COLLEGE PARK -- Around noon yesterday, Gator Bowl Association officials were scrambling to find a plane ticket so chairman Scott Keith could attend today's 7:45 p.m. Maryland-Wake Forest game, which determines who advances to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game next weekend.
The Gator Bowl Association also sponsors the ACC title game next Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., so Keith will be bringing 10,000 tickets to the game to award to today's winner.
When Boston College lost to Miami on Thursday night, the ACC bowl picture became somewhat clearer. It knocked BC out of Atlantic Division title contention and gave the Terps a chance to win the division.
The only thing that's certain is that the winner of the league will play in the Orange Bowl.
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said that if the Terps advance as far as the Orange Bowl, he promised his players they can dye his hair orange. "If that's what motivates you, have at it," Friedgen said. "What little hair I have, have fun with it. They can do anything they want. It ain't going to make a lot of difference to me."
The ACC is aligned with eight bowls. The order of selection after the Orange Bowl is as follows: Chick-fil-A Bowl (8 p.m. Dec. 30/Atlanta); Gator Bowl (1 p.m. Jan. 1/Jacksonville); Champs Sports Bowl (8 p.m. Dec. 29/Orlando, Fla.).
Then, picks 5-7 simultaneously submit their selections to the ACC. If they can't come to an agreement, the pecking order is as follows: Gaylord Hotels Music City (1 p.m. Dec. 29/Nashville, Tenn.); Meineke Car Care (1 p.m. Dec. 30/Charlotte, N.C.); Emerald Bowl (8 p.m. Dec. 27/San Francisco); and MPC Computers Bowl (7:30 p.m. Dec. 31/Boise, Idaho).
If Maryland loses to Wake Forest, likely destinations include the Champs Sports Bowl or the Music City Bowl. The Terps would also get serious attention from the Gator Bowl - but so will Virginia Tech, Boston College and Clemson.
"No. 1, we like Maryland a lot," said Rick Catlett, president of the Gator Bowl. "They brought a ton of fans last time they came to our game [in January 2004]. If it wasn't for what Wake Forest did, Ralph Friedgen should be Coach of the Year. We would be very interested in Maryland playing in the Gator Bowl."
Catlett said it's unlikely the Gator Bowl would select the loser of the ACC championship game - which can't drop further in the selection process than the Music City Bowl, the fifth selection spot. That would mean the ACC runner-up would have to play in Jacksonville twice.
If the Terps can't improve upon their eight wins tonight, then the Meineke Car Care Bowl - where Navy already is guaranteed to play - will also be considered. Maryland narrowly defeated Navy, 23-20, in 2005, and Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said he wants a rematch.
"I think it would be terrific," said Gladchuk, who noted that he talks to bowl representatives in Charlotte on a regular basis. "That would be a dream matchup in a bowl game, especially after that game we had last year. As I recall last year in Baltimore, not only was the game spectacular, right down to the wire, it was everything it was built up to be.
"It's a little bit too early to determine who's going to end up there, but one of the scenarios brings Maryland to Charlotte," he said, "and that would be my favorite."
The Chick-fil-A Bowl would be a reasonable expectation, but the Terps would have to contend with Virginia Tech and its enormous contingent of traveling boosters.
Bowl representatives take into serious consideration what kind of a fan base will make the trip, and one way programs lobby is season-ticket sales. Maryland has made progress since the 2002 Orange Bowl appearance, when there were 15,759 season tickets sold and 22,022 fans purchased bowl game tickets through the school. This year, according to information provided by the athletic office, Maryland sold more than 30,000 season tickets.
"What an effective administration needs to do is make the bowl committee aware of how you travel to games, your past record of selling tickets, bowl merchandise when fans get to the game," said Maryland senior associate athletics director/administration Chris Boyer. "I also think some bowls consider a potential TV rating.
"Most savvy people feel that the No. 1 thing a bowl looks at is how you travel," he said. "That's why we make it clear it's important to buy tickets and to buy them through the school. ... They're the numbers we can track and can show down the line."
Even though the Atlantic Division winner will be determined today, bowl invitations aren't likely to be officially extended until after the championship game in Jacksonville. It could be announced earlier, pending the release of the teams from the Bowl Championship Series, meaning that no ACC teams would be considered for an at-large BCS bid.
Most of the communication is done behind the scenes between the bowl officials and ACC commissioner John Swofford, who in turn is in constant contact with the athletic directors to seek their preferences - something Maryland director of athletics Debbie Yow is not about to reveal, for fear of alienating other bowls.