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USF football in December? Some early bowl projections for the Bulls

The team needs only two more wins to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2018.
 
USF running back Nay'Quan Wright (5) scores a touchdown against FAU during the second quarter of the teams' Oct. 14 contest at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls (4-4) lost that one but are only two victories from bowl eligibility.
USF running back Nay'Quan Wright (5) scores a touchdown against FAU during the second quarter of the teams' Oct. 14 contest at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls (4-4) lost that one but are only two victories from bowl eligibility. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Oct. 26, 2023

Following its close win at Connecticut last weekend, USF’s chances of reaching six wins and securing its first bowl berth in a half-decade have improved from dicey to decent.

Which sure beats dead in the water.

At this point in the calendar each of the last three seasons, the Bulls were playing to salvage their pride, not a postseason opportunity. Arguably the greatest sign of the program’s strides under first-year coach Alex Golesh is the fact that fans can speculate on possible bowl destinations at the twilight of October.

We’ve done some speculating ourselves, with four educated guesses on where the Bulls (4-4) could land and whom they might play. We’ve even ranked the possible bowl matchups in ascending order, with No. 1 the game we’d most like to see. Candidly, we’d be surprised to see USF leave the state in the bowl season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

4. Myrtle Beach Bowl

Dec. 18, 2:30 p.m.

Brooks Stadium, Conway, South Carolina

Projected matchup: Toledo vs. USF

If the Bulls were to leave Florida in December, they wouldn’t go far. USF fans simply didn’t travel the last time their team played an out-of-state bowl game (2017 Birmingham Bowl), but perhaps a half-decade postseason drought and a far more vacation-friendly destination would improve ticket sales. Additionally, Toledo is brimming with Tampa connections. Former Plant coach Robert Weiner, who led the Panthers to four state titles, is the Rockets’ quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator. Second-leading receiver Junior Vandeross is a Jesuit alumnus, and Plant alum Judge Culpepper (son of former Bucs defensive tackle Brad Culpepper) leads the team in sacks.

3. Boca Raton Bowl

USF and Marshall squared off in the 2018 Gasparilla Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. Could the teams match up again this December on the other side of the state?
USF and Marshall squared off in the 2018 Gasparilla Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. Could the teams match up again this December on the other side of the state? [ JONES, OCTAVIO | Tampa Bay Times ]

Dec. 21, 8 p.m.

FAU Stadium, Boca Raton

Projected matchup: Marshall vs. USF

A berth in this game would serve both the Bulls and their fans well. For the team, it’s far enough from Tampa to qualify as a bona fide bowl trip; for most of the fan base, it’s only about a four-hour drive. We’ll let you in on a little secret: Many coaches (and players for that matter) who aren’t competing in a New Year’s Six contest or national semifinal would prefer to play their bowl game before Christmas. This contest (like all on this list) checks that box.

2. Cure Bowl

Dec. 16, 2023, 3:30 p.m.

FBC Mortgage Stadium, Orlando

Projected matchup: Georgia State vs. USF

Just for clarity, FBC Mortgage Stadium is far more widely known as the Bounce House at UCF. So how would Bulls fans feel about their bowl game being staged in their rival’s stadium? Considering the program’s abysmal recent history, probably not as bummed or bitter as one might imagine; they’d simply be happy to be playing a bowl somewhere (especially within driving distance). And let’s suppose UCF is bowl-ineligible; Bulls fans undoubtedly would find wicked delight in trumpeting the fact they’re getting use out of the Bounce House while the Knights sit at home.

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1. Gasparilla Bowl

USF quarterback Byrum Brown (17) waits for a snap during last season's finale against UCF at Raymond James Stadium. Could the Bulls and Knights rekindle their rivalry in a bowl game in December? It's plausible.
USF quarterback Byrum Brown (17) waits for a snap during last season's finale against UCF at Raymond James Stadium. Could the Bulls and Knights rekindle their rivalry in a bowl game in December? It's plausible. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Dec. 22, 6:30 p.m.

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

Projected matchup: UCF vs. USF

If both teams get to six wins, this prime-time matchup is doable — and delicious. The Bulls would get another crack at their hated rival, who won the last six meetings against USF before bolting for the Big 12 and ending the annual series. Meantime, ESPN, which owns every bowl game on this list, would get a regional ratings boon. Because the Big 12 has surprisingly few bowl tie-ins, some of their eligible teams would have to fill slots in the ESPN-owned bowls. Would UCF push back a bit? Perhaps, for the exact same reason the Bulls pushed back 15 years ago on extending its series with the Knights — because it would have far more to lose than gain. Ahh, the irony. If egos can be put aside and the conferences cooperate, this could be the most hyped non-New Year’s Six bowl of the season.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

Extended bowl drought

A look at our local and state scene the last time USF appeared in a bowl game (Gasparilla Bowl vs. Marshall, Dec. 20, 2018):

Bucs coach: Dirk Koetter

Bulls coach: Charlie Strong

Bucs QB: Jameis Winston

Bulls QB: Blake Barnett

Lightning’s record: 27-7-2

Rays’ newest acquisition: RHP Charlie Morton (signed on Dec. 21)

FSU football: 5-7 under Willie Taggart (team was bowl-ineligible)

Miami football: 7-5 under Mark Richt (preparing for Pinstripe Bowl)

Florida football: 9-3 under Dan Mullen (preparing for Peach Bowl)

UCF football: 12-0 under Josh Heupel (preparing for Fiesta Bowl)

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