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December 30, 2010

Meineke Car Care Bowl: Clemson vs. USF

Clemson and USF have had better seasons, and maybe that's the reason Friday's Meineke Car Care Bowl lacks buzz this season.

Still, both teams are looking to extend streaks, and each senior class wants to avoid being the first in a while to end the season on a down note.

Clemson (6-6) hasn't had a losing record since going 3-8 in 1998, the final season under Tommy West. Meanwhile, USF (7-5) is looking to get to eight victories for the fifth consecutive season. If the Bulls lose the bowl, they will finish with their lowest win total since joining the Big East in 2005, when they were 6-6.

If there is a buzz around this game, it's about Clemson junior defensive end Da'Quan Bowers. He finished the season with 15.5 sacks, two more than any other player and more than 14 teams.

WHO GETS THE EDGE?

Clemson rush offense vs. USF rush defense: Clemson's ground game took a major hit with an injury to starting TB Andre Ellington, who had foot surgery earlier this month. Jamie Harper is a capable runner, but the Tigers are much better when Ellington is in the lineup. USF's run defense was imposing at times, stifling West Virginia and Cincinnati and holding Jordan Todman to 93 yards, his second-lowest total of the season. Edge: USF.

MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL

Clemson (6-6) vs. USF (7-5)
WHEN: Dec. 31, noon.
WHERE: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte.
TV: ESPN (Carter Blackburn will do play-by-play, with Brock Huard and Mike Bellotti as the analysts).
THE LINE: Clemson by 4.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Clemson 3-6, USF 2-5.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Clemson T-26th, USF 88th.
BCS RANKINGS: Neither team is ranked.
OFFICIATING CREW: From the SEC.
COACHES: Clemson - Dabo Swinney (1-1 in bowls); USF - Skip Holtz (1-3 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: If you're a fan of line play, keep an eye on this game. The top players from each team are linemen. Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers was a Rivals.com All-America and leads the nation in sacks with 15.5. DT Jarvis Jenkins shouldn't be overlooked either. The Tigers also have one of the ACC's best offensive tackles in Chris Hairston. For USF, Sampson Genus is the Big East's top center and veteran T Terrell McClain anchors the Bulls' defense.
KEY STATS: Don't expect a work of art offensively. Only five of the 70 bowl teams threw more interceptions than touchdown passes: USF (11 touchdowns, 15 interceptions), Miami, LSU, Boston College and Middle Tennessee. And only seven bowl teams, including USF, rank lower in passing efficiency than Clemson.
Clemson pass offense vs. USF pass defense: Kyle Parker will start the bowl game despite speculation to the contrary; he reportedly has a rocky relationship with coach Dabo Swinney and seems bound for a pro baseball career. He has been inconsistent this season, but he could be motivated if this indeed is his final college start before pursuing baseball (he was the Colorado Rockies' first-round pick in June). After allowing Cincinnati to pass for 512 yards, USF's pass defense tightened up over the final five games. If Parker is having a good day, this is unquestionably a major advantage for Clemson. If he's playing no better than the average Big East quarterback, USF won't have trouble shutting down the passing game and forcing turnovers. Edge: Even.

USF rush offense vs. Clemson rush defense: RBs Mo Plancher and Demetris Murray split carries, finishing the season with a combined 1,251 yards and eight touchdowns. Coach Skip Holtz has been willing to ride the hot hand, though neither has been all that productive. Clemson has held each of its past three opponents to less than 100 rushing yards and has allowed only two rushing touchdowns since Oct. 9. Edge: Clemson.

USF pass offense vs. Clemson pass defense: USF has not announced whether sophomore B.J. Daniels, who missed the last two regular-season games with a quadriceps injury, or true freshman walk-on Bobby Eveld will start. Daniels is more experienced and mobile, which could serve him well against Clemson. But Daniels also has a habit of throwing interceptions under pressure. SS DeAndre McDaniel has four interceptions this season and is a big hitter. Edge: Clemson.

Clemson special teams vs. USF special teams: Both teams are above average in the return game, but Clemson also has been solid in covering kicks and punts. Clemson has the edge with a 40.5-yard average in net punting. If the game comes down to field goals, USF has the advantage with Maikon Bonani (16-of-19); all of his misses have come from at least 46 yards. Edge: Even.

Clemson coaches vs. USF coaches: On the surface, this looks like last season's USF team -- a big win over one of the state of Florida's power teams on the road (Miami), a lopsided loss to another (Florida) and a losing record in Big East play. But USF has improved as this season went along, beating Louisville and Miami in overtime and giving Pittsburgh and Connecticut all they could handle. Holtz is looking to make the Bulls physically and mentally tougher. Clemson didn't come into the season with major expectations, and the Tigers didn't do much to prove that wrong. Swinney's offensive staff might need an overhaul. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is solid. Edge: USF.

X-factor: Watch the kickoff return men. In a game with two above-average defenses and two inconsistent offenses, kickoff returns could be the difference-maker. USF's Lindsey Lamar is one of the best in the country, averaging 28.1 yards with two touchdowns. Clemson's Marcus Gilchrist averages 25.3 yards per return.

Clemson will win if: The Tigers need to score touchdowns in the red zone. Clemson was last in the ACC in scoring in the red zone (30 scores in 42 trips inside the 20, with just 22 touchdowns) thanks to interceptions and missed field goals. Clemson's red zone offense fizzled late in the season against Boston College and Florida State, resulting in two losses by nine total points.

USF will win if: The Bulls need to win the turnover battle. USF was 5-0 when it was positive in turnover margin and 1-5 when it lost the turnover contest. USF is not explosive enough to overcome turnovers, so the quarterbacks must avoid interceptions.

EXPERT PICKS

Olin Buchanan: Clemson 24, USF 21
Tom Dienhart: USF 21, Clemson 17
David Fox: Clemson 24, USF 14
Mike Huguenin: Clemson 20, USF 10
Steve Megargee: Clemson 24, USF 20

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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