The 2013 Chick-fil-A Bowl could serve as the end of an era on the field, as redshirt sophomore Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel could decide to jump to the NFL following the New Year's Eve showdown with Duke.
Manziel, who took home the 2012 Heisman Trophy, becoming the first redshirt freshman to ever do so, followed up his remarkable debut season with another trip to New York as a Heisman finalist in 2013.
But while the Chick-fil-A Bowl could serve as the final act of Johnny Football's college career, it will also serve as the end of an era for the bowl game itself.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl will join the Orange, Sugar, Rose, Fiesta and Cotton bowls in the six-bowl semifinal rotation starting after next season. Once every three years, it will host a national semifinal on New Year's Eve, with two other elite matchups being placed in the bowl in the years it doesn't host a semi.
It's a plan that's been in the works for more than a decade for Chick-fil-A Bowl president and CEO Gary Stokan.
"I still remember my first bowl meeting in 1998," he said. "I said, 'My job as CEO and president is to get this bowl to the BCS.' I still laugh at that statement, because we failed and never got into the BCS. But here we are in the new College Football Playoff."
It's been quite a rise for the bowl formerly known as the Peach Bowl, which started in 1968 by the Lion's Club of Atlanta. LSU topped No. 19 Florida State 31-27 in the inaugural matchup, starting a streak of six straight matchups to feature at least one ranked opponent.
ESPN first signed on to broadcast the game in 1991, and the bowl reached agreements with the ACC and SEC the following season to create the first permanent bowl matchup between the two conferences.
"As we progressed with ESPN, when I got here, we were able to negotiate an unopposed TV time slot on New Year's Eve," Stokan said. "A lot of people were saying that you're really not a good bowl unless you're on New Year's Day. The way I looked at it, there was such clutter on New Year's Day with so many bowl games playing over one another, if we can carve a niche out and be unopposed on New Year's Eve, there will be a lot more households watching."
Over the last decade, the bowl game has grown by leaps and bounds. It earned the first non-BCS pick from the ACC in 2006, created the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in 2008, announced a partnership to bring the College Football Hall of Fame to Atlanta in 2009 and will see that initiative through when the Hall of Fame opens in the fall of 2014.
Despite not elbowing its way into the BCS during its 16-year run from 1998-2013, the Chick-fil-A Bowl did the next best thing: It flipped the script.
"When they [the BCS] went to a double-hosting model in 2007 following the 2006 season and we couldn't get in, I'm so competitive that I said, 'OK, if they're not going to let us in the BCS, we'll just flip the season and create a BCS on the front side,'" Stokan said.
Thus, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game was born. Since its inception in 2008, 10 ranked teams have played in the event.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl's inclusion into the six-bowl semifinal rotation in the new four-team playoff starting after the 2014 season is a new challenge, but it's one that the bowl has prepared for over the last 16 years.
"We've gone to every BCS game since 1998, looked at what they did and saw if there's anything that we need to integrate in what we do," Stokan said. "For the last 15 or 16 years, we've been a BCS game without the three letters in front of our bowl."
The best is yet to come.
|Season||Semifinals||National Championship Game|
|2014||Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl||Arlington, Texas (AT&T Stadium)|
|2015||Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl||Glendale, Ariz. (University of Phoenix Stadium)|
|2016||Fiesta Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl||Tampa, Fla. (Raymond James Stadium)|
The bowl will host a national semifinal on Dec. 31, 2016, and has an eye on an even bigger prize—the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
"When they named Dallas in 2014, we looked at 2015 and 2016," Stokan said. "We could not bid in 2016 because we have a semifinal game that year. We looked at 2015, and there's a major convention in town at the apparel mart."
With a new $1.2 billion facility set to be complete in 2017 near the site of the Georgia Dome, Stokan decided to wait before throwing his name in the hat for a title game.
"Rather than just bidding for bidding's sake, we decided to bid when we have the best package to put forward so that we can win," Stokan said. "Secondly, now that we're going to have a new facility, let's wait to get in that. So the first opportunity we'll have is the January 2018 National Championship Game, which we will probably receive those bids spring or fall of 2015. We hope to put together a successful bid for that game."
Based on the trajectory of the bowl and the moves it has made over the years, it's clear that momentum won't slow down in the new era of the Chick-fil-A Bowl.