Dec. 3, 2008

(AP) - In four days, Clemson went from wondering if it would reach the postseason to playing in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.

An invitation to the Jacksonville, Fla., game was extended Wednesday to the Tigers (7-5), who likely will be matched up with Nebraska (8-4). Hundreds of Cornhuskers fans have already booked flights to Florida, even though the invitation probably won't be extended until Sunday.

Other bowl invites went out to Conference USA teams Southern Mississippi and Rice. Southern Miss will play in the New Orleans Bowl against the Sun Belt Conference champion, and Rice will play in its hometown of Houston in the Texas Bowl.

Clemson fans remember well the Tigers' only game against Nebraska. They beat the Huskers 22-15 in the Orange Bowl to win the 1981 national championship.

Clemson needed a win over South Carolina on Saturday just to guarantee a spot in a bowl.

Southern Miss won four straight games to finish 6-6 under first-year coach Larry Fedora. The Golden Eagles have a chance to extend their streak of winning seasons to 15.

The New Orleans Bowl will be played Dec. 21 in the Louisiana Superdome.

Rice will be making its second bowl appearance in three years, only the second time in school history that has occurred. The Texas Bowl will be played Dec. 30.

The Humanitarian Bowl announced that Ball State declined an offer to play Boise State on the Broncos' home field in Idaho on Dec. 30.

The game could have matched two undefeated teams. Boise State (12-0) has finished its regular season and Ball State (12-0) will play in the Mid-American Conference championship game Friday night.

The Cardinals, from Indiana, did not want to play a bowl game so far from their Muncie, Ind., campus on their opponents' home field.

For Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, receiving a bid to the Gator Bowl ends a whirlwind five days. On Friday, Swinney was the interim coach, unsure if he would get the job permanently, knowing that a loss to South Carolina would mean the end of Clemson's season.

Clemson beat the rival Gamecocks 31-14 on Saturday, and two days later Swinney was hired as the permanent head coach.

"I'm not sleeping very much right now, just because I can't. I've got so many things I want to do and think about. Every day when I wake up, I've got to pinch myself. I can't wait to go to work and get started on whatever the day has before me," Swinney said.

The Tigers have appeared in the Gator Bowl nine times, more than any other team, although they have gone to Jacksonville just twice in the past 15 years.

Clemson's passionate fans, four wins in five November games and some serious lobbying from athletic director Terry Don Phillips helped get the Tigers the bid, said Kelly Madden, chairman of the group who selects the teams for the Gator Bowl.

"We believe the Clemson fan base will follow their team and support their team like they always do," Madden said.

Swinney was assistant head coach and receivers coach when he replaced Tommy Bowden on an interim basis in October. The Tigers were 3-3 at the time, with two victories against FCS teams.

"We were fighting and clawing and just hoping we could finish strong and get a bowl," Swinney said. "But to have a New Year's Day bowl, that's something special. That kind of separates us from the pack, so to speak, and is a great reward."