— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall University got picked to play in a bowl game in an area it knows well and has had success.
The Thundering Herd will take on South Florida in the 2018 Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 20 in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The game will start at 8 p.m. and be televised on ESPN. It so happens the locale is the home field for USF.
Marshall is 2-0 in bowl visits to the area. The Herd beat FIU (20-10) in the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl in 2011 and UConn (16-10) in the St. Petersburg Bowl in 2015. Both games were played in Tropicana Field.
“Any opportunity to play in a bowl game is great,” Herd coach Doc Holliday said in a university release. “The state of Florida has been good to our program for several years now and we’re excited to get back down to the Tampa area. We will face a good USF team and a head coach that I know well in Charlie Strong.”
Marshall (8-4, 6-2 in Conference USA) and the Bulls (7-5, 3-5 American Athletic Conference) have never met. The Thundering Herd features an .846 winning percentage (11-2) in all NCAA-sanctioned bowl games, the highest mark nationally among programs that have made at least five appearances.
“This will be our third time playing in the Tampa area and these bowls have been so popular with our fan base. We look forward to our fans traveling to Florida and we have a lot of alums in that part of the country. It is such an easy trip for them to see the Thundering Herd play a very good opponent in USF,” said Mike Hamrick, Marshall’s director of athletics.
Holliday is 5-0 in bowl games with the Thundering Herd and will appear in his 27th bowl since entering the coaching ranks. Since the beginning of the 2013 season, Holliday is 11-3 in games contested in the state of Florida and/or against Florida schools.
South Florida is coached by Charlie Strong.
“We are excited for the opportunity to compete in a bowl game against a good opponent and the chance to send our seniors out with a third straight bowl win,” Strong said in a university release. “We look forward to some good practices and work with our team to prepare for the game. Our players will enjoy the activities and bowl experience here in the Bay Area and they are excited to get back out on the field and perform in front of our fans.”
USF will be making its fourth straight bowl appearance and 10th overall in just its 19th year of competing at the FBS level. The Bulls have won each of their last two bowl games, downing Texas Tech (38-34) and South Carolina (46-39 in OT) in back-to-back Birmingham Bowl appearances, and have won five of their last six bowl games.
For the Bulls, this will be their third bowl appearance in the state of Florida and they are 1-1 in the previous appearances. The Bulls downed then-Conference USA member Memphis, 45-14, in the 2008 MagicJack St. Petersburg Bowl and fell to Conference USA foe Western Kentucky, 45-35, in the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl.