Photo courtesy of Cincinnati athletics
This whole offseason and into the season, fans have been laughing it up at Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
With Bowlsby being visibly upset about his two cash cows bolting to the SEC, it’s hard to blame him. The commissioner did say the Big 12 would build back better, even with those two leaving.
That statement brought even more ridicule, but in the long run, maybe the Big 12 can make something special out of this. That is a different topic for a different day.
Yet, the four incoming Big 12 schools all have huge opportunities this bowl season. Believe it or not, prestige could be at a ridiculous high before January is over.
So let’s check out the four bowl games that the future Big 12 members will be participating in. BYU will be joining the Big 12 in 2023. Three other AAC schools will be joining no later then 2024.
The Gasparilla Bowl (Dec. 23 at 7 p.m. ET, ESPN): UCF vs. Florida
The Gasparilla Bowl could have only dreamed of match up like this, and it fell perfectly into their laps. In the 13th year of this bowl game, this will be the first one that is SOLD OUT.
For those who didn’t know, UCF is the only team in the nation to go from Division III to Division II, to FCS, and is now closing in on the highest level of FBS competition — the Power 5. The opportunity that UCF has to notch another milestone under its belt is tremendous, and it is being handed to the Knights on a silver platter.
Florida will enter the bowl game with absent players who have entered the transfer portal, an interim head coach, and inexperienced assistant coaches all around. With that being said, the Gators have played inspired football under interim coach Greg Knox.
UCF head coach Gus Malzahn however, could deliver in a big way in year one by giving the UCF faithful a first win over an in-state Power 5 program. Malzahn is no stranger to bowl games. In his 10th year as a head coach, he has qualified each year. With a dominating win, perhaps the Knights could make a case to finish in the top 25.
Independence Bowl (Dec. 18 at 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): No. 12 BYU vs. UAB
With all due respect to a UAB program that has accomplished amazing feats since its revival, this is one reason why BYU fans have to be excited to move to the Big 12. As an independent, unless you make a New Year’s Six Bowl, the outlook on the bowl scope tends to be less than stellar.
BYU, who finished the regular season 10-2 with wins over the Pac-12 and Mountain West champions and a 5-0 record against Pac-12 schools are relegated to Shreveport. What BYU has accomplished this year already speaks volumes, but there is still more to accomplish with a bowl game win.
That includes a potential top-10 finish, consecutive 11-win seasons and a case for further respect.
Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 28 at 12 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 21 Houston vs Auburn
Like UCF, Houston has an amazing opportunity to defeat an Auburn team that took No. 1 Alabama to the wire. With a win here, Houston has an outside shot of finishing in the top 15 and an opportunity for national respect.
Auburn will be without several pieces including, including standout running back Tank Bigsby, who is expected to transfer. For teams transitioning to the Big 12, this may be one for the conference to feel most confident about.
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 4 Cincinnati vs. No. 1 Alabama (College Football Playoff)
While Houston takes on the team that took top-ranked Alabama to four overtimes, Alabama gets to take on the team that beat Houston by multiple scores.
Many thought we would never see a Group of 5 get a playoff shot under the current format. While the current situation is helping Cincinnati’s current conference, the AAC, rest assured that the Big 12 offices in Irving, Tex. will be cheering hard for the Bearcats.
The Bottom Line
The Big 12 may never achieve the financial boost that Texas or Oklahoma brought the conference. But in the short term, prestige and competitive football on the field could be made up for sooner rather than later.
While the four bowl games may not count for the Big 12’s direct success, don’t mistake the role they’ll play in the conference regaining national respect.
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