Bowl picture murky for USF Bulls and Big East

TAMPA — With three weeks left in the regular season, the Big East's bowl picture remains as murky as ever, with Notre Dame and the BCS complicating the projections of which team might play where.

USF needs one more win to be bowl eligible, and despite online models that have the Bulls playing all the way up in Toronto or returning to St. Petersburg, the most likely match is the Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. Many questions remain before anything can be official.

• Will Notre Dame take the Big East's spot in the Gator Bowl? If Connecticut beats the slumping Fighting Irish this week, it becomes more likely that the Big East runnerup (perhaps Pittsburgh) plays in Jacksonville. If the Irish (6-4) get a seventh win this weekend or at Stanford, they will still be a tempting pick for the Gator, even against a nine- or 10-win Big East option.

• Could the Big East land a BCS at-large spot? It's unlikely, but if Cincinnati and Pittsburgh were to win their remaining games until their Dec. 5 meeting and the Panthers won a close game at home, you wonder if a one-loss Cincinnati team with a hot coach could get the nod for the Sugar Bowl's final BCS pick over two-loss teams such as Iowa, Oklahoma State or Penn State.

• Does anyone benefit from USF returning to Tropicana Field? The Bulls can't want their bowl experience for the second year in a row to be a 45-minute drive across the bay. Central Florida makes sense on the Conference USA side of the bowl, which should help the second-year game with attendance. That would allow the bowl to line up a northern Big East team on the other side.

The Big East has the same payout for its lowest three bowls, in St. Petersburg, Birmingham and Toronto, so it can arrange the teams to find the optimal matches for all three games.

The most likely scenario has Rutgers and USF left for bowls in Birmingham and St. Petersburg, and rather than repeat last year's pairings, the league would be more likely to send the Bulls to Alabama and bring the Scarlet Knights to Tropicana Field.

Home test: Despite being ranked in the top 15 for most of the season, the USF men's soccer team (13-3-3) missed a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament, in part because of a poor RPI rating. So the Bulls are at home Thursday night for a first-round match against Stetson, which has former Bulls men's and women's coach Logan Fleck coaching the Hatters.

If the Bulls get past the Hatters — they beat them 3-0 in an August exhibition — they will go Sunday to top-seeded Akron, which is 20-0-0 and beat the Bulls 3-1 in a preseason exhibition.

This and that: Softball coach Ken Eriksen announced five signings Tuesday, including Pinellas Park left-hander Sara Nevins and twins Ashli and Courtney Goff of Sickles. … Volleyball, having won nine Big East games, its best total in five seasons in the league, opens play Friday in the conference tournament. The sixth-seeded Bulls face third seed Pittsburgh, which handed USF a five-set loss last month.

Greg Auman can be reached at auman@sptimes.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.

Bowl picture murky for USF Bulls and Big East 11/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 9:12pm]

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