By Trey McCurry.
The South Florida Bulls enter the Meineke Car Care bowl with a 7-5 overall record and a 3-4 mark in the Big East. The Bulls were 4-3 at home this season and 3-2 on the road. They are making their fifth straight bowl appearances and will face Clemson for the first time in school history.
The Bulls opened the season with a 59-14 home win over Stony Brook, led by 264 yards and two touchdowns from sophomore quarterback B.J. Daniels. The following week, South Florida traveled to Gainesville for their first-ever meeting with #8 Florida. After being tied with the Gators at halftime, Florida scored 21 unanswered points and defeated the Bulls 38-14.
Following home wins over Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic, the Bulls opened Big East play by hosting Syracuse. In a back-and-forth defensive game, the Orange came out on top with a fourth quarter touchdown as they defeated the host Bulls 13-9.
Following the tough loss, the Bulls began a stretch of three straight midweek games including a short-week of preparation for their trip to #25 West Virginia. The Mountaineers used some tricky to take a halftime lead on the Bulls and never looked back in a 20-6 win.
After two tough defensive battles, the Bulls traveled to two-time defending Big East Champions and defeated the Bearcats 38-30 in an offensive shootout. Daniels broke out of a recent slump by throwing for 286 yards and two touchdowns while also adding two more scores on the ground.
The following game, the Bulls hosted Rutgers and defeated the Scarlet Knights for the first time ever at Raymond James Stadium. Senior running back Mo Plancher rushed for a career-high 135 yards and offensive tackle Jacob Sims became the first USF offensive lineman to score a touchdown as he recovered a Plancher fumble for the game winning points as the Bulls won 28-27 and captured their 100 all-time victory.
In their next game, the Bulls won a 24-21 overtime affair at Louisville to become bowl eligible. With the Big East lead on the line, USF welcomed the Pitt Panthers to Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls lost a tough 17-10 decision as the defenses ruled the game for both squads.
Thanksgiving weekend, the Bulls traveled to Miami to take on the Hurricanes. The Bulls intercepted Jacory Harris with five seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime. Bobby Eveld, who entered the game for an injured Daniels, scored the game-tying touchdown with two minutes in regulation and then threw for the game-winning score as the Bulls defeated the Hurricanes 23-20 in overtime. It was USF’s first win over Miami in three tries and pushed their all-time overtime record to 9-0.
South Florida concluded the regular season at home hosting the Connecticut Huskies. After the Bulls rallied from 10 points down late in the game, UCONN kicked a game-winning field goal with only 17 seconds remaining to secure their spot in a BCS bowl and break the Bulls hearts with a 19-16 win.
The South Florida offense is ranked 103rd in total offense going into the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The Bulls rushing offense is 70th, while the passing offense is 101st. On defense, the Bulls boast the 21st-ranked total defense unit and 19th-ranked scoring defense. They are 33rd in rushing defense, 36th in pass efficiency defense, and 21st in pass defense.
For the season, the Bulls are lead on offense by Daniels. The sophomore, who missed the Connecticut game due to an injury, has completed 56.4% of his passing for 1,496 yards with nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions while adding 237 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Mo Plancher leads with rushing attack with 743 yards on the ground, followed by Demetri Murray with 517 yards. Both players have scored four touchdowns on the ground as well. Dontavia Bogan leads the Bulls in receptions with 46 for 670 yards and five TDs.
Notes on the South Florida Program:
South Florida started its football program in 1997 and competed in Division I-AA (now the FCS) for four seasons before moving to Division I-A (FBS) as an independent in 2001. After two seasons, the Bulls joined Conference USA in 2003 and spent two seasons there before joining the Big East in 2005. In their five seasons as a member of the Big East, the Bulls have never had a record below .500 and have made five bowl appearances including this year’s Meineke Care Car Bowl.
The Bulls play their games at Raymond James Stadium, site of last year’s ACC Championship Game and the home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Over the years, South Florida has experienced tremendous success at the facility compiling a 43-11 record, including one streak of 21 straight victories.
Jim Leavitt led the Bulls program for the 13 years of their existence before Skip Holtz took over this season. Holtz, a name familiar to many Tiger fans, came to Tampa after spending five seasons as the head coach at East Carolina. Prior to his time with the Pirates, Holtz spent six seasons as an assistant to his father at the University of South Carolina.