Bulls eager to play Clemson in Charlotte bowl
TAMPA -- The sting of Saturday's last-minute loss to Connecticut in the Bulls' final home game was softened somewhat Sunday, as USF landed on its feet for bowl season, landing a New Year's Eve slot against Clemson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.
"As disappointing as it was last night, to be as close as we were, to come back to tie the game up only to lose it on a great effort by (UConn kicker Dave Teggart) to make a 52-yard field goal which just ripped your heart out," coach Skip Holtz said, "to come back today and get the great news ... is something we're really excited about, having the opportunity to represent the Big East and this great university. It's really lifted everybody's spirits in this program."
The Bulls (7-5, 3-4 in Big East) will play at noon on ESPN against Clemson, which went 6-6 but saw five of its losses come by single digits, including an early-season overtime loss at No. 1 Auburn. The Tigers, who will be about 140 miles from home, should have a considerable crowd advantage in Charlotte, though it's also a homecoming of sorts for Holtz, who spent the previous five seasons four hours east at East Carolina.
"It's a great finish to my senior year, going back to North Carolina," said Bulls tight end Kevin Gidrey, who transferred to the Bulls after playing for Holtz at ECU. "It's a big-stage team, I've watched them a couple of times and they have a good program. It'll be a real good opportunity to finish off the year going 8-5 with a good win against Clemson."
Holtz has a history of success against the ACC, including USF's win nine days ago at Miami. At East Carolina, his teams beat five different ACC teams, and he knows Clemson's program well from his six years on his father Lou's staff at South Carolina from 1999-2004.
The Bulls will take the next four days off while players focus on final exams, then will begin practice this weekend -- one of the biggest benefits of a bowl game is the 15 practices teams are allowed to help prepare for next season as well. USF played its first bowl game in Charlotte in 2005, losing 14-0 to N.C. State, and sixth-year senior running back Mo Plancher, who redshirted that season but made the trip, has already told his players what to expect on Dec. 31.
"Hopefully it's a better outcome this year," said Plancher, who fondly remembers the NASCAR ride-along experience at Lowe's Motor Speedway, which the team will do again in Charlotte. "A lot of guys have asked me about the city. It's beautiful, great atmosphere. I think they'll enjoy it."