The Bulls returned to Tampa late Friday evening with none of their dreams in tow. The collateral damage from their excruciating 49-42 loss to UCF included a conference title shot, Peach Bowl berth and top-20 national ranking.
All that remains to play for in the bowl season is pride — and a proper sendoff for the seniors.
So where will Quinton Flowers and Co. play their final collegiate game? The possible destinations are numerous. The American Athletic Conference has seven primary bowl tie-ins, and two secondary bowl tie-ins (Liberty, Independence).
And there's no bowl pecking order, per se.
In other words, presuming the conference champ plays in a New Year's bowl, the conference runner-up isn't automatically slotted for Bowl A, the third-place team for Bowl B, etc. The AAC works with its schools and TV partners to determine the most attractive bowl matchups for all involved.
So where could the Bulls land? Here are our best guesses:
Military Bowl (Dec. 28, Annapolis, Md., 1:30 p.m., ESPN)
This one has two things that appeal to the Bulls: It's a bona fide bowl trip (with some activities held in Washington, D.C.), and the opponent would be from the Power Five (ACC). If we were wagering, we'd bet the Bulls wind up in this one.
Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 23, Birmingham, Ala., noon, ESPN)
While we can't see USF making consecutive bowl trips to Birmingham, the game would have one redeeming quality: The opponent would be from the SEC. Probably not enough to entice the Bulls (or the conference) to produce a sequel.
Independence Bowl (Dec. 27, Shreveport, La., 12:30 p.m., ESPN)
This one pits an SEC team against an ACC foe, if those respective conferences have a bowl-eligible team to send to Shreveport. The Independence conceivably could be as low as 10th in the SEC's pecking order, and the league has only nine playoff- and bowl-eligible teams. On the down side, Shreveport isn't exactly a coveted bowl destination. If you're destined to play a second-rate ACC foe, would you rather do it in northwest Louisiana or near the nation's capital?
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (Dec. 21, St. Petersburg, 8 p.m., ESPN)
While this is perhaps the least-attractive bowl destination for the Bulls, they might be enticed to stay home for the holidays. Follow our logic: If FAU wins the Conference USA title, it gets to pick its bowl destination. Well, the Owls aren't gonna choose the Boca Raton Bowl (held at their own stadium), but a cross-state trip to the bay area might be appealing. We know it would be appealing to television, which would salivate over a Lane Kiffin vs. Charlie Strong matchup (if either is still coaching their respective team at that point). This game annually has struggled to sell tickets, but an FAU-USF matchup might do decent business.