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For USF, more at stake in Gasparilla Bowl than meets the eye

In terms of national perception, a hearty fan turnout to the Dec. 20 game could be critical for the Bulls.

The general reaction of Bulls fans upon learning of their team's bowl destination Sunday ranged from groans of dissatisfaction to shrugs of indifference.

But it may behoove them to elicit a few cries for community support. In a sense, the Gasparilla Bowl could be among the most relevant of USF's 10 postseason appearances.

The Dec. 20 contest against Marshall, at the Bulls' home venue (Raymond James Stadium), could go a long way toward molding the national perception of USF's fan base. Think about it: only bowl game on that evening, showcased on a national stage (ESPN) in the most convenient locale possible.

Bowl honchos in other cities likely will be watching. So will American Athletic Conference officials, not to mention the suits at ESPN (who operate many other bowls in which the Bulls may like to appear some day). How would things look if RayJay were filled with more kelly green (Marshall) than dark green?

At least history suggests such an embarrassment won't transpire.

Several other teams have played bowl games in their home stadiums, to generally large fan turnouts. The latest example was Memphis, which sold more than 15,000 tickets through the school (including its inital allotment of 8,300) for the 2017 Liberty Bowl, where it lost 21-20 to Iowa State.

The announced crowd of 57,266 was the 10th-largest since the game moved to Memphis in 1965. Additionally, Navy played in the 2015 and '17 Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, selling its allotment (9,000) both years, Navy spokesman Scott Strasemeier confirmed.

When San Diego State played Iowa in the 1986 Holiday Bowl at SDCCU Stadium (its home turf), the attendance was 59,473, less than 6,000 shy of the game's attendance record.

Even the FAU-Akron matchup in last year's Boca Raton Bowl drew the largest announced audience (25,912) in the game's four-year history. FAU spokesperson Katrina McCormack said the school came close to filling its unspecified allotment, with students receiving discounted end-zone rates.

Similarly, USF already has rolled out the incentives, offering $10 tickets to the first 1,000 students who purchase them, and offering two complimentary tickets to season-ticket members who renew before Dec. 15.

Prudent moves, to be sure. For perception purposes, too much will be on the line for the Bulls — team and fans — not to show up.