ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When Michigan arrived in Tampa, Fla., in December 2012, it didn’t just bring its football team and its immediate support staff.
The Wolverines also drew people connected to the university, such as alumni, their families and lifelong fans. More than 54,000 attended the Outback Bowl in Tampa, and some had traveled from across Florida, others from across the country.
Michigan has been an attraction in its last four bowl games. A passionate fan base that will travel, a strong regional alumni base and a recognized brand make Michigan a popular pick for a bowl berth.
Bowl representatives and bowl committees will take these factors into consideration when they review Michigan as one of their options for holiday-season bowl games.
“We look at the matchup we want to see, and we want to see how each division, where they fall on their win-loss record, how they travel well and to our particular area in the country in the past,” Holiday Bowl committee member Mark McCord told Land of 10 last week in Ann Arbor. “You want to go somewhere new and fresh.”
An appealing matchup
CBSSports.com and ESPN project Michigan to play in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28 in San Diego against Stanford. Sports Illustrated and TheScore.com project Michigan to return to Tampa to play in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 against South Carolina.
Both bowls include Power 5 conference matchups, which makes Michigan — and the bowl — even more appealing. The Outback Bowl’s Big Ten-SEC pairing annually creates a unique matchup.
“They’re traditionally the most successful conferences in the sport,” Outback Bowl director of communications Mike Schulze told Land of 10. “They’re deep in quality programs year in and year out.”
Michigan could return to the Outback Bowl, scheduled for Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla., for the first time since the end of that 2012 season. It remains one of the more notable bowl games, and more people are likely to remember Jadeveon Clowney’s thundering hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith then they are the final score. (South Carolina won 33-28, as Bruce Ellington scored the game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter).
Michigan’s reputation speaks for itself to potential bowl hosts.
“Michigan has become a very good program,” Schulze said. “They had to go through a lot of difficulties, as many programs have, but they fought through it. And Jim Harbaugh has done a really good job there.
“They’re going to be attractive to any bowl committee.”
The Harbaugh effect
A specific factor could help Michigan’s chances at going west for the Holiday Bowl: Harbaugh’s connection to San Diego.
Harbaugh, Michigan’s third-year coach, played for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers in 1999 and 2000. He began his head coaching career in 2004 at the University of San Diego before assuming the same position at Stanford in 2007.
The Holiday Bowl pits a Big Ten team against a Pac-12 team, which could match Michigan with a program or personalities familiar to Harbaugh and to Michigan.
“If we have a Stanford or an Arizona, both have a connection,” McCord said. “Harbaugh with Stanford, Rich [Rodriguez] with Arizona, so Michigan just makes it exciting.”
A domino effect
Bowl bids will be announced Sunday, beginning with the four-team College Football Playoff and continuing with the New Year’s Six bowls. That will create a domino effect on the remainder of the holiday bowl field.
As a result, Michigan will find out its postseason bowl destination sometime Sunday afternoon.
“Depending on how the College Football Playoff committee ranks those teams, it’s what teams go to those bowl games,” Schulze said. “It also determines what teams are available and not available to the rest of us.
“It affects the pool of teams down the line. By virtue of that, the bowl games, 99 percent do not have and don’t know for sure what teams are available to them and what they’ll end up with, until Sunday afternoon.”
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