Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl: FIU (8-4) vs. Marshall (6-6)
By Andrea Adelson
FIU posted a school-record eight wins and is making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in school history. Marshall is back in a bowl under second-year coach Doc Holliday. Both teams feature the top players in their respective conferences -- T.Y. Hilton has been a force in the Sun Belt, while Vinny Curry has been a menace to Conference USA opponents. This is the first meeting between the schools and just the second time FIU will play a team from C-USA. The Panthers beat UCF this season.
WHO TO WATCH: Hilton. One of the most dynamic playmakers in all of college football, Hilton was slowed earlier this year with a hamstring injury but has returned to form. This season, Hilton broke the FIU and Sun Belt career records for receiving yards (3,443), receiving touchdowns (24), all-purpose yards (7,351) and kickoff return yards (2,819). He also was named to the Sun Belt first-team as a receiver, kick returner and all-purpose player. That's as well-rounded as you can get.
WHAT TO WATCH: Quarterback situation. Neither team has the most stable quarterback situation. Marshall will start true freshman Rakeem Cato, who is back in the starting lineup after he got benched midway through the season. With A.J. Graham out because of a shoulder injury, the Herd must rely on Cato to help lead the team to victory. He was great in an overtime win over East Carolina to get Marshall bowl eligible, but he has been maddeningly inconsistent this season (10 interceptions to 13 touchdown passes). Meanwhile, FIU is expected to play both Wes Carroll and Jake Medlock -- coach Mario Cristobal will probably make a game-time decision. Carroll was benched this season as well but played again after Medlock got hurt. Both are healthy going into this game.
WHY TO WATCH: This is your last chance to get a look at Curry before he moves on to the NFL. The C-USA Defensive Player of the Year, Curry has put together back-to-back outstanding seasons. Cristobal says Curry "discombobulates people." That is an astute way of putting it. This season, Curry is tied for third nationally with six forced fumbles, ranks second in tackles for loss (21) and is sixth in sacks (11).
PREDICTION: FIU 28, Marshall 21. Neither team jumps off the page statistically speaking. In fact, Marshall is the only one of the 70 bowl teams to rank 80th or worse in both total offense and total defense, according to ESPN Stats & Information. FIU has Hilton, and he makes the difference in this game.