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For bowl season, USF appears bound for Tampa…or Orlando…or Boca

Barring something unforeseen, the Bulls will remain in Florida for the bowl season
USF running back Johnny Ford (20) celebrates a touchdown during the third quarter of the Bulls' loss last week against UCF. The Bulls are almost certain to remain in Florida for bowl season. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
USF running back Johnny Ford (20) celebrates a touchdown during the third quarter of the Bulls' loss last week against UCF. The Bulls are almost certain to remain in Florida for bowl season. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Nov. 30, 2018
Updated Nov. 30, 2018

Two days before bowl announcements formally are made, speculation about USF's destination continues to ricochet off three state cities.

Tampa, Orlando and Boca Raton. Barring something wholly unforeseen, USF (7-5) will spend its bowl season in one of those places.

While a Dec. 15 Cure Bowl matchup in Orlando (against the Sun Belt Conference runner-up) recently seemed USF's likeliest destination, the Gasparilla Bowl (Dec. 20 at Raymond James Stadium vs. an ACC foe) remains in solid contention.

But a lot hinges on the outcome of Saturday's American Athletic Conference title game between No. 7 UCF and Memphis. Follow along.

If the Tigers stage the upset, neither they nor the Knights would clinch the Group of Five's spot in a New Year's Six bowl.

College Football Playoff guidelines indicate the highest-ranked Group of Five champ gets the bid, which in this case would be the winner of the Mountain West title game between No. 22 Boise State and No. 25 Fresno State. As a result, Memphis — as AAC champ — almost certainly would get its choice of league-affiliated bowls.

And a mid-December trip to Tampa (against a Power Five foe, no less) may be the most appealing option for the Tigers, relegating the Knights to Birmingham or possibly Annapolis (Military Bowl). Such a domino effect almost certainly would send USF to Orlando or the Boca Raton Bowl.

But if UCF wins Saturday, the Knights play in a New Year's game and the conference will work with its schools and TV partners (namely ESPN) to put together the most attractive bowl matchups. For Memphis, that could mean a trip to the geographically-friendly Birmingham Bowl.

As a result, USF would remain in play for the Gasparilla. Though the conference prefers to match up its best teams against Power Five opposition during bowl season, the likelihood of the Bulls attracting a larger live audience may be too much for ESPN (which owns the bowl) or Gasparilla executives to resist.

If USF is bypassed, Cincinnati or Temple would be prime Gasparilla candidates, with Cincy having the edge because Temple played in this game (at Tropicana Field) last season.

At any rate, the suspense ends Sunday afternoon at the latest. All bowl pairings formally will be announced following the unveiling of the four CFP teams at 12:30. The Gasparilla Bowl matchup officially will be announced at 3:30.