ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - 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.
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl Capsule
East Carolina (9-3) vs. Ohio (7-5)
GAME TIME: 2 p.m. today TELEVISION: ESPN
Line: East Carolina by 14.
Series record: East Carolina leads 2-0
WHAT'S AT STAKE
Conference USA's East Carolina won five of six down the stretch and can finish with 10 wins, which would be the second-highest total in school history. Ohio of the Mid-American Conference received an invitation to the game at Tropicana Field, home of major league baseball's Tampa Bay Rays, because the American Athletic Conference was unable to fulfill the league's bowl commitments. The Bobcats are aiming for their third consecutive bowl win and to finish with eight or more victories for the fourth straight season.
East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden, who has completed 71 percent of his passes for 3,866 yards, 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while also scoring 10 TDs rushing, against the Ohio secondary. Cornerback Travis Carrie and safety Xavier Hughes each has four interceptions for the Bobcats.
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.
Reasons the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl could be an entertaining game, even though oddsmakers favor East Carolina by two touchdowns:
HOLDING THEIR OWN: Ohio owns a pair of victories over Conference USA teams, beating North Texas and eventual C-USA East Division winner Marshall at home in September. East Carolina lost its regular season finale 59-28 at Marshall, the only common opponent the Pirates shared with the Bobcats.
SACK CITY: One of the key to the game figures to be getting defensive pressure on the quarterback. East Carolina led Conference USA in rushing defense has 35 sacks. Ohio has 34 sacks, four shy of the school record.
PLAYMAKERS: Like Carden, Tettleton is surrounded by some impressive playmakers. Wide receiver Donte' Foster has 63 receptions for 858 yards and six touchdowns, while running back Beau Blankenship has rushed for 844 yards and five TDs while closing in on the 3,000-yard career rushing mark.