There wasn’t much doubt USF would be invited to a bowl game.
Then again, there was doubt about which bowl game they would be invited to, especially since it was narrowed down to two options last week.
So Sunday, the Bulls announced they accepted an invitation to play in the Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 23 at noon Central Standard Time. The game will broadcast on ESPN2, and the Bulls will face former Conference USA foe East Carolina University (7-5, 5-3).
“We are pleased to have such a great matchup for the return of postseason football to Birmingham,” Papajohns.com Bowl Executive Director Mark Meadows said in a statement. “I look forward to welcoming Bulls fans to the ‘Football Capital of the South.'”
The Pirates have been to 12 bowl games, going 7-5 all-time. Their last bowl appearance was a 64-61 double-overtime loss to Marshall in 2001.
Athletic Director Doug Woolard announced on behalf of USF President Judy Genshaft that the team was accepting the invitation, and expressed how much this 10-year-old program has impressed him.
“(Coach) Jim Leavitt continues to set standards for young football programs, doesn’t he?” Woolard said. “I’m not sure there’s another program this young that has played in back-to-back bowl games. If so, I imagine the list is pretty short.”
Last season, USF attended and lost the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 31 to N.C. State 14-0, which drew a crowd of 57, 937.Legions Field, the site of the Papajohns.com Bowl, seats 70.000.
“Fans had a great time at our first bowl last year,” Woolard said. “And judging by the interest in the Tampa Bay area and the amount of people who have looked at the bowl information on our Web site, I’m confident that all of the Bulls fans are looking forward to USF’s second bowl.”
The Bulls finished the season 8-4, 4-3 in the Big East. At the beginning of the week, it was still a toss-up whether USF would go to Birmingham or the Texas Bowl in Houston.
On Tuesday, Leavitt said the team would be “honored” to be invited to any bowl, but said Sunday the bowl game “is not to be taken for granted” and deflected the praise from Woolard.
“It’s really not Jim Leavitt – we all know that,” said Leavitt, who is 69-43 in 10 seasons. “There’s a lot of people who have done a lot to help us accomplish a lot.”
Big East Commissioner Michael Tranghese also praised Leavitt, pointing out in a statement that “coach Jim Leavitt’s teams have proven time and time again their ability to beat high-profile opponents.”
Tranghese is referring to 2005’s upset of then-No. 9 Louisville and this season’s upset of then-No. 7 West Virginia on Nov. 25. But none of that seems to matter to Leavitt, who hasn’t yet seen film of the Pirates but is looking forward to getting those tapes from coach Louis “Skip” Holtz, son of the famed former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz.
Leavitt added that though USF is 3-0 all-time against ECU – including a 41-17 romp in 2004 – this is an entirely different team since Holtz, who has 12-11 record in two seasons, took over.
“They’ve done an awfully good job in that conference,” Leavitt said. “But I don’t think you can go by any of the history that we’ve had with East Carolina. It’s a different program under coach Holtz. … There’s a few players that were on the team a couple years ago, but next to that, you can’t go by anything else.”