Since the regular season is over for most teams (sigh), this week's installment will look at where each of USF's regular season opponents is projected to play in the post-season.
CHATTANOOGA (6-5, 5-3 Southern Conference): The Mocs' season ended after last week, with a 24-17 win over Elon. They lost two conference games in overtime; winning both would have made them conference champions, with an automatic bid to the I-AA playoffs.
NEVADA (7-4, 4-3 Mountain West) ended a 3-game losing streak by winning 31-24 over an improved New Mexico team. They have one game remaining, at Boise State, but with 7 wins banked they are assured of a bowl game. Projections have them going to Hawaii or New Mexico, perhaps to face a Pac-12 team.
RUTGERS (9-2, 5-1 Big East) got rolled 27-6 by Pittsburgh. Ray Graham rushed for 113 yards for Pitt. The same Ray Graham that gashed USF's defense on a Thursday night last season, when it all started going downhill. Just in case you needed another reason to watch the Pitt-USF finale.
Rutgers put their Orange Bowl trip in serious jeopardy with this loss. Since Louisville also lost, Rutgers could have clinched the league with a win here. As it is they now have to beat Louisville. They'll go to the Orange Bowl with a win; if not, the Russell Athletic (Orlando) has first choice of Big East schools and would likely take the Rutgers-Louisville loser.
BALL STATE (9-3, 6-2 MAC) beat Miami of Ohio 31-24 on Friday. The Cardinals' only losses were to MAC Championship Game competitors Kent State and Northern Illinois, and to Clemson. They will definitely see the post-season; with a glut of MAC qualifiers, and even more major conference teams on probation. they could be sent to an at-large slot. One scenario has them replacing the Big East team in the Beefs Bowl. The most popular one has them playing WAC champ Utah State in the Potato Bowl. That just screams "lower-tier bowl game that people laugh at at first but ends up being crazy fun."
FLORIDA STATE (10-2, 7-1 ACC) lost to Florida 36-27. That loss knocks FSU out of the national title picture, but the Orange Bowl is likely theirs if they can beat... Georgia Tech? Miami recused itself from bowl season, and North Carolina was already ineligible, so the 6-6 Yellow Jackets technically won whatever their division is called.
USF has played a lot of Orange Bowl teams. In addition to four Big East champs that played there, USF has also faced Florida State (2012), Clemson (2011; USF beat them in the 2010 bowl game); and Penn State (2005); Kansas (2007) was largely the same team USF played in 2005-06.
If the Noles somehow lose the ACC Championship, the #2 ACC bowl is the Chick-Fil-A in Atlanta. With two straight losses, a BCS at-large slot doesn't seem likely.
TEMPLE (4-7, 2-5 Big East) lost 38-20 to Syracuse on Friday. Their season is over after only 11 games. Since the Owls made a last-minute switch from the MAC (which plays eight conference games) to the Big East (which plays seven), the Owls came up a game short. They were trying to book a game with Hawaii, which had a similar opening moving from the WAC to the Mountain West. But that seems to have fallen through, since Temple can no longer attain bowl eligibility, and Hawaii (2-9) would probably just like to get the season over with. We know the feeling.
LOUISVILLE (9-2, 4-2 Big East) lost 23-20 to UConn in overtime. Teddy Bridgewater broke his wrist in the second quarter, but came back to play hurt in a game his team should have been able to win without him. Reminds me of Byron Leftwich gimping around some awful MAC stadium. Anyway, Bridgewater led the team to a score to send the game into overtime, but was intercepted by the awesomely named Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the third overtime.
As with Rutgers, Louisville will likely go to Orlando if they don't win the BCS bid, especially since Louisville went to the Charlotte game last year.
SYRACUSE (7-5, 5-2) beat Temple, as mentioned above. And yes, they're 5-2 in conference. If Louisville beats Rutgers, both those teams would also be 5-2, making Syracuse co-champions (and possibly Cincinnati too; see below). The applicable tiebreakers would work their way down to BCS rankings, which is a battle Syracuse won't win.
Big East history buffs will note that this is reminiscent of 2004. Entering the final week, the Big East faced a humiliating prospect: the league was about to be won by Boston College, which was not only leaving for the ACC, but wasn't very good at football. Syracuse did the league a solid by thumping the Eagles in their last game, creating a four-way tie that had to be broken by an arcane tiebreaker. That sent Pittsburgh to the Fiesta Bowl to get crushed by the Alex Smith/Urban Meyer Utah team.
Syracuse seems a natural fit for the Pinstripe Bowl, but sister blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician raises an interesting possibility: if Pitt beats USF this weekend (and does anyone here think they won't?) to get to 6-6, it could set up a Pitt-West Virginia bowl game in New York. That would send the Orange to Charlotte, or the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham.
After upsetting Louisville, CONNECTICUT (5-6, 2-4) also needs to beat Cincinnati to get bowl-eligible. If they can do it, Birmingham or the Beef O'Brady's Bowl awaits.
MIAMI (7-5, 5-3 ACC) beat Duke 52-45. Which is too bad -- if Duke had won this game and beaten Georgia Tech, they'd have won their division, potentially setting up a Duke-Rutgers Orange Bowl. Instead, they go into bowl season having lost four straight. Miami has self-imposed a bowl ban, for the second straight year, over a booster scandal. Something to keep in mind next time you hear Penn State whining about the four-year ban they got for what went on there.
We usually omit USF's opponent in this recap, but since we're also covering bowl projections here: CINCINNATI (8-3, 4-2 Big East) will go to Charlotte or Birmingham. New York seems unlikely. If the Bearcats beat UConn and Louisville beats Rutgers, they will be co-champions of the conference at 5-2. However, they can't win any tiebreakers to play in the Orange Bowl.
And finally, PITTSBURGH (5-6, 2-4 Big East) can get to 6-6 if they beat USF this weekend. The Big East has at least as many bowl slots than eligible teams, so they would be assured a slot. If the Bronx Brawl doesn't happen, their most likely destination is St. Petersburg. The alternative would be a third straight trip to Birmingham, a city most people don't want to visit once.
For all your bowl projection needs, see SBNation's Bowl Projections Page.