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Charlotte isn't Tiger town for Clemson fans

The most striking thing about the Meineke Car Care Bowl at Bank of America Stadium wasn't necessarily South Florida's 31-26 victory over Clemson, a win that was more lopsided than the five-point margin suggests.

It was how empty the big blue stadium looked and felt Friday.

Officially, 41,122 tickets were sold and the actual attendance was a few thousand less than that.

Given the sustained success the soon-to-be Belk Bowl has had in its nine years, there's no shame in having a down year. But what does it say about Clemson that in its first appearance in this game, it can't draw as many people as Wake Forest did?

Maybe it's a baseball school.

One of the reasons organizers created this game is because they believed that most years, they could land N.C. State, North Carolina or Clemson, giving them a strong local team that would travel well. It's worked out that way, though it dipped last year when the Tar Heels were here for a second straight year.

When Clemson was available to the Charlotte bowl this year, organizers were delighted. They could have taken North Carolina again, Boston College, Georgia Tech or resurgent Maryland.

They took the Tigers, knowing South Florida wouldn't bring a huge crowd.

"It backfired," a bowl official said.

For a fan base that prides itself on its allegiance, it was striking how many fans didn't make the 2 1/2-hour drive up I-85 Friday. Sure, the Tigers were 6-6 and most recently lost to South Carolina for the second straight season but the lukewarm support underscored the discontent in Tigertown.

Pick a target. Athletic director Terry Don Phillips. Coach Dabo Swinney. The Gamecocks.

Even Swinney was piling on himself Friday, excusing the fans for being frustrated.

"I don't blame them for being upset, they should be upset," Swinney said. "I'm upset and it's nobody's fault but mine. If I was in the fans' shoes, I would be questioning me and doubting me, too."

IPTAY meetings should be fun this spring.

The Tigers, who came closer than anyone to beating No.1 Auburn this year, looked like a team that had lost its confidence, which Swinney admitted had happened.

Four weeks ago, more than 70,000 tickets were sold to the first ACC championship game here and more than 65,000 sat in the cold, icy night to watch Virginia Tech beat Florida State.

With this being the first year Charlotte has hosted both games in December did the ACC championship hurt the bowl game?

"I don't think we know," said Ken Haines, CEO of Raycom Sports, which created the bowl game and now serves on its board of advisors.

"I do know two games can be very successful in the same city. They've proven that in Atlanta (with the SEC Championship and the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.)"

That's where South Carolina played Friday night.