After having the benefit of USF and Central Florida in its first two games, the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg ventures out to play without the help of an in-state fan base, announcing Sunday the pairing of Louisville and Southern Miss for its Dec. 21 game at Tropicana Field.
The game has no shortage of Florida presence — the Cards' Charlie Strong and the Golden Eagles' Larry Fedora were assistants together on the Florida staff in 2003-04, and both continue to recruit the state heavily as head coaches. Strong has 24 Floridians on his roster, including three from St. Petersburg, and Southern Miss has eight players from Florida.
"These are two programs that have always played an exciting brand of football, and the matchup features a defensive-minded Louisville head coach against a Southern Miss coach who has his team scoring nearly 40 points a game," said Brett Dulaney, the third-year bowl's executive director.
Louisville (7-5, 3-4 Big East) is playing in its first bowl in four seasons, which should help bring fans to St. Petersburg. Southern Miss (8-4, 5-3 Conference USA) is playing in its third bowl in as many seasons under Fedora.
"We've coached in games together and we've coached against each other. I'm looking forward to playing against a good friend," said Fedora, who has victories over Kansas and at ranked Central Florida.
Louisville's top rusher, Bilal Powell (1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns), is from Lakeland's Lake Gibson High, and Southern Miss linebacker Ronnie Thornton, who has 59 tackles, is from Miami; freshman receiver Francisco Llanos, a Chamberlain grad, had an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
The Big East won the game's first two bowls, USF over Memphis in 2008 and Rutgers over UCF last year.
"I'm especially happy for our senior class to get to a bowl game and have the opportunity to play one more game," Strong said. "Our team has worked hard … I'm so happy for them."