Marcus Fitzsimmons

Christmas came early to the Volunteer State on Sunday.

As the new bowl hierarchy kicked into it’s first selection process, it looked as if we needed to start inquiring how many times Gov. Bill Haslam might have ventured to Birmingham, Ala., to visit the home of the Southeastern Conference offices in recent months. Or examine the recent Facebook social postings of the state’s assorted movers and shakers and see how many had been moving and shaking around the SEC staff.

Outside of bowl eligible Middle Tennessee being snubbed for another postseason, things went very much the State of Tennessee’s way Sunday.

Memphis is headed to Miami Beach to meet BYU and the Vols got an unexpected upgrade to go to Jacksonville, when common wisdom said their 13th game would be somewhere inside the state’s borders.

But of bigger impact for Tennessee the state, and not its land grant university, were the potential major matchups of the two bowl games it hosts. Nashville’s Music City Bowl, which has been if not in trouble at least has suffered from prestige problems under the old model, gets perhaps the best pairing in its history with Notre Dame (7-5) taking on LSU (8-4). Big time popular programs that travel well and are just a little too far away to make it a day trip drive to the home of country music. Translation is hotel rooms with reservations, a good time down on Second Avenue, and a bigger than normal boost to the myriad city and state tax collector’s coffers.

Nobody had West Virginia (7-5) and Texas A&M (7-5) in Memphis for the Liberty Bowl either and its the best pairing in a decade with Graceland and Beale Street besides themselves with joy.

Conspiracy theorist can go nuts but don’t mind the chatter. Gas prices are headed for that magic $2 mark this month that inspires people to ravel more and bowl tickets are going on sale today.

For those who stay home, put on your best smile, there’s a lot of folks coming to visit Tennessee during these holidays. It may or may not be bad for college football, but for this state, it’s sure not sad.

Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times, who enjoys reading comments posted to this column at thedailytimes.com

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