The Bulls are going bowling in Birmingham.
As expected, USF accepted an invitation Sunday night to play East Carolina on Dec. 23 in the inaugural Papajohns.com Bowl at Legion Field in Alabama. The Bulls (8-4) made their bowl debut last season, but coach Jim Leavitt hopes their second trip is an improvement, on the scoreboard and in the stands.
"It's certainly exciting for us to go to another bowl game, and it's part of the process of building this foundation," said Leavitt, whose team ended its season with an upset at then-No. 7 West Virginia.
The Pirates (7-5) have won five of their last six games but have only one win against a team with a winning record (Southern Miss). The schools were rivals in Conference USA until USF joined the Big East last year, and USF has won all three meetings, most recently in 2004.
The challenge for USF fans in the next 19 days is to make a bigger showing in the stands in Birmingham. The Bulls sold 6,200 tickets last year to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., but had to pay $380,000 for unsold tickets from their allotment of 12,500.
Mark Meadows, executive director of the Birmingham bowl, said each team has an allotment of 10,000 tickets at $30 each. If USF were to sell the same number as last year, the unsold portion would cost the Bulls only $114,000. Athletic director Doug Woolard expects his fans to show in stronger numbers.
"I think (10,000) is a reasonable goal as our program continues to improve," Woolard said. "Last year, we were picked to finish seventh (in the Big East) and ended up (tied for) third, and it caught a lot of people off guard and surprised them for us to be in a bowl. As we became bowl eligible earlier this year, I think more people anticipated it and were planning on going to a bowl."
USF will get a check from the Big East for $1.1-million for playing in the bowl, which has a 1 p.m. kickoff and will be televised on ESPN2.
RECRUITING: The Bulls picked up an oral commitment from Richard Kelly, a 6-foot, 240-pound fullback who went 39-8 as a four-year starter at Bushnell South Sumter.
"It's close to home, and the way that program is going, it's going to come out real good," said Kelly, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and was recruited by Florida State, Mississippi and Alabama.
Kelly is the second running back to commit in the past week, joining Josh Bellamy of Boca Ciega.
$30 to the general public; on sale at 8 a.m. today, by phone at 1-800-462-8557 or at USF's Web site, gousfbulls.com. ... USF has set up packages from Tampa that start at $553 per person for charter flight, hotel and game ticket, or $311 for bus transportation, hotel and game ticket. ... USF has purchased 500 tickets from its allotment and will make them free for the first 500 students with a valid student ID at the Sun Dome at 9 a.m. Wednesday.