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OPINION: Dreaming about December

With a 4-0 record, USF football is just two wins away from becoming bowl eligible. The Bulls won in back-to-back appearances at the Birmingham Bowl in the past two seasons. ORACLE PHOTO/SAM NEWLON

After defeating ECU 20-13 Saturday night, USF football is now 4-0. Teams need at least six wins to become bowl eligible, so it seems almost a sure thing that the Bulls will play in a postseason game.  Given a bye this week, now seems like as good a time as ever to dream about where the Bulls might play this December.

The AAC has no official pecking order for bowl games. Teams go where they go based on a variety of factors, none of which have anything to do with record — unless a team is selected for a New Year’s Six game. Since any AAC-tied bowl game is a possibility, let’s start with the worst bowl game USF could play in and work our way up to the best.

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (vs. ACC)

Dec. 20 — 8 p.m.  – Raymond James Stadium – Tampa

Somehow, this game is even less desirable now than it was during its time at Tropicana Field. Playing a bowl game in your home stadium would be a disaster that no Power-Five opponent could make up for. Bowl games are meant to reward players that had a good season with one final trip as a team, so literally playing at home is about as unattractive as just not playing in a bowl game.

Birmingham Bowl (vs. SEC)

Dec. 22 – Noon – Legion Field – Birmingham, Alabama

There’s almost no chance of a third straight USF appearance in Birmingham, so fretting about this one might not be worth the space its being given. As hospitable as Birmingham can be, bowl organizers are likely as sick of USF as USF is sick of Legion Field. Still, Sweet Home Alabama is more attractive than an additional game at Ray Jay.

AutoNation Cure Bowl (vs. Sun Belt)

Dec. 15 – 2:30 p.m. – Camping World Stadium – Orlando

There are so many things that would be bad about being sent to this bowl game that it’s hard to decide where to start. Sending one of its better teams to play a Sun Belt opponent would do very little to help push the AAC’s Power-Six narrative. Additionally, Orlando is not really a road trip for players or fans. And from a fan perspective, Camping World Stadium is not a fun place to watch a game. Renovations have improved it in recent years, but it still shows its age in a lot of different ways.

Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl (vs. Conference USA)

Dec. 18 – 7 p.m. – FAU Stadium – Boca Raton

There are so many issues with this bowl, too, yet somehow it’s the best of the Floridian bowls. A C-USA opponent is just as bad as the Cure Bowl’s Sun Belt — then factor in the lackluster destination. No disrespect to Boca Raton, but USF and most of its fans are already in Florida, so average in-state cities probably won’t compel many to travel for the game. Also, the sponsorship may or may not have resulted in one too many cherry references in this game’s name.

Walk-On’s Independence Bowl (vs. SEC or ACC)

Dec. 27 – 1:30 p.m. – Independence Stadium – Shreveport, Louisiana

This is one of two bowl games with a secondary tie-in with the conference, so it’s tough to say how likely it is an AAC team — let alone USF — plays in this game. But it’s in an average location on a date that’s too close to Christmas to make travel easy for many fans. About the only positives are the game not being in Florida and the opponent being a Power-Five team.

Frisco Bowl (vs. MAC)

Dec. 19 – 8 p.m. – Toyota Stadium – Frisco, Texas

There are good and bad things about this bowl game. The good is that it’s not in Florida or Birmingham. It’s also in a pretty decent destination — Frisco is a part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Because of it being in a major metro area, there should be plenty of non-football events going on in town as well. The bad about this bowl might make it unattractive to both USF and the AAC – you have to play a MAC team.

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (vs. Big 12)

Dec. 22, 2018 – 3:30 p.m. – Amon G. Carter Stadium – Fort Worth, Texas

This is a decent destination. Like the Frisco Bowl, it’s in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But unlike in Frisco, this one would be against a Power-Five opponent. However, the combination of the game being close to Christmas and far from Tampa might make it an unappealing trip — unless you’re into the madhouses that airports become that time of year. If potential travel nightmares don’t bother you, this might be one of the bowl games to root for.

Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman (vs. ACC)

Dec. 31 – Noon – Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium – Annapolis, Maryland

Another decent game near a holiday, but you’ll get far less grief from Mom and Dad if you’re at a football game on New Year’s than Christmas. Annapolis is less than an hour away from Washington, D.C., so the options for ringing in the new year after the game should be pretty decent. This might be the most realistic best-case scenario for USF, at least right now.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl (vs. Big 12 or SEC)

Dec. 31 – 3:45 p.m. – Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium – Memphis, Tennessee

This is the other bowl game that the AAC has a secondary tie-in with, but it’s perhaps the most attractive location of all the bowl games that the conference can send a team to, outside of the New Year’s Six. Think about it – ringing in 2019 in Elvis Presley’s hometown with renowned barbeque after playing a Power-Five opponent. Oh, if only this were a primary AAC bowl game.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (vs. Power-Five opponent)

Jan. 1, 2019 – 1 p.m. – University of Phoenix Stadium – Glendale, Arizona

Obviously, a New Year’s Six appearance is the best-case scenario for any AAC team. None of the things that made other bowl games less attractive matter here. This game could be played in Winnipeg on Christmas Eve and it’d still be the most attractive destination because of the prestige of the game. But during the wintertime, Arizona is definitely a more attractive destination.

College Football Playoff (vs. FBS opponent)

Dec. 29 – TBD – Hard Rock Stadium or AT&T Stadium – Miami Gardens or Arlington, Texas

Haha… yeah, right. The College Football Playoff selection committee can say any FBS team is eligible for the playoff, but no Group of Five team has made the playoff yet and that’s unlikely to change this year. Still, if some miracle happened, this would obviously be the cream of the crop.

Final Thoughts

There are a few bowl games that are less than desirable, but it’s difficult for the AAC to put together a ton of top-tier games when the majority of the college football world sees the conference as secondary, regardless of how good it actually is.

If your final destination for the holiday season is Tampa, some of these games might be out of the question for traveling to as a fan, which is a factor USF will consider when deciding what its best offer is.

As everything stands right now, it seems the best-case scenario is probably the Military Bowl, though the three games mentioned after it are more attractive.

But there’s a lot of football left to be played and many things can and will change between now and the time bowl season arrives, so this is a topic that will be worth addressing again as the season goes on.