Ever since USF’s bowl odds transitioned from long shot to legitimate, long-suffering Bulls fans have speculated endlessly on possible destinations and matchups.
Some yearned for a postseason clash with rival UCF, others for a getaway out of state. Some simply wanted a game against a Power Five foe as a gauge for the program’s progress.
At least one of those scenarios unfolded.
The Bulls will, in fact, travel to a popular vacation spot for the bowl season, albeit by chartering a bus instead of a plane. The program’s first bowl appearance in five years will come against Syracuse in the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 21.
Kickoff at FAU Stadium is at 8 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
“Playing football in December is how it should be,” said Bulls first-year coach Alex Golesh, who oversaw the second-best turnaround (USF went from 1-11 to 6-6) in major college football this season. “And gosh darn it, I’m excited to represent our program in Boca.”
UCF, meanwhile, will be headed back to Tampa. Two years after their convincing 12-point win against Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl, the Knights (6-6) will face Georgia Tech (6-6) in the same contest at Raymond James Stadium on Dec. 22 (6:30 p.m., ESPN).
Also in Tampa, LSU (9-3) and Wisconsin (7-5) will square off in the ReliaQuest Bowl on New Year’s Day at RayJay in the annual clash of SEC and Big Ten foes. Kickoff is at noon.
Miami (7-5) ends a one-year bowl drought when it faces Rutgers (6-6) in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28 (2:15 p.m., ESPN).
Like the Bulls, Syracuse finished 6-6, but went only 2-6 in the ACC and fired eighth-year coach Dino Babers in late November following a 31-22 loss at Georgia Tech. Under interim coach Nunzio Campanile (the Orange’s tight ends coach), Syracuse topped Wake Forest 35-31 in its regular-season finale to achieve bowl eligibility.
Georgia defensive backs coach Fran Brown was hired as Babers’ permanent replacement earlier this month. Speaking before the Orange were confirmed as USF’s bowl opponent, Golesh suggested the benefits of playing a late-December game in Boca Raton transcend the opponent.
Among them: The litany of extra practice time afforded to program in transition such as USF, and the proximity of the contest for Bulls fans. The Bulls already have had two postseason practices, and could have roughly a dozen more prior to the game.
“It certainly makes it easier for (fans) to travel,” Golesh said. “Honestly, for somebody that’s lived in the Midwest most of their life, how cool is it that we live in a state where there’s bowl games? There weren’t any bowl games in Ohio.”
The former Big East rivals have met 10 times, with the Bulls owning an 8-2 record. USF’s most significant win in the series arguably came in 2015, when the Bulls entered Raymond James Stadium with a 1-3 mark amid palpable buzz of coach Willie Taggart needing to win to retain his job.
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Taggart unleashed struggling quarterback Quinton Flowers that day, when the sophomore scrambled, slung and improvised his way to a breakout effort resulting in a 45-24 Bulls triumph. Behind Flowers, USF would win 27 of its next 33 games and play in three bowl contests.
In terms of the ReliaQuest Bowl, attention will immediately center on whether Tigers quarterback — and Heisman Trophy contender — Jayden Daniels will play in the game. Widely deemed a first-round pick in the 2024 NFL draft, Daniels and USF’s Byrum Brown were the only players in the Football Bowl Subdivision to collect at least 3,000 passing and 700 rushing yards this year.
Boca Raton Bowl: Information can be found at GoUSFBulls.com.
ReliaQuest Bowl: Tickets are on sale through Ticketmaster online at www.ticketmaster.com. Priority membership seats are available directly through the ReliaQuest Bowl office at (813) 874-BOWL with details on the bowl web site at www.ReliaQuestbowl.com.
Gasparilla Bowl: Information can be found at gasparillabowl.com.
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