With all the attention in college football focused on the Power 5 conferences, there are many teams that fly under the radar every year to make one of the “New Year’s Six” bowl games. We’ve seen it happen each since the start of the College Football Playoff began.
In 2015, Boise State reached the Fiesta Bowl and defeated Arizona. Houston followed suit in 2016 by defeating Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Last year we saw Western Michigan receive a chance to play in the Cotton Bowl where they lost to Wisconsin.
Entering the 2017 season, multiple teams have been thrown around as possible sleepers and underdogs to earn a bid to a New Year’s six bowl games. Two names that have remained constant, however, are both USF and UCF.
The Bulls from South Florida have a new leader in town with Charlie Strong taking over the head coaching position. Strong walks into a prolific offense that features quarterback Quinton Flowers, a potential dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Coach Strong will also look to improve the Bulls’ defense that allowed more than 30 points per game last season.
In 2015, they UCF Knights were winless, posting a 0-12 record that saw the departure of former head coach George O’Leary after just eight games. Enter: Scott Frost, former offensive coordinator at Oregon the previous three years. Frost came in and made an immediate impact, coaching the Knights to six wins last season. He looks to improve on that total in 2017, as he continues to bolster a young UCF team.
USF is expected to at least match last year’s win total of 11 and possibly improve on it. This would give the Bulls a very good shot at winning the AAC and earn a spot in a New Year’s six game. However, based on the strength of schedule, UCF also has a very good opportunity to win the AAC if they can stand tall against Power 5 schools like Maryland, Georgia Tech, and Illinois.
A New Year’s six bowl game would be the first in school history for USF, while UCF shocked fans with a program defining win against Baylor in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl. The matchup between these two in late November could be the deciding factor for who wins the AAC/earns a shot at a “New Year’s Six” bid or who will play in a regular bowl game.