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Sunday, Oct 21, 2018
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Why is USF headed back to Birmingham? Chance for a ‘power’ play

While many of his constituents probably aren't crazy about spending a consecutive bowl season in Birmingham, USF athletic director Mark Harlan explained it was the only way the Bulls could meet their postseason objective.

Playing a "Power Six" foe in a bowl.

"It was about a Power Six opponent," Harlan explained from his office Monday. "It was the No. 1 goal, and that was really our focus."

Twelve months after their overtime triumph against South Carolina in the 2016 Birmingham Bowl, the No. 23 Bulls (9-2) return to face Big 12 foe Texas Tech (6-6) on Dec. 23.

"It was a fantastic experience (last year), so we're thrilled," Harlan said.

"I'm not immune to folks scratching their heads about a return game and I get it, but I would say that it's not all that uncommon for it to happen across the country. We've certainly seen it quite a bit."

Harlan said only two other bowls affiliated with the American Athletic Conference — the Liberty and Military — provided viable options for USF to face a "Power Six" team. The Liberty came into play because the SEC didn't have enough eligible teams to fulfill all its bowl tie-ins; the AAC has a secondary tie-in to the game.

"The Liberty Bowl is obviously a very high-payout game, and there was pretty much understanding that our conference runner-up would be going to the Liberty Bowl," Harlan said. "And then my own research showed that (Memphis) hadn't been there in over 50 years. So I think that one made logical sense."

He said USF also was in communication with the Military Bowl, which chose Navy. He added there was "a possible scenario" involving a bowl matchup against FSU (in the Military or Gasparilla Bowl, which has a secondary tie-in with the ACC), but the 'Noles landed in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

"There was always a chance that things could materialize that way," Harlan said. "My own professional look at that was that for Florida State to drop past Detroit (Quick Lane Bowl) and Shreveport didn't seem very likely, and as such it worked out that way."

As a result, the Bulls are back in Birmingham, for a game ranked by CBS Sports as the 13th-best matchup of the bowl season.

"If you go back to where I started, the most important thing for us was to play a Power Six, along with the fact we had an absolute fantastic trip last year," Harlan said. "They treated us about as good as any bowl I've ever been a part of."

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