First-year USF Coach Skip Holtz is going back to familiar territory for the postseason.
His Bulls were invited to play Clemson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 31 in Charlotte, N.C.
Holtz coached five seasons at East Carolina in Greenville, N.C., about 200 miles from the bowl site.
His Pirates never played in the game, which has matched an ACC team against a Big East opponent in seven of the eight years it has been played.
But this will be USF's second appearance in the Meineke Car Care game. The Bulls lost to North Carolina State in the game in 2005, their first year in the Big East.
This will be the Bulls' first meeting with Clemson.
Both teams are coming off disappointing losses in their regular-season finales, the Tigers to rival South Carolina 29-7, a loss that dropped them to 6-6 on the season.
The Bulls lost to Big East colleague Connecticut 19-16 on a 52-yard field goal with 17 seconds remaining.
Holtz said he expects his Bulls, who are 7-5, to bounce back from that deflating defeat.
"They'll be excited to play in the bowl game," he said immediately after the loss. "But right now, when you put that much into it, play that hard and work that hard, losing hurts."
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--WR Dontavia Bogan has been about the only reliable receiver the Bulls have had to anchor their passing attack. Despite missing one game with an ankle injury, he had 46 catches, as many as the next two receivers (Evan Landi and Lindsey Lamar) combined. They were good for 670 yards and five touchdowns.
--QB B.J. Daniels sat out the last half of the game at Miami and the entire game against Connecticut with a leg injury. Though his backup, freshman walk-on Bobby Eveld, certainly had his moments, Daniels still gives the Bulls the best chance for success on offense. He adds a running threat (237 yards) to the offense.
--WR/KR Lindsey Lamar ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged 28.1 yards on 30 returns. That put him second in the Big East.
--Coach Skip Holtz is in his first season at USF but is no stranger to bowl games. His East Carolina teams played in the postseason the last four years, winning the 2007 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl over Boise State. His ECU team lost to USF 24-7 in the 2006 Papajohns.com Bowl. His last two Pirate teams lost to Kentucky and Arkansas in Liberty Bowl appearances. Holtz also had extensive bowl experience as an assistant at Notre Dame under his father, Lou Holtz.
BOWL HISTORY: USF is making its sixth consecutive bowl trip, having won its last two. The Bulls beat Northern Illinois in last season's International Bowl and handled Memphis the year before in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Their last loss was to Oregon in the 2007 Sun Bowl. Overall, the Bulls are 3-2 in bowls, with one of the defeats to North Carolina State in the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This group has worked extremely hard throughout the year, so a trip to Charlotte is the perfect way to finish off the season." -- Coach Skip Holtz, on USF's invitation to play in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: Coach Skip Holtz wanted to have the running backs assume more responsibility in the running game this season after quarterbacks had led the Bulls in rushing for each of the past four seasons, and he got his wish. Senior RB Moise Plancher led the Bulls in rushing with 743 yards, and sophomore Demetris Murray was right behind with 517 in 10 games. QB B.J. Daniels rushed for 237 yards despite missing the last six quarters.
Scouting the passing game: Daniels struggled with interceptions at critical moments early in the year and with injuries late in the season but still for threw for 1,496 yards while increasing his completion percent to 56.4 percent from 53.7 as a redshirt freshman in 2009. He managed that even though he had only one of his top receivers available when A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin (50 catches between them in 2009) sat out the year with injuries. That left the heavy duty up to senior Dontavia Bogan (46 catches for 670 yards). When Daniels couldn't continue in the second half at Miami, freshman walk-on Bobby Eveld engineered the comeback win over the Hurricanes.
Scouting the run defense: USF was solid enough against the run, giving up only seven rushing touchdowns and holding opponents to just 131.8 yards per game on the ground. The Bulls gave up 251 yards rushing to Florida and 219 to West Virginia early in the season but held Miami, which had topped the 200-yard mark in five of its previous six games, to just 165 with 71 of that total coming on one play. UConn managed just 120 in the regular-season finale.
Scouting the pass defense: The Bulls lost an effective pass rusher when DE Craig Marshall went out with a foot injury, but he returned for the last game and should be a real factor in USF's pass rush. He had four sacks when he went down. USF wound up with 28 sacks and 13 interceptions with FS Jerrell Young leading with three and backup LB Mike Lanaris picking off two.
Scouting the special teams: The Bulls seemed to have solved their problems in the kicking game when PK Maikon Bonani who missed the 2009 season with a back injury, regained his job when Eric Schwartz struggled early on. Bonani was 16 of 19 on field goals with two of the misses from more than 50 yards. P Justin Brockhaus-Kann averaged only 38.0 yards on 61attempts. KR Lindsey Lamar returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, and PR Terrence Mitchell averaged better than 10 yards on punt returns.
Intangibles: USF is going to have to deal with the disappointment of losing to Connecticut in the final minute of the regular-season finale, but the nearly four-week gap between games should heal those wounds. The Bulls are looking to add to their resume to build on for next season -- and a bowl win, plus the victory over Miami, would help validate the program. Clemson has to be disappointed to finish 6-6 after playing in last season's ACC Championship game.
--DE Craig Marshall, who went out with a foot injury just past the halfway point of the season, returned to the field against UConn. He had eight tackles for loss (four sacks) in his eight appearances (seven starts).
--Freshman QB Bobby Eveld made his first start in the regular-season finale against UConn. He was 22-of-41 passing for 195 yards with three interceptions, but coach Skip Holtz noted one was on a tipped ball.