— By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — With 28 Florida natives on Marshall’s roster and the Sunshine State as a hotbed of recruiting for head coach Doc Holliday and his staff, the Herd’s invitation to the play in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Fla. could not have been more welcomed.

Marshall will face the hometown South Florida Bulls of The American Athletic Conference on December 20 at 8 p.m. in Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and USF.

The game will be televised by ESPN.

Marshall (8-4, 6-2 Conference USA) ended the regular season last Saturday with a 41-20 loss at Virginia Tech, a result which put the Hokies in a bowl for a 26th straight year.

South Florida (7-5, 3-5 American) wrapped up the season on Thanksgiving weekend by falling to rival Central Florida 38-10. The Bulls ended the season with five straight losses after a 7-0 start and national ranking.

The bowl game will be a reunion as Herd defenders will go against one of their former coaches, USF defensive tackles coach Sean Cronin, who held the same job with the Thundering Herd before leaving after the 2016 season.

Marshall will be out to maintain Holliday’s perfect 5-0 bowl record.

Senior defensive lineman Malik Thompson also believes recovering from the Virginia Tech loss is important.

“We really need to be locked in to this game after the Tech loss,” Thompson said. “I think that getting this rest and preparing will allow us to do something in the bowl.”

Thompson says Holliday seems to have a knack of preparing his teams well for bowls and that’s why the ninth-year Herd coach has never lost one.

“It’s all about his preparation,” Thompson said. “He knows how to prepare us body wise and scheme wise and having our minds ready for the game.”

There are plenty of ties between the USF and Marshall programs.

Senior linebacker Frankie Hernandez grew about 15 minutes from Raymond James Stadium and knows several players on the Bulls’ roster.

An even closer connection is between the team’s long snappers, because they are brothers — Marshall junior Matt Beardall and South Florida freshman Andrew Beardall, natives of Merritt Island, Florida.

Matt Beardall is looking forward to the competition with his little brother.

“I was really pumped up when I saw that I was going to go against my brother’s team,” Beardall said. “When I found out, I called my mom and dad told them that they’d only have to travel to one bowl game this year.” 

Senior offensive lineman Jordan Dowrey is a bowl veteran, seeing action in the 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl and last year in the New Mexico Bowl.

Dowrey says proper preparation to face the Bulls on their home field will be crucial in the days leading up the bowl.

“We play as hard as we do because we are competitive and that’s just who we are,” Dowrey said. “A bowl game is your last game and the jumping-off point for the next season for the program and you want go into the offseason with a high note.

“It’s better to go into the offseason on a high note and have something to build on, because a loss will stick with you for awhile, so it puts pressure on us to win.”

Marshall will head to Tampa and Gasparilla Bowl activities on December 16.