Florida International Golden Panthers (8-4) vs. Marshall Thundering Herd (6-6)
Dec. 20, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
FIU take by college football blogger Matt Fortuna: FIU's 8-4 this season was the best in school history, and it will look to punctuate that mark with a bowl win in its second-ever bowl appearance after beating Toledo last season in the Little Caesar Bowl. The Golden Panthers' Sept. 9 win at Louisville was its first against a BCS automatic qualifying opponent in school history.
Quarterback Wesley Carroll lost his job to Jake Medlock but won it back after Medlock injured his shoulder at Louisiana-Monroe. Carroll, a fifth-year senior, stepped back in and completed 16 of 34 passes for 213 yards and three scores, leading FIU to a 28-17 win.
T.Y. Hilton has been the most explosive player for the Golden Panthers, though he has been hampered by a hamstring injury. Hilton has 950 receiving yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for another 101 yards on just 16 carries. His seven receiving touchdowns tied the school's single-season record. Hilton has also returned a punt for a touchdown and added a 77-yard kickoff return in the regular-season finale. FIU finished the season tops in the nation in punt returns.
FIU's banner season included wins over in-state opponents Florida Atlantic and Central Florida, and the Golden Panthers finished with tied with Florida State for most wins in the state this season.
Defensive lineman Vinny Curry is a beast that makes the defense go. He has 11 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss this season (second best nationally). Marshall still ranks in the lower half of the nation in rush defense, yielding 155 yards per game. But Curry makes offenses work for every yard.
In the secondary, senior defensive back Rashad Jackson has had a nice season with nine pass breakups and four interceptions -- including a pair in the ECU win.
Quarterbacking is once again an issue with true freshman Rakeem Cato and A.J. Graham splitting time. But Graham was hurt in the season finale, and with bowl eligibility on the line, Cato orchestrated the overtime victory. Cato has more touchdowns (13), but also has 10 picks on the year. Graham has a 7-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Tron Martinez paces the offense on the ground with 591 yards and an average of 4.1 yards per carry. In the overtime win against East Carolina, he scored the winning touchdown and also showed some versatility out of the backfield, catching three balls for 34 yards.