Earlier today, Jason Kirk of the SB Nation mothership (follow him on Twitter for pocket square humor) projected matchups for every bowl game for the 2016-17 season.
While many teams were left on the outside looking in of these ironclad projections, Cincinnati was included in the prognosticated postseason, with a matchup against the Texas A&M Aggies in the Brimingham Bowl on Dec. 29 appearing in the crystal ball for the Bearcats.
The Birmingham Bowl, previously called the BBVA Compass Bowl and before that, the PapaJohns.com Bowl, has hosted the season finale of a few high-powered American Athletic Conference programs during the last three years. Paxton Lynch and Memphis competed against Auburn (31-10 loss) last winter, following Shane Carden and East Carolina’s run-in with Florida the previous season (28-20 loss). Houston also took part in the bowl game, which has been running since 2006, during the first season of the AAC’s existence. As you may have noticed, the two teams that compete in this bowl are generally pulled from the SEC and the AAC, meaning, although traveling to Brimingham, Alabama in the middle of the winter isn’t exactly a tropical getaway, it still presents a chance to face a power five opponent.
Texas A&M would fit the bill, having won at least eight games in each of the last four seasons, although there is certainly some discontent swirling around Kevin Sumlin's program, which will be replacing all but four starters on the offensive side of the ball. If Mr. Kirk's projection comes to fruition, it would mark just the second contest ever between the Bearcats and the Aggies. The other occurred in 1971, when UC blanked A&M 17-0. That game might as well have happened when Alexander the Great was kicking around, as the two sides played an entirely different brand of football, combining for a total of 10 touchdown passes that season entire season. My how things have changed.
UC has actually competed in this particular bowl before, although it was still named after America’s favorite Peyton Manning paycheck producer at that point. During the 2007 PapaJohns.com Bowl, Ben Mauk threw for 334 yards and four touchdowns (as well as three interceptions) to lead the Bearcats to a 31-21 victory over Southern Mississippi. The Bearcats won 10 games that season and finished at No. 17 in the AP poll. They might not need to reach such heights to make Mr. Kirk’s prediction come true, as the average win total for the Birmingham Bowl's last six participants is eight even. However, that would still be a step up from last season.
The rest of the projections have seven other AAC programs competing during bowl season, highlighted by Houston taking on Tennessee in a possible Cotton Bowl collision.
All in all, a spot in the Birmingham Bowl (or one like it) is a more than fair assessment of where Cincinnati's program is headed this season. Its on Tommy Tuberville to meet those expectations or, hopefully, exceed them.