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Football Schedule Watch: Who's the 12th Opponent?

With West Virginia and the Big East coming to terms last week on WVU's move to the Big 12, USF now has an open spot on their 2012 football schedule.

Ideally, the Big East could try to use some of that money to lure Boise State to join a year early, but it will likely cost Boise a large chunk of change to not only move football from the Mountain West to the Big East a year early, but also to move other sports to the WAC a year early. If Boise, or any of the other new Big East teams, cannot join for 2012, the Bulls would definitely need a 12th opponent.

Before we get to that though, we need to look more closely at USF's conference schedule. In a further blow to USF's schedule, since WVU was a road game for USF, and USF originally had four home games and three road games, they now have four home games and but only two road games. Logically, one of those home games would need to be switched to a road game so all seven remaining Big East teams have three home games and three road games.

(There has been talk of the Big East adding a mirror game, with each team playing one conference opponent twice. One of those games would be considered a non-conference game. While playing a conference opponent in the non-conference schedule isn't unprecedented (Colorado and Cal played a non-conference game in 2011), playing twice would be unprecedented and I think would be undesirable.)

This would give USF five home games and six road games, leaving the Bulls in desperate straits to find a team to come to Tampa in the non-conference schedule. What are USF's options for a the twelfth opponent?

There are currently 13 FBS teams that have at least one spot on their schedule open, with seven of those teams being in the Big East. Those remaining six teams are:

- Florida State
- Louisiana-Lafayette
- Middle Tennessee
- Missouri
- Nebraska
- North Texas

First, let's go over the AQ teams in the list.

USF already hosts Florida State on September 29, so they are unavailable.

Nebraska currently has six home games, and no FCS teams scheduled. Since the Cornhuskers almost always have seven or more home games scheduled, already play at UCLA, and has no FCS team scheduled, doing the math it's likely they just schedule a patsy for a home game. (Maybe an outside chance USF visits Lincoln.)

Missouri is a bit more interesting. The Tigers are one of four teams that have two spots open on their schedule (the other three are in the Big East). However, they already have one AQ team scheduled, hosting Arizona State. They also have a road game versus UCF. With Missouri moving the SEC in 2012 and playing a more difficult conference schedule, it's likely they don't want to schedule any other AQ schools. (And also they probably don't want to make two or maybe even three trips to Florida, if they have to play at Gainesville in conference play.) They also only have five home games, and no FCS schools scheduled, so they will likely schedule two more home games, one versus an FCS school.

Given the above, it's doubtful USF will schedule an AQ school to replace WVU.

How about the non-AQ schools? Well, they are all in the Sun Belt conference. Excited yet?

Louisiana-Lafayette has six home games scheduled. Normally, Sun Belt teams are fine with five home games, so they must be giddy to already have six. So the Ragin' Cajuns are definitely an option for a trip to Tampa.

Middle Tennessee already has games at Mississippi State and at Georgia Tech scheduled, and they only have five home games, so they aren't a likely opponent.

North Texas has, gulp, four home games, and games at LSU, at Kansas State, and at Houston. They are probably more desperate for a home game than USF is.

So the best likely FBS opponent for a USF home game is Louisiana-Lafayette. Not exactly inspiring, but better than the alternative: adding a second FCS opponent with Chattanooga already scheduled.

The other option would be USF playing only five conference games and playing at Nebraska. Not ideal, but maybe a reasonable option in what is certainly a bind.