Dec. 31, noon ET (ESPN)
USF take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: South Florida finished with the same 7-5 record it posted in the previous two regular seasons, yet it feels like improvement.
That's because first-year coach Skip Holtz and his staff did an underrated job with this team. Holtz inherited a team torn apart by the Jim Leavitt firing last winter and a defense that lost five starters to the NFL. He had almost no experienced receivers and a quarterback still learning the finer points of the position.
After some struggles early on, the Bulls took off late, reversing their usual midseason slump trends under Leavitt. They won four of their final six, including an overtime victory at Miami, and nearly knocked off league champion Connecticut.
Expect quarterback talk to govern the Bulls' bowl buildup. B.J. Daniels, who missed the finale against UConn with a quadriceps injury, was erratic most of the season. Bobby Eveld, a walk-on, helped beat Miami and provided much-needed downfield passing skills.
But this offense, to put it kindly, is pedestrian. South Florida stays in games with its athletic defense and usually gets a big play or two on special teams. It should help the Bulls that they're playing another offensively-challenged team in Clemson. And they know a little something about beating ACC teams, having upset Miami and Florida State in back-to-back years.
Clemson take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: The defending Atlantic Division champs made significant strides defensively in the second season under coordinator Kevin Steele, but the offense too often couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain. That was somewhat of a surprise, considering the expectations surrounding veteran quarterback Kyle Parker, who turned down a baseball-only contract as a first-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies to return for one more season in hunt of an ACC title.
It took too long to find a dependable wide receiver, though, Parker didn’t show much progress from a year ago, and the Tigers could never truly compensate for the lack of production that graduated with C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford. Andre Ellington was injured in the second half of the season, and Jamie Harper couldn’t do it alone.
The Tigers are ranked No. 9 nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 17.75 points per game, but lost three of their final five, including the season finale to rival South Carolina. Parker could have declined to play in the bowl game and joined the Rockies early, but he didn’t want the final pass of his career to be an interception in a loss to the Gamecocks. He’ll have a chance to go out a winner now against South Florida.