While a weekend of sun and 80-degree temperatures at the beach in Florida is nice, East Carolina and Ohio haven't lost sight of their mission in the Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl.
The Pirates (9-3) and Bobcats (7-5) not only are representing their respective conferences, but are hoping to end the season on a high note when they meet Monday in the annual pre-Christmas game at Tropicana Field, home of major league baseball's Tampa Bay Rays.
The teams feature pass-oriented, high-scoring offenses led by quarterbacks Shane Carden of East Carolina and Ohio's Tyler Tettleton, which could make for an entertaining matchup.
"It's good to have fun, but this is a business trip," East Carolina kicker Warren Harvey said. "We're here to win."
A victory would get the Pirates of Conference USA to 10 victories, the second highest total in school history. Ohio, the second straight Mid-American Conference team to close its season in St. Petersburg, is trying to finish with at least eight wins for the fourth consecutive season.
The Bobcats, in their ninth season under former Nebraska coach Frank Solich, were invited after the American Athletic Conference was unable to fulfill its bowl commitments. Ball State made the trip a year ago, losing to Central Florida after the Big East couldn't fill a slot in the Beef `O' Brady's.
East Carolina's offense begins with Carden, who completed 71 percent of his passes for 3,866 yards, 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while also rushing for 10 TDs. Wide receiver Justin Hardy has 105 receptions for 1,218 yards and eight TDs, while running back Vintavious Cooper is five yards shy of rushing for 1,000 for the second straight season.
"Frustrating the quarterback is going to be the key. We want to make sure he doesn't feel comfortable, we do not want to allow him to sit back in the pocket," Ohio cornerback Travis Carrie said. "If you allow him to sit back in the pocket, he will pick you apart."
Ohio will counter with Tettleton, the Bobcats' career passing leader with 8,897. He's thrown for 2,623 yards, 20 TDs and nine interceptions this year.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
Didn't find what you were looking for?