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After playing in the ACC title game last season and falling just shy of a BCS berth, Clemson barely qualified for a bowl game this year as it struggled to close out the season.

Still, the Tigers have an opportunity to finish 2010 on a high note just a few hours outside of campus as they take on South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday.

Clemson went through some growing pains after losing last season's starting running back C.J. Spiller, a 2010 first-round NFL draft pick. After going 9-5 in 2009, the Tigers finished 6-6 this year and closed the regular season with a 29-7 loss to intrastate rival South Carolina on Nov. 27.

Despite that one-sided defeat, four of Clemson's other losses were by a combined 17 points, including a heartbreaking 27-24 loss Sept. 18 at Auburn, which is playing in the BCS title game.

Quarterback Kyle Parker is expected to start against the Bulls after he was benched in the third quarter against the Gamecocks following an interception that was returned for a touchdown. He and coach Dabo Swinney appeared to have a heated exchange on the sidelines, and there was speculation that Parker would forgo playing in the bowl game in favor of focusing on his baseball career.

Parker turned down $800,000 in additional money from the Colorado Rockies to play another season for Clemson.

Despite Parker's struggles, Swinney said he wouldn't be turning things over to freshman Tajh Boyd, who will likely be the starting quarterback next year.

"The best way to prepare for next year is winning this game," Swinney said.

Playing at Charlotte, the Tigers will be just two hours from campus, making it practically a home game.

While Parker led a shaky offense, Clemson's defense was solid. The Tigers were tied for ninth in the FBS in scoring defense, giving up 17.8 points per game.

Da'Quan Bowers, who won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation's top defensive player, was a big reason. He led the nation with 15 1/2 sacks and his 25 tackles for a loss ranked second. He also broke the school record for sacks by a defensive lineman.

"Its his size and the ability to move and bend and change direction and accelerate at 275 pounds," Swinney said. "He's just extremely gifted and blessed with athleticism. But this year he's put a tremendous work ethic and consistent drive with it."

South Florida will have the difficult task of trying to slow Bowers, who could be leaving school early for the NFL. The Bulls, however, ranked 103rd in the nation in total offense with 311.9 yards per game.

Despite the struggles on offense, it was a promising season under first-year coach Skip Holtz.

South Florida matched its regular season record from last year at 7-5, and three of those losses were by a touchdown or less. The team won four of its final six games, most notably a victory at in-state rival Miami.

In his second year as a starter, B.J. Daniels threw for 1,496 yards, nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions, a disappointing drop off after having 1,983 yards passing, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions the previous season. He missed the 19-16 season-finale loss to Connecticut on Dec. 4 after suffering a leg injury the previous week against Miami.

Holtz said the team is preparing as if walk-on Bobby Eveld is going to start against Clemson since Daniels has seen limited action in practices. Eveld came in against Miami and then started against the Huskies, going 22 of 41 for 195 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

"We're still trying to get (Daniels) healthy," Holtz said. "He's not able to open it up and run around and do all those things yet. Right now, all we can do is work with who's here. Right now, I'm not even (thinking) what happens if? I'm not trying to do all that right now."

Freshman running back Bradley Battles and fullback Jeff Hawkins will be out after suffering knee injuries. Battles was the No. 3 back for most of the season while Hawkins had seen more playing time against Connecticut because starting fullback Richard Kelly was sidelined with a broken thumb.

With South Florida lacking in offensive depth, the pressure again will be on the defense. The Bulls rank 20th in overall defense with 319.7 yards allowed per game.

This is the second time South Florida is playing in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, having lost 14-0 to North Carolina State in 2005.

South Florida (7-5) vs. Clemson (6-6), Noon Friday on ESPN

  • Series Record: First meeting.

What's at Stake
Clemson QB Kyle Parker tries to leave a winner after a disappointing season. Parker, who sacrificed $800,000 from baseball’s Colorado Rockies to play one more season of football, has thrown 10 interceptions and was benched in the regular-season finale against South Carolina. Before he heads to the minor leagues in the spring, he’ll start ahead of Tajh Boyd and face South Florida’s stout defense.

Key Matchup
South Florida QBs B.J. Daniels and Bobby Eveld vs. Clemson DE Da’Quan Bowers. South Florida coach Skip Holtz said he’ll play both quarterbacks, who will attempt to stay away from Bowers. The Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner had nation-best 15 1/2 sacks and ranked second with 24 tackles for a loss.

Players to Watch
Bowers, a junior, could be playing his final college game if he declares early for the NFL draft. Bowers is projected to be one of the first players taken. … South Florida KR Lindsey Lamar, who has returned two kickoffs for TDs, is the Big East special teams player of the year. He ranks 13th in the nation in kick return average (28.1 yards) and 27th in punt returns (10.2 yards).

Facts and Figures
Clemson is ninth in nation in scoring defense (17.8 points) and South Florida 19th (19.5). … USF is playing in sixth straight bowl, the first of which was 14-0 loss to North Carolina State in this game in 2005. … Bulls need win to extend streak of eight-win seasons to five. … USF has won four of six. … USF first-year coach Skip Holtz returns to the Carolinas, where he guided East Carolina and was also an assistant at South Carolina, Clemson’s top rival. … USF’s defense hasn’t allowed a point in the fourth quarter of its five bowl games. … USF’s Daniels is healthy after thigh injury knocked him out of second half of Miami win and UConn loss to close regular season. … Clemson needs victory to secure 11th straight winning season. … Bowers needs one sack to break Keith Adams’ single-season school record. … Clemson has made just 12 of 21 FGs, with seven misses inside 40 yards. … The Charlotte, N.C., bowl chose Clemson over Maryland because the school’s just a 2 1/2 -hour drive. Ticket sales are sluggish, however, with a crowd under 50,000 expected.