WHERE: Bank of America Stadium (73,778) - Charlotte, N.C.
WHEN: Friday, Dec. 31 (Noon)
SPREAD: Clemson -6
This isn't the December trip to Charlotte that Dabo Swinney envisioned back before the start of the 2010 season.
Suffice to say, it's one he'll have to settle on after a 6-6 (4-4 ACC) finish, barley qualifying for a bowl game.
A win Friday would prevent Clemson from finishing with a losing season, which hasn't happened at since 1998.
Friday's matchup between with South Florida (7-5, 3-4 Big East) is one of two teams that are mirror images of one another: solid defenses and shaky offenses.
Clemson finished the regular season 86th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 23.8 points a game. South Florida was 88th with 23.5 points.
Defensively, the Tigers are ninth in scoring defense (17.8) while the Bulls are 19th (19.5).
A win would give Clemson bowl victories in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1989, 1990. Swinney would also be the first Clemson head coach to win two of his first three bowl games since Danny Ford won two of his first three.
South Florida is led by first-year head coach Skip Holtz, who spent the last five seasons at East Carolina.
Here's an in-depth look on what CUTigers expects to see Friday afternoon:
CLEMSON RUNNING GAME VS. SOUTH FLORIDA FRONT
Jamie Harper will have his work cut out for him against a South Florida front that's held opponents to an average of 131.9 yards rushing.
Harper, Clemson's leader with 726 yards, will be without running mate, Andre Ellington, who underwent foot surgery earlier this month.
Jamie Harper, Clemson's leader with 726 yards, will be without running mate Andre Ellington, who underwent foot surgery earlier this month. (Roy Philpott)
According to nfldraftscout.com, McClain is the No. 22 defensive tackle in this year's draft class.
The Bulls' starting linebackers are the top-three tacklers on the team. Jacquian Williams leads the team from the strong-side with 68 tackles and 9½ tackles for loss. Middle linebacker Sam Barrington is second with 61 and weak-side starter Dede Lattimore has 60.
Linebacker Sabbath Joseph, who's sixth on the team in tackles, is academically ineligible.
The magic number for Harper and Clemson is 100. If he's able to rush for at least 100 yards, it could bode well for the Tigers.
South Florida has allowed four individuals to rush for over 100 yards this season:
Florida's Jeff Demps went for 139 on 11 carries.
Syracuse running back Delone Carter had 105 yards on 26 carries.
Louisville's Bilal Powell rushed for 140 on 31 carries.
Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis also picked up 105 yards on 22 carries.
Of those four games, South Florida won just one, a 24-21 overtime victory against Louisville.
Remember Harper's performance in last year's Music City Bowl against Kentucky?
So do we, and we're giving the Tigers the nod here. Harper is more than capable of carrying the load and should go over the century mark Friday.
SOUTH FLORIDA PASSING GAME VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
Clemson won't know who's starting at quarterback for South Florida until game day. Holtz has kept his cards close to his chest, not giving any indication whether he would go with B.J. Daniels or Bobby Eveld.
Daniels, who suffered a quadriceps injury in the second-to-last game of the season, is the Bulls' leading passer with 1,496 yards and nine touchdowns. He's also thrown 12 interceptions.
Led by consensus All-American Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson is tied for 30th in the country with 2.4 sacks per game (29 total). (Roy Philpott)
All three of his picks were in the regular season finale against Big East champion Connecticut—Eveld's only start.
South Florida's pass efficiency offense rating of 113.6 is 99th in the country, three spots lower than Clemson's.
Meanwhile the Tigers' pass efficiency defense rating of 114 is ranked No. 25 in the nation.
DeAndre McDaniel leads Clemson with four interceptions. Xavier Brewer and Rashard Hall each have two.
Led by consensus All-American Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson is tied for 30th in the country with 2.4 sacks per game (29 total). Bowers needs just one sack to become the school's single-season record holder. He has 15½. Keith Adams set the record at 16 in 1999.
South Florida's offense has allowed 24 sacks this season. That number would likely be higher if Daniels wasn't so mobile.
It won't make a difference as to who's throwing the ball for South Florida.
CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. SOUTH FLORIDA SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
The last time Clemson fans saw Kyle Parker on the field the second-year starter was throwing a pick-6 in the third quarter of the 29-7 loss to South Carolina. Tajh Boyd subbed in on the next drive and played the rest of the way.
Kyle Parker has completed 185 of 324 passes for 2,079 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. (Roy Philpott)
He's completed 185 of 324 passes for 2,079 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
But Boyd will also play. Swinney wouldn't say when or how much Boyd would play, only stating that he'd see the field early.
The two have combined to give Clemson a pass efficiency offense rating of 115.4, which is 96th in the country.
Like Clemson, South Florida has a strong secondary. Free safety Jerrell Young leads the Bulls with three interceptions. The team has 13 this season.
Again, like Clemson, South Florida has a solid pass rush. The Bulls are tied for 34th in the country with 2.3 sacks per game (28 total).
Left defensive end Craig Marshall leads the team with four sacks. Eight others have at least two.
The battle upfront should make for a nice matchup since Chris Hairston and his mates along the Clemson offensive line have given up just 16 sacks this season.
Because of the Tigers' hiccups throwing the ball, we like the Bulls here.
ADVANTAGE: South Florida
SOUTH FLORIDA RUNNING GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT
Clemson's defense is among the stoutest in the country when it comes to stopping the run.
QB B.J. Daniels ranks third among South Florida rushers with 237 rushing yards and tied for first with four touchdowns. (Roy Philpott)
But Daniels' ability as a runner could make things difficult for Clemson. He's third among South Florida rushers with 237 rushing yards and tied for first with four touchdowns.
Moise Plancher leads the team with 743 yards. Demetri Murray is second with 417. Both have scored four touchdowns on the ground.
Even if Daniels is able to make some noise running the ball, it won't be much. And we don't expect much else out of the other backs.
CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VS. SOUTH FLORIDA SPECIAL TEAMS
Rarely this season have Clemson's opponents been as good or better in the return game, but this happens to be one of those rare occasions.
South Florida defensive back Terrence Mitchell has returned 19 punts for 194 yards this season. His average is slightly better than Marcus Gilchrist, who leads Clemson with 233 punt return yards.
Running back Lindsey Lamar has 842 kickoff return yards with two touchdowns for the Bulls. As a team, the Tigers have 945, 238 of which were by Ellington.
Though Chandler Catanzaro is 12 of 19 on field goals this season, he's hit his last four attempts. (Roy Philpott)
South Florida kicker Maikon Bonani is near perfect this season. He's connected on 16 of 19 field goals. Two of his misses were from 50 yards or further. He's hit all 12 attempts between 20 and 39 yards.
Though Chandler Catanzaro is 12 of 19 on field goals this season, he's hit his last four attempts.
Field goals could be the difference between a win and a loss. Since Bonani has been solid all season and Lamar is one of the most explosive return men in the country, we'll give the Bulls the advantage.
ADVANTAGE: South Florida
PREDICTION: Clemson 17 South Florida 10