USF to play Northern Illinois Jan. 2 in Toronto
USF has confirmed that the Bulls are going north -- way north -- to play in the International Bowl in Toronto on Jan. 2 against Northern Illinois.
Online reports now have the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte picking Pittsburgh, with Connecticut getting matched up with the Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham. That left Rutgers and USF for St. Petersburg and Toronto, with the Scarlet Knights coming to Tropicana Field to face Central Florida.
Two years after playing on the U.S.-Mexico border at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, the Bulls are headed to Canada, and the Rogers Centre, where the Bills and Jets played Thursday night. It's USF's second straight bowl game in an American League East ballpark, this after playing at the Trop last season.
USF and Northern Illinois have played twice before, splitting two meetings in 2001-02. The Bulls lost 20-17 on the road in '01, and tell me if this sounds familiar -- they lost on a 42-yard field goal as time expired. USF routed the Huskies 37-6 in Tampa the next year.
NIU has beaten a BCS conference team this season in Purdue, though none of their seven wins came against teams with winning records. They beat Purdue (5-7), Western Michigan (5-7), Akron (3-9), Ball State (2-10), I-AA Western Illinois (1-10), Miami of Ohio (1-11) and Eastern Michigan (0-12).
Much like USF, NIU is making its fifth bowl appearance and is 2-2 coming in. The Huskies won the 1983 California Bowl and the 2004 Silicon Valley Classic, losing the 2006 Poinsettia Bowl to TCU and the 2008 Independence Bowl to Louisiana Tech.
The former SkyDome is uniquely set up to convert from baseball to football -- the bleachers can literally split in half and are moved to each sideline, with a football field that extends from home plate into straightaway centerfield. Each team's fans will have one sideline of seats for the game. Check out NFL.com video from the Bills-Jets game to see what a football game in Toronto looks like.
Now I know that some of you will be attending the game -- if you don't have a passport, here's a link to help you start the process of getting one. It takes a few weeks, so I wouldn't waste any time ...
As for St. Petersburg, the bowl should have strong attendance, with UCF playing just two hours from home and Rutgers expected to draw well from a large group of 15,000 alumni in the state of Florida.