CFB: Baseball-bound Parker wants win in Meineke Bowl
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Not long after a fuming Kyle Parker was benched in a one-sided loss to South Carolina last month, the Clemson quarterback thought about immediately ending his football career.
The decision to leave $800,000 on the table and delay his baseball career for a year looked like a bad move. Not only had the Tigers failed to contend for the Atlantic Coast Conference title, the interceptions and close losses were piling up as Parker played much of the season with a painful rib injury.
“It kind of came through my head,” Parker said of skipping Friday’s Meineke Bowl matchup against South Florida. “But I really didn’t want to end it this way. I think the biggest thing was I made a commitment.”
Before he trades his helmet for a glove and shifts from Charlotte to nearby Asheville to play in the Colorado Rockies’ minor league system, Parker has a final chance to erase memories of a mediocre year and avoid the first losing season at Clemson (6-6) in 11 years.
“I think I’ve accomplished a lot of good things for this university,” said Parker, who has patched up his differences with coach Dabo Swinney. “I just want the feeling I have when I leave to be a good one.”
It won’t be easy. While South Florida (7-5) has its own quarterback issues, the Bulls have also overcome a suspect offense by stopping the opponent. South Florida ranks 19th in the nation in scoring defense and Clemson is ninth.
“We’re both probably three plays away from playing in a BCS bowl game. We’re both probably three plays away from not even being here,” first-year South Florida coach Skip Holtz said. “When you have great defensive football teams, that’s what happens. You’re going to play in a lot of close football games.”
While the 6-foot-1 Parker will start, he’ll split snaps with Tajh Boyd as Clemson tries to bounce back from a 29-7 loss to South Carolina in which Parker was yanked after his 10th interception of the season was returned for a touchdown.
“He’s got good speed. He’s got good ability to escape from pressure. He has good arm strength,” South Florida defensive end Craig Marshall said of Parker. “But he’s not one of those tall guys you see, like 6-4 and stuff, that can see over everyone. Try and get pressure in his face, that will help us.”
Clemson’s defensive plan will no doubt be the same. Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers brings a nation-best 15 1/2 sacks into what could be his final college game as he contemplates leaving early for the NFL.
Bowers said on Thursday that he’ll decide sometime after the Meineke Bowl, which marks the finish of a season of failed expectations. After an overtime loss to No. 1 Auburn, Clemson went into a funk fueled by a stalled offense and missed field goals that quickly ended hopes for a repeat trip to the ACC title game.
“It was a pretty tough year,” Bowers said, “but we’re trying finish it the right way and the strong way.”
Clemson will face South Florida’s own unique quarterback situation. B.J. Daniels started the first 11 games before sitting out the second half against Miami with a thigh injury. Walk-on freshman Bobby Eveld then led the Bulls to an upset win in overtime before starting the loss to Connecticut to close the regular season.
With Daniels healthy again, the pair have split time with the first team in practice this week.
“We’ve tried to create this as a spring practice mentality. We’ve rolled both of them every four plays,” Holtz said. “I don’t think it matters who goes in right now. I don’t think we’ll have anybody pouting on the sideline. I will tell you, they will both play.”
With the uncertainty at QB, the stout defenses and sluggish offenses, points would appear to be at a premium Friday at Bank of America Stadium in the first meeting between the schools.
While the upstart Bulls are seeking their fifth straight eight-win season, the Tigers are hoping a victory will jump-start next season when they hope to return to Charlotte, only at the beginning of the month.
“We’re right here in Charlotte and this is where the ACC championship game is going to be played next year again,” Swinney said. “This is where we want to be. It’s a good opportunity for us to hopefully create a good start for next season.”
And Parker gets to play one more competitive football game. The Rockies’ first-round pick, who a year ago became the first NCAA athlete to throw for 20 touchdowns and hit 20 home runs in the same academic year, plans to pick up a a bat again Monday to prepare for the start of spring training.
“I’ve had a great experience here at Clemson,” Parker said. “I’m excited about the next part of my life to come.”