OK, we don’t know USF’s bowl destination, but there are some news items out there to give us a hint or two.
First, let’s look at Mark Harlan’s tweet from earlier today:
Working with the AAC on many possibilities.....primary goal in this is Number 1-Solid Power 6 opponent, and a much distant Number 2- location. Sunday announcement, stay tuned..we will need all to join us wherever we go! https://t.co/piB9c3E5q4— Mark Harlan (@MarkHarlanUSF) November 29, 2017
This confirms that Harlan wants what the fans want, which is a Power 5 opponent. That’s good. It’s a little interesting that location isn’t a concern, since location was a major concern last year; the Bulls wanted to travel, and did. But this year, it’s more about the competition.
The bowls with direct AAC tie-ins are:
- Birmingham vs SEC (though they won’t have a team available)
- Military vs ACC
- Frisco vs at-large
- Hawaii vs Mountain West
- Gasparilla vs C-USA
- Boca Raton vs C-USA
- Cure vs Sun Belt
The AAC doesn’t have any hard-and-fast rules about who goes where; everything is done for “best fit.” With that in mind, listen to what Steve Beck - the director of the Military Bowl, the only game promising a P5 opponent - has to say:
“A Navy-UVa matchup would be a great game... The American Conference has to release Navy to us. It’s a pretty top-heavy conference, with three 10-win teams, and we’ve got to see how everything shakes out.”
Well, that’s interesting. And it explains why long-eligible Navy hasn’t accepted a bid from their hometown bowl: the conference has not allowed it. Clearly they have someone else in mind for that slot. Hmmmm.
Without Navy in the picture, the Military Bowl seems like the perfect landing spot for USF. Road trip; P5 opponent; and USF has an alumni base in the middle Atlantic states. (This is why the early football teams played so many games at Liberty, James Madison, Elon, etc.) The opponent would almost certainly be Virginia; our sister site Streaking The Lawn has the low-down.
If it isn’t the Military Bowl for USF, things could get ugly, or possibly fantastic.
First, we need to talk about the Independence Bowl. The AAC has a backup agreement; the SEC has no team to provide; and there should be an ACC opponent available. Unfortunately, this backup agreement is shared with Conference USA, and apparently, they get first dibs:
To fill gaps left by the two primary conferences, the I-Bowl has secondary agreements with C-USA and the AAC. C-USA is up first this time around, since the AAC was used to bring Tulsa to Shreveport to face Virginia Tech two years ago.
And C-USA needs this option, because they managed to get 10 teams eligible. That happens when your conference has arguably the three worst teams in the country: Charlotte, Rice, and UTEP. So Shreveport is probably out, and there’s no chance the Boca or Gasparilla Bowl will have an at-large opening.
So what other good options are there? In rough order of desirable/feasible:
- Birmingham vs at-large. The SEC won’t have a team to put here, but the Pac-12 will have extra teams who need somewhere to land.
- An empty SEC Tier 1 game. If the SEC gets three teams into the NY6 games - which seems very likely - one of their Tier 1 bowls will not have a team. Those are: Outback, TaxSlayer, Music City, Texas, Belk, Liberty. Any of those would have fine opponents. I’d love to see USF in Charlotte again, against a little better ACC team than UVa. But there’s a more interesting story here. Amazingly, Memphis has never played in the Liberty Bowl game. If they don’t win the conference, it seems the perfect fit. Memphis-West Virginia would be wild.
- Hawaii vs Mountain West. Hey, if USF doesn’t care about location or travel costs, this isn’t a bad way to go. Not Power 5, but Fresno State, Boise State or San Diego State would be an equitable match-up. And quite a finale for our seniors.
- Frisco vs. at-large. With only one AAC bowl game in Texas this year, it seems like Houston or SMU would take this spot.
- An empty Big 10 game. They’ll have at least one extra slot, possibly two or three. That opens the likes of Heart of Dallas, Quick Lane (Detroit), Pinstripe, and Foster Farms (San Francisco). None of those is a logical fit for USF location-wise, and some might not have P5 opponents available anyway. But Big 10 teams submit their own bowl choices, and there’s a lot of complex rules about playing X games in Y number of years, so maybe something better (like the Music City Bowl) comes open? It’s a longshot.
- Something off the wall, like Houston going to the Las Vegas Bowl last season. Mike Aresco has done a good job of finding bowl slots for everyone. Could he pull off a deal to get USF a better game than seems possible right now?