For the longest time, the college football landscape lacked a postseason game played in a baseball stadium and sponsored by an apostrophe-laden restaurant chain, but no longer are we so deprived. Since the inception of this contest, teams from four different conferences have made appearances, led by Conference USA's five appearances.
This season, the game features teams from C-USA and the MAC.
Date and time, ET: Dec. 23, 2 p.m. ET
TV channel: ESPN
Location: St. Petersburg, Fla.
Stadium: Tropicana Field (42,735)
Tickets: Find available seats here.
Last year's score: Central Florida 38, Ball State 17
Last year's attendance: 21,759
Last year's TV rating: 1.3 (1.9 million viewers)
Last year's payout for each school: $537,500
Team with the most all-time appearances: Central Florida (2)
Team with the most all-time wins: UCF, Marshall, Louisville, Rutgers and South Florida each have won the bowl once.
East Carolina (9-3, 6-2 C-USA)
East Carolina had a fine regular season, coming in at 9-3. While the Pirates will play in a bowl for the seventh time for eight seasons, they were close to so much more. They nearly knocked off Virginia Tech for a marquee win against an ACC team, falling 15-10 on Sept. 14. After suffering only a 36-33 overtime loss to Tulane through the first seven Conference USA games, they blew a chance to advance to the C-USA title game with a 59-28 loss to Marshall in the regular-season finale.
ECU fields one of Conference USA’s best offenses. The Pirates average 40.4 points and 459.8 yards per game, ranking second in both categories among C-USA teams. Quarterback Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy are the big playmakers. Carden has completed 71 percent of his passes for 3,866 yards, 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Hardy has 105 catches for 1,218 yards and eight scores.
The Pirates haven’t been quite as good on defense, but they’re still respectable. They allow 25.2 points per game, ranking fifth in the conference, and their 363.3 yards per game allowed ranks sixth. Linebackers Derrell Johnson and Montese Overton have anchored the defense, combining for 23 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks.
Last bowl game: 2012 New Orleans Bowl vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, 43-34 loss
Last year without a bowl: 2011
All-time bowl record: 8-10
Head coach's bowl record: Ruffin McNeill, 1-2
Ohio (7-5, 4-4 MAC)
The MAC was a very curious affair this season, with three double-digit win teams and four double-digit loss teams. A large portion of the conference was either very good or very bad, with not many programs occupying the space in between.
One of those few teams that didn’t have a remarkably good or bad seasons? The Ohio Bobcats, who won a pair of solid non-conference games but were blown out by the only two solid MAC opponents they faced.
Non-conference wins against North Texas and Marshall seemed to set the Bobcats on the right track heading into MAC play, and a 43-3 win over Akron in the conference opener further solidified those dreams. They dropped their next game to Central Michigan in a tight one before wins over lowly Eastern Michigan and Miami (OH). A crucial three-game stretch in early November resulted in three Ohio losses by a combined score of 123-16. A season-ending win over Massachusetts ensured a winning record for the Bobcats, who are led at quarterback by Tyler Tettleton, the son of former Major League Baseball player Mickey Tettleton.
Last bowl game: 2012 Independence Bowl vs. Louisiana-Monroe, 45-14 win
Last year without a bowl: 2008
All-time bowl record: 2-5
Head coach's bowl record: Frank Solich, 4-6