The Bulls experienced a productive season under first-year coach Skip Holtz, as they matched last year's win total at seven. They also finished the season strong, winning four of their final six games, including most notably, a 23-20 overtime win over Miami on November 27th. Three of the team's five losses were decided by a touchdown or less.
This will be USF's second appearance in this particular bowl game, as the Bulls' last appearance was in 2005 when they were blanked by NC State in a 14-0 final. Success has become a trend in recent years, however, as the Bulls have won each of their last two bowl games. Last year, in the International Bowl, they downed Northern Illinois, 27-3, and in 2008, they dispatched Memphis, 41-14, in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
The Tigers' season has been somewhat of a disappointment thus far. After going 9-5 and reaching the ACC title game in 2009, they faltered down the stretch this year, going 2-2 over their last four games to finish at 6-6.
This game marks the 33rd bowl invite in the history of Clemson football. The Tigers have posted a 16-16 record in previous bowl games, and their 16 wins stand as the 18th-most in FBS history. Last year, Clemson downed Kentucky in the Music City Bowl, 21-13.
This matchup marks the first-ever meeting between South Florida and Clemson on the gridiron.
Clemson is led offensively by quarterback Kyle Parker, who has thrown for 2,079 yards, 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season. In the regular- season finale, a disappointing 29-7 loss to intrastate rival South Carolina, Parker was benched in the third quarter in favor of redshirt freshman Tajh Boyd. Parker is expected to get the start in this game, despite a heated sideline exchange with coach Dabo Swinney following the benching.
The offense has dragged its feet all season, due in part to the departure of running back C.J. Spiller to the NFL. The void has been filled most prominently by Jamie Harper, who has rushed for 726 yards and six touchdowns this season.
On the whole, the Tigers are averaging 146.4 rushing ypg, 191.4 passing ypg and 23.8 ppg.
While the offense has struggled to regain its footing, the defense has held strong, as it is currently tied for ninth in the FBS in scoring defense (17.8 ppg). Da'Quan Bowers has spearheaded the unit's dominant play. He received the Bronco Nagurski Trophy, given to the nation's top defensive player and he leads the country with 15.5 sacks on the year. He also has recorded 67 tackles, including 25 tackles for loss.
The task of stifling Bowers may prove challenging, as South Florida has struggled at times on the offensive side of the ball this season. Now, a prolonged quarterback quandary in the weeks leading up to this game may work to heighten the ineffectiveness.
Still, Swinney expects his team to have its hands full in this game, "South Florida is an excellent team with very good skill and team speed. They are a lot like us in that they have a fast and athletic defense that ranks among the best in the nation."
Incumbent starter B.J. Daniels, who threw for 1,983 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interception in 2009, suffered a slight setback this season, as he threw for 1,496 yards, nine touchdowns and 12 picks, before suffering a quadriceps injury late in the year. True freshman Bobby Eveld played well in Daniels' stead, leading a fourth-quarter comeback against Miami and playing efficiently in his only start, against UConn. Although Daniels is fully healed, coach Holtz has said that the team will prepare as if Eveld will get the start. It is likely that a decision will not be announced until gametime.
Eveld has completed 42-of-75 passes for 454 yards and two touchdowns against three interceptions in limited action this season. He also has one rushing touchdown.
A constant in the USF backfield has been senior running back Moise Plancher, who was the team's leading rusher this season with 743 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, after being granted a sixth year of eligibility due to medical hardships. Plancher is the lone member of the team who was on the USF roster during the Bulls' inaugural Meineke Car Care Bowl appearance back in 2005. He leads a backfield which has amassed 17 rushing touchdowns and averages 149.4 rushing ypg. The group will be without fullback Jeff Hawkins and running back Bradley Battle, who will both be inactive due to injury.
"I just want to play the best possible game that I can and put in a great effort," Plancher said. "And, hopefully we end the game with a win."
While the offense has had its setbacks this year, the defense has been the team's foundation. The Bulls rank 20th in the nation in total defense, allowing 319.7 ypg. They have allowed just seven rushing touchdowns all season and yield only 19.5 ppg to the opposition.
Redshirt freshman linebacker DeDe Lattimore has been elemental to the Bulls' success, as he has registered 60 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks thus far.
The unit was dealt a blow recently when it was announced that senior linebacker Sabbath Joseph had been ruled academically ineligible. He is considered the team's top reserve linebacker, having totaled 43 tackles, six tackles for loss and three sacks this season.
South Florida and Clemson appear to be similar in both their deficiencies and their strengths, as both teams are guided by a sound defense and stifled by an unproductive offense. It does appear, though, that the Clemson defense is superior to the USF defense. Bowers and Co. should have no trouble bottling up the Bulls' attack and leading the Tigers to victory.