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Gator Bowl can select FSU, stage desired Bowden sendoff

The Gator Bowl and ACC both confirmed Wednesday that the Jacksonville, Fla., game can select 6-6 Florida State for its desired Bobby Bowden sendoff, provided the Chick-fil-A Bowl selects 9-3 Virginia Tech as expected.

Gator Bowl President Rick Catlett first announced Tuesday his intention to host the retiring legend for his final game, most likely against his old school, 8-3 West Virginia. Florida State has requested Bowden's last game be played in the state.

"The cool matchup would be to play coach Bowden against his former team," Catlett said Wednesday. "One of the interesting things we've found is that [Bowden's] streak of 27 straight bowl games started with Florida State over West Virginia in the 1982 Gator Bowl."

Initial confusion over the ACC's bowl selection rules made it unclear whether the Gator Bowl -- which has third choice of ACC teams behind the Orange and Chick-fil-A Bowls -- could pass up numerous league teams with better records. ACC rules state a bowl cannot select a participant that finished two or more games behind another available team in the league standings. Georgia Tech (7-1), Virginia Tech (6-2) and Clemson (6-2) all fit that bill when compared with the 4-4 Seminoles.

However, ACC spokesman Mike Finn confirmed Wednesday that the Gator Bowl signed an amended contract with the conference in 2006 that specifically states it is not required to select the ACC Championship Game loser, which this year will be either Georgia Tech or Clemson. Assuming the Hokies are off the board, and the Gator exercises that right in its contract, it is free to select any 5-3 or 4-4 team.

"If there isn't a team with a 6-2 record available, they can choose Florida State," said Finn. "It's a contractual issue."

There will presumably be several angered ACC teams should the Gator choose the Seminoles. In addition to either the 10-2 Yellow Jackets or 8-4 Tigers, 9-3 Miami and 8-4 North Carolina and Boston College will all be available. Either the ACC title loser or Miami will slip to the Champs Sports Bowl, the other to the Music City Bowl.

But potentially massive fan interest both locally and nationally surrounding Bowden's last game after 34 years with the Seminoles will presumably trump other considerations. Asked if the Gator Bowl will definitely take the 'Noles if available, Catlett replied, "Yes."

"We believe our contract's very clear on that and we don't need anyone's permission to take anyone," said Catlett. "But it's all moot if [the Chick-fil-A Bowl] doesn't take Virginia Tech."

There are no rules preventing the Gator from securing its desired Big East participant, West Virginia, though Catlett will admittedly face a tougher decision if 11-0 Cincinnati loses to Pittsburgh this weekend in the teams' BCS play-in game or if Rutgers (8-3) hands the Mountaineers their fourth loss.

"West Virginia is very high on our list, but we have not had a vote on that," he said. "And we won't do that again until Sunday. You could have an 11-1 Cincinnati sitting there. Does that still trump West Virginia? Or if West Virginia loses to Rutgers? That takes some thought."

Bowden has faced the Mountaineers just twice, both in the Gator Bowl, the latter a 30-18 win in 2005.

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