ST. PETERSBURG — USF senior Matt Huners, who has started all 12 games this season at guard and has graded out as one of USF's best offensive linemen, will miss Saturday's St. Petersburg Bowl against Memphis because he is academically ineligible.
Huners, a fifth-year player from Palm Harbor, graduated in the spring but did not earn enough postgraduate credit hours during the fall semester to maintain his eligibility. He started all but one game at left guard this season, shifting to right guard in USF's loss to Cincinnati.
"There's no excuse for it," coach Jim Leavitt said. "There's a rule and he knew about it. Matt was well aware of this for a long time, and we've been prepared for it. This is no new shock to us."
Offensive line is a position already thinned by injuries this season, and with Huners out, the Bulls will start sophomore Jake Sims, who has been limited in practice since breaking a bone in his right hand in practice last week.
Sims, a former walk-on put on scholarship in the fall, will step in at right tackle, with RT Marc Dile shifting to left tackle and LT Ryan Schmidt moving inside to Huners' spot at left guard.
GETTING THERE: Bowl officials gave their first ticketing update Thursday afternoon, saying 22,000 seats have been sold for Saturday's game — two-thirds of Tropicana Field's 33,000-seat capacity for football.
What remains unclear is how they arrived at that total — USF and Memphis are each responsible for selling 10,000 seats, so the figure could simply account for those seats, plus an additional 2,000 sold. USF has been given an additional 1,000 tickets beyond its original allotment, but Memphis is believed to have sold fewer than 2,000, returning the rest for sale to the general public.
SHORT STAY: Memphis coach Tommy West has a tiny bit of history with football in this area — he was part of the Bucs' original draft class in 1976, taken in the 16th, or next to last, round. His stay with the Bucs wasn't a long one, as he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs shortly after joining the team.
West remembers practicing with Lee Roy Selmon and Steve Spurrier, but he said he doesn't consider himself part of the '76 Bucs' infamous 0-14 season.
"I had nothing to do with that 0-14," he said. "I get blamed for enough dang losses as it is. They blame me at my place for plenty, so I'm taking no credit for any of those."
BOWLING FOR FUN: The Bulls have been enjoying St. Petersburg since checking into the Renaissance Vinoy on Tuesday, and Leavitt said the team enjoyed Wednesday's Beach Bash.
"The guys loved it," he said. "There were slides, and a belly flop contest and a talent show, so they all had a lot of fun."
Leavitt remained coy about who he thought won the talent show, but he said he was impressed by senior QB Grant Gregory.
"He can name the capacity of any Division I stadium," Leavitt said. "I've never seen anybody able to do that."
Times correspondent Joe Rienzi contributed to this report.