The coach who replaced Jim Leavitt this year led the Bulls to a third consecutive bowl victory, continuing a program on the rise in the Big East.
For Clemson, the Kyle Parker era ended with broken ribs and an early exit from his final game as quarterback of the Tigers on his way to a baseball career with the Colorado Rockies.
Parker, a first-round draft pick of the Rockies in June, had opted to play one final season with the Tigers before focusing on baseball. But it was a rocky year as Clemson (6-7) fell below expectations and Parker was unable to build on his impressive 2009 redshirt freshman season when he threw for 2,526 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Parker, who finished with 2,213 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010, was apparently injured during a run in the final minute of the first half.
Tajh Boyd played the second half for the Tigers in preparation for taking over as starter next season. Parker was 11 of 17 for 134 yards and one interception in his finale; Boyd was 13 of 23 for 112, throwing an interception on the first play of the fourth quarter that led to a South Florida touchdown that put the game out of reach.
South Florida's B.J. Daniels outplayed both Parker and Boyd, passing for 189 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for another score to lead the Bulls.
South Florida turned a 17-13 halftime lead into a 24-13 advantage at 9:47 of the third quarter when Mo Plancher scored on a 2-yard run to complete a 13-play, 83-yard drive to open the second half. The Bulls made it 31-13 after JaQuez Jenkins returned a Boyd interception 48 yards and set up an 8-yard touchdown run by Daniels early in the fourth.
Boyd threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Ford with 1:47 to go to close it to 31-19. Clemson recovered the ensuing onside kick and Boyd hit Ford with a 10-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds to go to make it 31-26. The final onside kick was recovered by Clemson, but short of the 10 yards needed as the ball went to South Florida.
South Florida built a 17-13 lead in a first half that featured momentum shifts and critical turnovers. The Tigers converted an early interception into a 3-0 lead, but the Bulls used an interception to help build a 17-3 lead midway through the second quarter. That was before Clemson rallied with 10 consecutive points to close the gap by halftime.
Paid attendance was 41,122, lowest ever for the nine-year-old bowl game. Actual attendance appeared lower.
Contributed by FanHouse correspondent Viv Bernstein