Herd, USF to meet in Gasparilla Bowl
HUNTINGTON — When Sunday’s bowl frenzy got underway, Marshall’s football program wasn’t exactly sure what its bowl destination would be.
As it turns out, Marshall’s football team is going to a place that feels as close to home as any that could have been chosen for them.
On Sunday, Marshall accepted a bid to play South Florida in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl at 8 p.m. on Dec. 20 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
“As far as the bowl, it fits as good as any bowl out there for us that we’d have an opportunity to play in,” Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick said. “We recruit there, we have a large fan base there and our fans can get there easily. There’s a lot of players on our team from there and we’ve been there before. We’re pleased to be a part of it.”
The game is the sixth bowl trip in the nine-year tenure of Marshall head coach Doc Holliday, who is undefeated at 5-0 heading into the matchup.
Getting a win in this one will not be easy with South Florida, a member of the American Athletic Conference, getting a bowl game in its backyard. The Bulls also play their home games in the regular season at Raymond James Stadium.
Still, the bowl game is a big coup for the Herd in terms of recruiting for Holliday.
Marshall has a large contingent of players from Florida and Holliday frequents the talent-rich Tampa area on a regular basis in search of future members of the Herd.
Hamrick said that, in addition to the connections within the football program, Tampa is an accessible and desirable location for fans from Huntington to travel in mid-December.
“It will be an outstanding trip for us on all levels,” Hamrick said.
Marshall’s inclusion into the Tampa-based bowl game is not the first in its history, although the game venue has changed from the last time that Marshall made the trip to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area for the contest.
The Thundering Herd have participated in the game twice before when it was based out of St. Petersburg and played at Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays.
In 2011, Marshall defeated Florida International, 20-10, in the first bowl win of Holliday’s career. At the time, FIU was part of the Sun Belt Conference. Since then, the Panthers have moved into Conference USA and are a division rival of the Herd. South Charleston native Aaron Dobson was named the Most Valuable Player after catching two touchdown passes, including one late on fourth down in the Herd’s win.
Marshall’s last trip to the game came in 2015 when the Herd took down UConn, 16-10, in what was a defensive duel. Special teams helped push the Herd to the win with Deandre Reaves having a big punt return to set up a score. Reaves was named MVP of that contest, also.
Hamrick said the familiarity with the bowl and its personnel make it an easy
“This is our third time there,” Hamrick said. “Great people run it and it’s a good fit for us.”
For many players, it is a chance to return home for the final game of the 2018 season. For some, it is a chance to close out their Marshall career in their home state.
For all Herd players, though, it’s a chance to finish the 2018 season with a victory after Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech.
Marshall goes into the contest with an 8-4 record on the season following Saturday’s loss. South Florida comes in at 7-5 overall on the year.
The game is the lone bowl game on the college football slate for that day.
“It’s the only bowl game that night, so we’re the only show that’s on,” Hamrick said. “That’s great exposure.”