Razorbacks are “like family” and the bowl would be thrilled to have them again.
But, like Hogan, Baker said the Cotton Bowl has the three 10-win teams on its radar. If Georgia does lose to LSU, the three teams will be divided among the Capital One, Cotton and Outback bowls.
“All of us are going to turn out pretty good,” Baker said. “The SEC tends to be like that. They always have some pretty good teams at the top.”
The Cotton Bowl is likely invite Oklahoma State (10-1), Oklahoma (9-2) or Kansas State (9-2), depending on the BCS selections, as its Big 12 representative. It means the game could have its first matchup between 10-win teams since 1994.
The Capital One Bowl is in a similar position with Michigan State (10-2), Wisconsin (10-2) and Michigan (10-2) in consideration. Nebraska, which is 9-3, is also on the Capital One Bowl’s radar.
So Hogan and Baker are confident the Razorbacks, whether they land in Orlando or Arlington for the holidays, will be part of intriguing matchups.
“You’re either playing the No. 1 pick post-BCS in the Big 12 or the No. 1 pick post-BCS in the Big Ten,” Hogan said. “A lot of cases it’s a whale of a game and a top paying, very prestigious game.”