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Bulls invited to Sun Bowl

After its 48-37 win against Pittsburgh on Saturday, No. 21 South Florida has secured its place as the second-highest ranked team in the Big East and has been invited to the Brut Sun Bowl, the conference’s highest-profile non-BCS bowl game this season.

With West Virginia having already clinched the conference championship and the BCS Bowl bid that comes with it, the Bulls are headed to El Paso, Texas.

According to Bernie Olivas, the executive director of the Brut Sun Bowl, a committee of 13 representatives will chose USF based on a variety of factors, speaking with The Oracle a few hours before the decision was announced Monday night.

Historically, the Sun Bowl committee has presented an invitation to the highest BCS ranked team available and, at No. 21, the Bulls are the second-highest ranked team in the

conference behind No. 2 West Virginia. However, head-to-head losses to No. 23 Cincinnati and unranked Connecticut played a part in the committee’s final decision.

Despite being the most highly ranked of the remaining Big East teams, it’s South Florida’s early season success and Cinderella story this year that secured the invitation.

“They’ve had some real quality wins against West Virginia, who will probably play for the national championship, and Auburn, a big Southeastern Conference school,” Olivas said. “They were also a great overall football story around the country this season.”

An invitation to the Sun Bowl presents the most lucrative bowl opportunity in school history, with the Big East Conference receiving $1.9 million from South Florida’s participation. That money, along with bowl game payouts to the other teams in the Big East, would be distributed to schools in the conference according to a tier-based system.

In the Big East’s tiered bowl selection system, the Sun Bowl has the first choice of available teams, followed by the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Papajohn’ Bowl and the International Bowl in Toronto.

South Florida lost to NC State in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in 2005 and earned its first-ever bowl victory against Eastern Carolina in the Bowl last year.

Since the Sun Bowl matches the Big East Conference against an opponent from the

Pacific-10, the likely opponents for the New Year’s Eve contest would be No. 13 Arizona State, No. 17 Oregon or unranked UCLA or California, which was originally ranked No. 14 in the pre-season Associated Press poll.

The Sun Devils are led by first-year coach Dennis Erickson. Arizona State won its first eight games and climbed to No. 4 in the BCS poll before losing to Oregon.

Like USF, Oregon reached No. 2 in the BCS standings before falling to an unranked Arizona team 34-24 and losing quarterback Dennis Dixon for the season to a knee injury.

Dixon was a Heisman Trophy candidate and, much like USF quarterback Matt Grothe, served as a dual threat. The senior rushed for 741 yards, nine touchdowns and threw for 2,136 yards and 20 touchdowns.

California was one of seven teams to be ranked No. 2 and lose this season. The Golden Bears dropped to Oregon State in Week 6 to start a three-game slide.

California still has a game remaining against Stanford.

UCLA has struggled to a 6-5 record and have a game remaining against Southern California on Saturday.

After a high preseason billing, a 44-6 loss to Utah dropped them from the Assoicated Press rankings and the Bruins have yet to return to any ranking this season.

USF’s opponent will be determined next week.

The main difference between the Bulls and Cincinnati, the other Big East team that received heavy consideration, was the close head-to-head matchup, the Bearcats won 38-33, and USF’s signature win over the Mountaineers.

“South Florida beat West Virginia and they beat Auburn so they have some pretty good quality wins,” Olivias said. “It’s a pretty democratic process.”

– Sports Editor Brendan Galella contributed to this report.