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Ranking Potential Bowl Matchups for the Cincinnati Bearcats

Getting to a bowl is great. Figuring out the best possible bowl to play in is another matter.

Cincinnati v UCLA Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Here’s something we know for certain: the Cincinnati Bearcats will play in a bowl game this winter for the first time since 2015. This concrete fact illustrates that the Bearcats are a very good team.

Now that we’ve gotten the indisputable facts out of the way, there are still some questions pertaining to UC’s return to bowl season. Most of these inquiries are of a more boilerplate persuasion. Which bowl? Where will it be held? Who will the Bearcats be facing? That sort of thing.

We won’t get the answers to those questions until Sunday when the full slate of bowl games is unveiled, but that hasn’t stopped the internet from doing its best to supply us with a number of likely scenarios. Some of the potential situations, as projected by some media outlets, are better than others. Let’s take a look and rank them.

1. ESPN (Kyle Bonagura)

Bowl: Independence

Opponent: Miami

Location: Shreveport, Louisiana

Date/Time: Dec. 27/1:30 p.m. ET

Raise your hand if you want very specific revenge. I’m of course referring to some payback for Miami’s 10-2 all-time series record. Sure, the Bearcats won the last meeting in 2015, but before that was 10-straight losses. All that losing can weigh on a program. Plus, UC just doesn’t like Miamis of any kind.

Aside from the (poorly) constructed rivalry narrative, this game has a bit of everything. After winning 10 games, the Bearcats don’t want to be in a game served up as an appetizer in mid-December for the meat of bowl season later in the month. Playing against a legitimately good team from a brand name conference makes a big difference as well. Playing against the ACC’s Hurricanes, who are 23rd in the country in S&P+, on Dec. 27 checks both boxes.

2. Sports Illustrated

Bowl: Military

Opponent: Georgia Tech

Location: Annapolis, Maryland

Date/Time: Dec. 31/12 p.m. ET

Getting back to a bowl is obviously a huge achievement but getting to a New Year’s Eve bowl is an even bigger one. While the bowls on Jan. 1 are obviously the top of the marquee (aside from the College Football Playoff), playing the day before is something to celebrate as well.

Georgia Tech would present an interesting challenge for the Bearcats, what with its heavy rushing attack. The Yellow Jackets are actually the No. 1 rushing team in the country (334.9 yards per game). That is just the type of challenge UC and its ninth-ranked rush defense could use to prove itself.

3. ESPN (Mitch Sherman)

Bowl: AutoNation Cure

Opponent: Appalachian State

Location: Orlando, Florida

Date/Time: Dec. 15/1:30 p.m. ET

I apologize for my power conference bias with my first two picks because this could very well be the best matchup of the bunch. The 9-1 Mountaineers are ranked 17th in the country in S&P+ thanks to a crushing defense and splendid special teams. App State still has to play in the Sun Belt Conference title game against Louisiana Lafayette, but this is a very good team.

Aside from a lack of a power conference appeal, this bowl is super early in the schedule, which means we get more Bearcat football sooner (yay!) but in a less prestigious bowl (boo!). If all that mattered was which team was best, this could be the pick, but there are a few things working against it.

4. SB Nation

Bowl: Military

Opponent: Boston College

Location: Annapolis, Maryland

Date/Time: Dec. 31/12 p.m. ET

There is nothing wrong with this game. It’s a New Years Eve bowl against an ACC foe that was nationally ranked at one point this season. However, Boston College has lost three-straight games entering the postseason and star running back A.J. Dillon (1,108 yards, 10 touchdowns) may miss playing in a bowl due to injury. Taking away star power hurts the matchup and drops it down the rankings.

5. Athlon Sports

Bowl: Gasparilla

Opponent: Duke

Location: Tampa, Florida

Date/Time: Dec. 20/8 p.m. ET

The Gasparilla Bowl may sound like a side quest in Red Dead Redemption 2, but is a very real bowl game. Previously known as the St. Petersburg Bowl, this game featured a six-win Temple team a year ago, so this seems like a bit of an insult for a Bearcats team that has double digit victories. Plus, the bowl is held at Raymond James Stadium, home of the USF Bulls, so this wouldn’t even be a new venue.

Despite those negatives, its the actual matchup that matters most in these rankings. Duke may be just 7-5 overall but the Blue Devils are an ACC team that had some quality wins this year (particularly a Sept. 8 triumph against Northwestern) and was nationally ranked for a brief moment. Plus, UC has a history against the Blue Devils in the postseason, having defeated them in the 2012 Belk Bowl.

6. CBS Sports

Bowl: Gasparilla

Opponent: Southern Miss

Location: Tampa, Florida

Date/Time: Dec. 20/8 p.m. ET

This is the same Gasparilla Bowl from Athlon’s projection, just with a 6-5 Southern Miss team ranked 75th in the country in S&P+ the opponent instead of Duke. No thanks.