This season, pick who you think will win the Champs Sports Bowl Game of the Week and WIN! Answer the question on the Champs Sports Bowl Facebook page before Saturday’s game. If you pick correctly, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win two tickets to the Champs Sports Bowl on December 29, 2011!
The 2011 season kicks off with a homecoming of sorts as South Florida head coach Skip Holtz returns to his alma mater for a showdown with Brian Kelly and Notre Dame. Last year, the Bulls and Irish were late contenders for the Champs Sports Bowl before West Virginia’s 9-3 record proved too good to pass up. Expectations are higher for both teams this season and both are mentioned in preseason Champs Sports Bowl predictions, so an early-season game like this could have an impact on Selection Sunday in December.
USF looks to improve on last year’s 8-5 finish in its second year under Holtz. The Bulls have not won more than nine games in a single season since moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in 1997. Redshirt junior B.J. Daniels returns as starting quarterback following one of the best performances of his career against Clemson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl (20-of-27 with two touchdowns plus another score on the ground). That game was a breakthrough for a team with a mixed record against BCS conference opponents. Although they have pulled upsets against Florida State and Miami on the road in the past two seasons, the Bulls were throttled by a middling Florida team in Gainesville last September.
With an early-season gauntlet that also features Michigan, Michigan State and Pittsburgh, Notre Dame will need an early spark to “stir the echoes” in Kelly’s second season. It hopes to find that spark in senior quarterback Dayne Crist, who was recently named the starter over sophomore Tommy Rees. Crist is returning from a knee injury that ended his 2010 season in October and his ability to understand Kelly’s spread offense will be key this year. Though many Irish fans have their eyes on a BCS berth, pundits are preaching caution and expecting a stop in Orlando this December before they become national championship contenders.
This will be Holtz’s first time standing on the visitors’ sideline in South Bend. A former Irish walk-on, he served under coaching legends Bobby Bowden and Earle Bruce before taking an assistant coaching position with his father, Lou, from 1990-1993.
Extra Points: Notre Dame last played in Orlando in 2000, beating Navy, 45-14. South Florida has been in Orlando twice to play UCF (winning both times), but only one of those games (2006) was played in the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.
Ready to make your pick? Head over to the Champs Sports Bowl Facebook page, answer the latest Question and you could win two tickets to the game!