By Joey Knight
TAMPA — A regular season that many Bulls fans likely would describe as underwhelming now will feature a bowl trip to match.
USF (9-2), a preseason favorite to win the American Athletic Conference and earn a Peach Bowl berth in Atlanta, instead will make a second consecutive Birmingham Bowl appearance, this time against 6-6 Texas Tech of the Big 12.
The Dec. 23 game kicks off at noon (11 a.m. in Birmingham, Ala.). USF topped South Carolina 46-39 in overtime in last year’s contest.
Clearly, offense will be the draw in this year’s matchup. USF enters with the nation’s ninth-ranked offense (508.6 yards per game); Texas Tech is 17th (468.4).
"This is an exciting bowl matchup and a chance for our team and this tremendous senior class to close the 2017 season with a win," USF coach Charlie Strong said in a school news release.
"It’s the third straight bowl game for our program and a chance to go out and try to beat an exciting opponent and get to double-digit wins for a second straight year. Our guys are excited to play."
The Red Raiders dropped five of their last seven games — leading to speculation over coach Kliff Kingsbury’s future — but defeated Texas 27-23 in their regular-season finale to earn bowl eligibility.
The Bulls and Red Raiders share Houston as a common opponent. Texas Tech defeated the Cougars 27-24 in late September; Houston upset USF 28-24 Oct. 28.
Birmingham Bowl tickets are $50 and can be reserved at gousfbulls.com or calling toll-free 1-800-462-8557 (gobulls).
Five years after staging one of the most memorable games in Outback Bowl lore, South Carolina and Michigan are returning for a rematch.
The Wolverines and Gamecocks, both of whom are 8-4, will kick off at noon on New Year’s Day at Raymond James Stadium.
USC, then coached by Steve Spurrier, won the 2013 game 33-28 on a touchdown pass in the final minute. The game perhaps is best remembered for Gamecocks DE Jadeveon Clowney’s viral hit on RB Vincent Smith, which knocked the helmet off Smith’s head and the ball from his grasp.
The Wolverines’ roster features second-team All-Big Ten OT Mason Cole, an East Lake High alumnus who made his 50th consecutive start in the regular-season finale against Ohio State. USC’s roster includes OT Christian Pellage, a former Under Armour All-American from Nature Coast.
"This is a great reward for our staff, our players, the university and our fans for all that we’ve accomplished," Gamecocks second-year coach Will Muschamp said. "Our goal is to enjoy the bowl experience and to come home with nine wins for just the seventh time in school history."
Tickets are on sale through Ticketmaster at ticketmaster.com or toll-free 1-800-745-3000.
’Canes staying home
Miami’s best season in 14 years will end at home in its first Orange Bowl appearance since 2003. The No. 11 Hurricanes will face No. 6 Wisconsin, which like Miami saw its College Football Playoff hopes end with a conference title game loss Saturday night.
The game is Dec. 30 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
"It’s a wonderful opportunity," Miami coach Mark Richt said.
The Hurricanes are 6-3 all time in the Orange Bowl, including a 16-14 win over Florida State in their most recent appearance.
One key to the matchup will be turnovers. Miami thrives on them, as evidenced by its famed turnover chain and 30 forced turnovers (No. 2 nationally). Wisconsin can be loose with the ball; the Badgers have lost 23 turnovers, tied for No. 112 in the country.
Gasparilla: FIU, Temple
Florida International (8-4), which doubled last season’s victory total under first-year coach Butch Davis, will face Temple (6-6) in the Dec. 21 Gasparilla Bowl at Tropicana Field. The local story lines will be plenteous. Florida International senior QB Alex McGough (2,791 passing yards, 17 TDs) starred at Gaither High, while Temple redshirt junior WR Ventell Bryant (28 catches, 273 yards) played at Jefferson. FIU’s roster features 11 players from the bay area. Tickets can be purchased at gasparillabowl.com.
Independence for ’Noles
Florida State’s NCAA-record 36th consecutive bowl game will be a first-time destination for the Seminoles: the Independence Bowl on Dec. 27 in Shreveport, La. The 6-6 Seminoles will play 8-4 Southern Miss. FSU is 13-8-1 all time against Southern Miss, but one loss was notable: Junior QB Brett Favre upset No. 6 FSU 30-26 at Jacksonville in the 1989 season opener, part of the Seminoles’ last 0-2 start — until this season.
Times staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report. Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]mpabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.