There are several firsts in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl between Florida International and Toledo on Sunday in Detroit. The Panthers are making the first bowl appearance in school history, while Toledo is making its first bowl appearance since 2005. Both coaches have done terrific jobs turning around their respective programs. Mario Cristobal has guided FIU to its first conference championship; Tim Beckman has taken the Rockets to their first winning season since 2005. Here is a quick preview:
WHO TO WATCH: Two of the best all-purpose players in the country take center stage: Toledo KR/WR Eric Page and FIU KR/WR T.Y. Hilton. Page ranks No. 10 in the country in all-purpose yards with 158.75 yards a game, while Hilton is right behind at No. 12, averaging 156.58 yards per game. Page was named MAC Special Teams Player of the Year; Hilton was named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year. Page was a first-team Walter Camp All-America selection as a kickoff returner as well. You can expect to see these two guys all over the field.
WHAT TO WATCH: How Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens does. Starter Austin Dantin injured his shoulder against Eastern Michigan on Oct. 30 and missed the rest of the regular season, but has returned to practice and is eligible to play in the bowl game. Still, Beckman said Owens would start the game. Owens has showed improvement in all of his starts, and closed the season with his best game, throwing for a career-high 304 yards against Central Michigan.
WHY WATCH: It’s a great opportunity to see two programs on the rise. FIU may not be nationally known, but this is a team that has won nine games total in its previous three seasons and now has a chance to post the first winning season in school history. The program has been hurt by NCAA sanctions, so to even make it this far without a full complement of scholarships is a remarkable accomplishment.
PREDICTION: Toledo 34, FIU 30. The Panthers have been in every game they have played this season, but have made it a habit of falling behind before rallying. Toledo rarely turns the ball over and will have success against a defensive front that has struggled at times.