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Music City Bowl remains in play for Ole Miss

With its 41-24 win against Mississippi State this past Saturday, Ole Miss finished the regular season with a 6-6 record and awaits its postseason fate. The Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn. (Dec. 31, 11 a.m., ESPN) and the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. (Jan. 5, Noon, ESPN) have emerged as the two most likely destinations for the Rebels. Alabama (11-1), Georgia (11-1), Florida (11-1), LSU (10-2), Texas A&M (10-2) and South Carolina (10-2) are expected to accept bowl bids to the BCS National Championship Game, Allstate Sugar Bowl, Capital One Bowl, AT&T Cotton Bowl, Outback Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl, in some combination. 
This leaves Ole Miss and two 8-4 teams — Vanderbilt and Mississippi State — as the most likely candidates for the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl (Jan. 1, 11 a.m., ESPN2), Music City Bowl and BBVA Compass Bowl, which has bowl priority over the AutoZone Liberty Bowl because the Liberty Bowl picked ahead of the BBVA Compass Bowl last year.
“Well, obviously, we’re in a position where we need to wait on the selections ahead of us,” Music City Bowl President/CEO Scott Ramsey said. “We anticipate having whoever the Gator Bowl doesn’t choose — probably between the two eight-win teams, I would imagine, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. Other than that, Ole Miss and one of those two teams will be available for us to choose from at the time we get to select on Sunday.”
Ramsey said the Music City Bowl, like most other bowls and cities, have three primary goals for its matchup. 
“One, we really want to fill up our city and our hotels,” he said. “We want people to come in and experience the city from a tourism standpoint. Out-of-town fans and length of stay is important. Secondly, we want to fill up the stadium. I think that creates energy for the players. I think it creates a great game day atmosphere. Obviously, it’s a positive statement on the game broadcast and that’s important. Thirdly, we want to put together a matchup that has appeal both locally and to our broadcast and title sponsor for ratings, and hopefully, the conference agreements allow you to kind of do that for the most part. But each specific year is a little different with the teams and matchups.
“Those are our three objectives every year, and some years you are able to achieve all of them, and some years you can’t, but you try to achieve as many as you can each year. So when we sit down and kind of go through it, that’s first and foremost.”
Ole Miss played in the 1971 and 1991 Gator Bowls, but it appears unlikely the Rebels will return to Jacksonville this bowl season, as the Gator Bowl will likely decide between Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, unless one of the 10-2 teams is available to pick after the Capital One, Cotton, Outback and Chick-fil-A Bowls make their selections.
“As much as we would like to have Ole Miss play in our bowl game, there is sort of an unwritten rule that says that a bowl won’t jump a team that has two more wins than another team,” Gator Bowl President/CEO Richard Catlett said. “In this case, we’re going to have a couple of 8-4 teams at a minimum and maybe even a 10-2 team. As excited as we are about Ole Miss returning back to bowls, there really is that unwritten rule that you don’t jump an 8-4 team for a 6-6 team.”
Ramsey agreed that wins and losses are a consideration but said there are exceptions to the rule that two wins is too much to jump a team. Two circumstances for the Music City Bowl to possibly consider are Mississippi State, which played in last year’s Music City Bowl, and Vanderbilt, which is located in Nashville.
“Certainly, wins and losses make a difference because there’s a pretty good rule of thumb out there that two wins is kind of too much to jump over unless there are circumstances where you may have a repeat team, you may have a repeat matchup, or you may have a team — like in our case — a local team that may kind of request to a local bowl that they want to get out of town,” he said. “There are a lot of things that could kind of go in that circumvent that general rule of thumb of two wins, but you kind of put all of those things together and you try to make the best decision you can on each side — the SEC side for us and the ACC side.”
Coming off a win in Saturday’s Egg Bowl, as well as becoming bowl eligible for the first time in three years, Ole Miss is an attractive option for the Music City Bowl. It would the Rebels’ second appearance in the bowl, having lost 49-38 to West Virginia in 2000.
“Any time you can catch a team that hasn’t been to a bowl in a while, you’re hoping their fans are ready to really follow them and are excited about being back in the postseason and able to come to your city and enjoy what your city has got to offer,” Ramsey said. “That’s always usually a good measuring stick. Second, winning a rivalry game late is always a positive. And third, I think their proximity to Nashville is a positive. I think we’re fortunate that we have a lot of schools in the SEC that have a very easy drive to Nashville. That’s always been one of our great selling points, and I think Ole Miss fits in that as well.”
When Ole Miss clinched bowl eligibility, it assured the BBVA Compass Bowl of filling its SEC tie-in for the third time in the bowl’s seven-year history. The two highest-attended games both featured SEC teams — South Carolina in 2010 and Kentucky in 2011. 
“Obviously, we were happy to see Ole Miss win their game on Saturday and become the ninth bowl eligible team for the Southeastern Conference, which assured us of having an SEC team in our bowl, and we look forward to Saturday night and Sunday morning when the selection process is taking place and finding out who is coming to Birmingham,” BBVA Compass Bowl Executive Director Mark Meadows said.
“We’re planning for any combination of teams to come in at this point. It’s out of our hands, as the selection above us will determine who comes to us. It’s usually, for us, come down to the final weekend every year, so this is nothing unusual for us.”
As for possible opponents in the bowl game, Ramsey said the Music City Bowl is looking at Virginia Tech (6-6), North Carolina State (7-5) and Duke (6-6) for its ACC tie-in, based on who wins the ACC Championship Game. The BBVA Compass Bowl has a tie-in with the Big East, which would likely be Syracuse (7-5), Connecticut (5-6) or Pittsburgh (5-6), if either the Huskies or Panthers win on Saturday to become bowl eligible. Meadows said the bowl is “in discussions and planning phases for contingency plan in case we don’t have a team to fill the other side.”