The college football season is entering its most exciting weeks as teams play their final few games, conference champions are decided and teams are selected for the College Football Playoff and bowl games. As the anticipation builds, we sat down with TaxSlayer Bowl President and CEO Rick Catlett. We asked him 10 questions on everything from team rankings to tailgate food. Here’s what Rick had to say.
Q. Did the College Football Playoff selection committee get the top 4 rankings right this week?
A. With Notre Dame getting in the mix, they are sending a message to some of the other conferences that they are looking for their champions to close the season out. Notre Dame’s one loss, obviously, is to Clemson. They’re the No. 1 team in the country.
Q. What do you consider the biggest surprise from this week’s CFP rankings?
A. If there was a surprise, Notre Dame being at 4, and more than that, a surprise was Iowa being at 5. I was really shocked. Iowa plays the weakest schedule in major college football. Regardless if they were undefeated or not, for them to be ranked 5 was a big surprise to me.
Q. What team do you predict winning the National Championship?
There are so many games left in every conference along with the conference championship games that I don’t think we can estimate at this point who’s going to be the top 4 teams. I could make a prediction. I think Alabama’s going to win the SEC. I think Ohio State and Clemson are going to be in. I really strongly believe a Big 12 team will run the gauntlet and be in. Whether that’s TCU or Oklahoma, I’m not sure yet. I think Alabama’s the best team in the country. They don’t always win but if I had to pick one team, I’d probably take Alabama.
Q. How did the wins and losses this past weekend change the teams that the TaxSlayer Bowl is considering?
The surprise of the weekend was the Ole Miss loss to Arkansas in overtime. We were starting to focus in a little bit on Texas A&M and Arkansas from the SEC. Now, that opened it back up. There’s a chance they could all win a couple of games and get to 7 or 8 wins. If Ole Miss can carry the Egg Bowl which is against Mississippi State at the end of the year, they’d still be a very valuable team to us at 8-4. On the other side, one of the things we’re really starting to focus on is it appears Florida State will not be ranked high enough to be the second ACC team in the College Football Playoff. If Florida State can be available to us, they are obviously one of the best teams in the country in the past five years.
Q. What’s the best restaurant in Jacksonville that fans should visit when they come to the TaxSlayer Bowl?
A. III Forks without a doubt is the best restaurant in Jacksonville. It’s a steak restaurant.
Q. What’s the best beach near Jacksonville?
A. Jacksonville Beach is probably the best beach in the city for fans coming to the bowl to visit.
Q. What’s one attraction fans should add to their list of things to do in Jacksonville?
I would definitely go to St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city. It’s located about 20 miles south of Jacksonville on the coast, right on the ocean. There’s a tremendous amount of historic sites to visit as well as a lot of fun restaurants and shops.
Q.What’s your favorite moment from recent TaxSlayer Bowls?
A. Having the opportunity to host Bobby Bowden from Florida State in his last college football game that he coached (2010) was without a doubt the most pleasing event we could have done.
Q. What’s your favorite tailgate food?
Growing up in Athens, Ga., it’s clearly fried chicken.
Q. What makes the TaxSlayer Bowl unique?
The Florida location, the 71 year history of the bowl game, being the sixth oldest bowl game in America, roots to the SEC and Big 10 conferences for a long time, having multiple conferences to choose from — those are probably the most unique things.