NCF Nation: magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
A look back at the best and worst of the Big East bowl season:
|Dale Zanine/US Presswire|
|Pat White went out with a bang, passing for a career-high 332 yards.|
Best performance: Just when you thought Pat White had shown us everything in his bag of tricks, the West Virginia quarterback goes out and shreds a good North Carolina pass defense for a career-best 332 passing yards while completing 26 of 32 throws in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. White went out the only appropriate way: a winner.
Worst performance: Cincinnati and Pittsburgh's offenses combined for seven total points in the FedEx Orange and Brut Sun bowls, respectively, and zero points in either second half. It wasn't a great year for offense in the Big East, and the league's top two scoring teams proved it in the postseason.
Best closing statement: Connecticut running back Donald Brown was wrongly ignored during awards season but showed why he was the nation's leading runner with a career-high 261 yards in the International Bowl, finishing his season with more than 2,000 yards. Then, in his postgame news conference, Brown announced he was skipping his senior year to turn pro.
Best red zone play call: Rutgers dialed up a fake field goal from the NC State 6-yard line on its first possession of the Papajohns.com Bowl, and first-time holder Rob Cervini ran past the surprised Wolfpack defenders for a touchdown.
Worst red zone play call: Trailing 20-7 midway through the fourth quarter, Cincinnati had a fourth and goal on the 1-yard line. Never a great short-yardage team, the Bearcats got away from what they do best and called for quarterback Tony Pike to try and run it in off tackle. He was stuffed, and the game was effectively over.
Best feel-good bowl win: After what amounted to a lost season, South Florida went out on a high note by blasting Memphis 41-14 in the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl, even allowing senior quarterback Grant Gregory to play the entire fourth quarter.
Worst feel-bad bowl loss: After a breakthrough year had Pitt thinking about a 2009 Top 10 preseason ranking, the Panthers produced an unparalleled stink bomb in their 3-0 loss to Oregon State. Out of 68 bowl teams, Pittsburgh was the only one that didn't score a point, and the performance raised questions about the program's future.
Best atmosphere: The Meineke Car Care Bowl drew a sellout crowd of 73,712, fueled both by the home-state Tar Heels fans and the traveling horde of Mountaineers supporters. The game had the second-highest attendance of all the non-BCS bowls, behind only the Cotton Bowl, and fans were treated to a highly entertaining game.
Worst atmosphere: The magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl should eventually develop into one of the Big East's best postseason slots, given the sunny Florida locale. But the inaugural game attracted an announced crowd of just 25,055 (an estimate that seems generous), making it the second-lowest turnout of bowl season. It doesn't help when Memphis claims only 1,000 of its 10,000-ticket allotment.
Best postgame quote: From West Virginia coach Bill Stewart, remarking on White's accomplishments and the state of his team: "Those people out there in the old gold and blue, they all love him," Stewart said of White. "About half of them would like to hang me. The other half would probably like to make me governor. But, I'm not mad at any of them. You know why? Because I'm one of them. They have such a passion in West Virginia for football. All they want is for us to be the best."
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
Memphis overcame more adversity this season than most teams after losing three of its four quarterbacks to injury and still managing to win the requisite six games for bowl eligibility. The Tigers are playing in their fifth bowl game in the past six seasons.
WHO TO WATCH: Arkelon Hall, QB, Memphis
Hall suffered a broken thumb against East Carolina on Oct. 18, but returned for the final two games of the season. However, he wasn't the same quarterback he was in the beginning of the season and Memphis' passing game has suffered because of it. If Hall has healed enough to find his accuracy, Memphis could win this game.
WHAT TO WATCH: Rushing offense vs. rushing defense
Because of Hall's struggles, Memphis has relied on its running game and several trick plays in the running game and been wildly successful. But the Tigers are going to have a tougher time against a rushing defense that is allowing less than 100 rushing yards per game. However, the South Florida rushing defense has allowed more than 100 yards in each of its last seven games, five of which have been losses.
