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Florida is heading to a bowl game again with a new coach in place and renewed optimism.
The Gators introduced their new football coach, former Colorado State coach and Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, on Saturday.
The next day, Florida learned it will be heading to the Birmingham (Ala.) Bowl to face East Carolina.
McElwain will not be involved coaching the bowl game, instead choosing to hit the road recruiting and taking the next steps to assemble a coaching staff. Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will serve as interim coach and run practices leading up to the East Carolina matchup.
"We're very excited to be heading to the Birmingham Bowl," Durkin said. "Our guys are ready to get back on the field to begin preparation to face a very good ECU team."
East Carolina (8-4, 5-3 AAC) is led by senior quarterback Shane Carden, who has passed for 4,309 yards and 28 TDs this season. Senior running back Breon Allen also has 869 yards rushing and eight touchdowns for the Pirates.
Coincidentally, Florida and East Carolina also have a game scheduled for next Sept. 12, 2015 at Florida Field, so the game could end up serving as advanced scouting for both teams.
Florida will be making its first trip to Legion Field in Birmingham since knocking off Alabama 28-13 in the 1993 SEC title game.
"We are excited to be headed to Birmingham for the Birmingham Bowl," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "Our players, coaches and staff are looking forward to traveling to the home of the conference office and representing the University of Florida."
Florida is hopeful the extra practice time during December will help with the development next spring that will continue under McElwain. The Gators were looking for someone with an offensive background after Florida struggled to score points and move the ball consistently under former coach Will Muschamp.
McElwain led an offense at Colorado State this past season that ranked 13th nationally, averaging 497.8 yards per game.
Asked about his vision for the Florida offense, McElwain said "When we get here, it's about the evaluation of the talent that's here, really accentuate what they do well, adapt to that. Then recruit to some of the areas that maybe we need to get to as we form who we are. Obviously, we believe in balance. Yet some games, based on what the defense has taken away, you need to have the versatility to do the other thing. That's really where it evolves."
Before hitting the recruiting trail, McElwain plans to meet his new team on Monday. His message?
"Embrace what they're doing," McElwain said. "You're Gators. Let's go win a bowl game.