WHY TO WATCH: Conference USA rematch
For you history buffs, this is a matchup of two former Conference USA rivals. They battled each other for four consecutive years from 2001-04 and the series is tied 2-2. Memphis won the first and last meetings of the series, including a 31-15 win in Tampa, Fla., in 2004.
A brief primer on today's magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl (ESPN 2, 4:30 p.m. ET).
What to watch: South Florida has been in the top 10 in each of the last two years, but the Bulls have not lived up to their potential down the stretch in either year. Can they salvage something from this year's disappointing 7-5 showing against a Memphis team looking to prove it can beat a BCS conference team? Look particularly to the lines, where South Florida will have to hold off the Tigers' heavy blitzes on offense, and Memphis tackle Brandon Pearce and friends will have their hands full with All-American defensive end George Selvie.
Who to watch: Selvie. The junior may be playing in his last college game, and this is the healthiest he's been since a Sept. 20 ankle injury. He hustles relentlessly and is one of the few defensive ends you can't take your eyes off of the entire game.
Why to watch: Because it's the first day of bowl season. Because these two teams play full-throttle, exciting styles. And because of the weird football-in-a-baseball-dome venue. Who knows? Maybe a punt will hit the Tropicana Field catwalks, or perhaps an errant pass will end up in the stingray tank.
Here are some things to look for in Saturday's magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl:
1. Speed on the basepaths: Memphis and South Florida are athletic teams that like to spread the ball out and play fast on defense. That should make for an exciting, up-tempo game, especially on the artificial turf inside Tropicana Field, which is hosting its first-ever major college football game.
2. Matt Grothe's trigger finger: The South Florida quarterback has thrown 11 interceptions in his past five games after throwing only three in his first seven contests. He was victimized early on by some bad bounces, but lately he's been forcing the ball into tight spots, like he did on the goal line at the end of the first half at West Virginia in a 13-7 loss. Memphis had only seven interceptions this year, which ranked 105th in the country, and the Tigers' tendency to blitz should leave Grothe with plenty of opportunities. If he can limit his mistakes, he should have a big day.
3. Curtis Steele vs. the South Florida run defense: Steele is unquestionably the key to the Memphis offense. He ran for 1,175 yards this season and averaged 112.2 yards per game over his last nine outings. The Bulls, despite some ups and downs, still have the nation's eighth-stingiest rush defense, allowing only 97.7 yards per game. If Steele can't get going, it could be a long day for the Tigers.
4. George Selvie on the hunt: Fully healthy and possibly playing his last college game, expect the Bulls' junior defensive end to cause havoc against an opponent that's never seen his speed live. The good news for Memphis is that its offensive line has allowed just 16 sacks all season, and quarterback Arkelon Hall is a big guy who can move out of harm's way.
5. Tigers trickery: The last time Memphis played a Big East team, coach Tommy West just about emptied the playbook against Louisville in October. The Tigers ran several trick plays and funky formations to try and catch the Cardinals off guard. West's 6-6 team has nothing to lose and everything to gain while playing a BCS conference opponent on its home turf, and Memphis had a week longer than South Florida to prepare for this game. Don't be surprised if the Tigers attempt some more gadgets to at least get the Bulls thinking a little bit.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
It's time for the first round of bowl picks, which this week includes just one game with a Big East flavor: Saturday's magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl. More to come next week.
South Florida 24, Memphis 10: Neither of these teams inspires much confidence. South Florida finished the year 2-5, while Memphis beat no one of note in a 6-6 campaign. I'll go with the Bulls in what will basically be a home game. I like the way their defense played the last two weeks of the regular season, when it put the clamps on Connecticut and West Virginia. It should do the same against Memphis and running back Curtis Steele. USF's offense has done almost nothing for a month, but Matt Grothe should find some favorable matchups against the blitz-heavy Tigers defense. I'm envisioning two touchdown passes from Grothe and a defensive score by the Bulls as the Big East starts the bowl season with a win.
Regular-season record: 46-23 (67 percent)