ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Conference USA East division runner-up Marshall will take on Sun Belt 3rd-place finisher FIU in the fourth edition of the Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl.
"Marshall football has a storied tradition dating back to 1895 and the program appears back on the rise," said Brett Dulaney, Executive Director of the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg. "We are excited to welcome the Thundering Herd to our game for the first time and are looking forward to an excellent matchup."
Mike Hamrick, Director of Athletics at Marshall said, "Marshall University has a significant alumni contingent in, not only the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, but the entire state of Florida."
Led by head coach Doc Holliday, who returns to the Sunshine State after serving as an assistant coach for the University of Florida under Urban Meyer from 2005-07. Holliday was the associate head coach at Florida when the Gators won the 2006 National Championship.
Holiday was quick to point out that Marshall has a large number of Florida players on its roster. "We are excited to bring our program to the great state of Florida, which is home to over 30 of our current players and many future prospects."
Marshall was just 6-6 overall but went 5-3 in Conference USA play and finished just a game behind East division champion, and eventual C-USA champion, Southern Miss. In fact, had the Herd managed to just tie USM's conference record, they would have advanced to the championship game by virtue of its week 2 upset of the Golden Eagles.
FIU is filling a slot intended for the Big East, but that conference didn’t have enough bowl eligible teams to fulfill its commitments.
Somewhat ironically, these schools have a common opponent win at Louisville which tied West Virginia and Cincinnati for the Big East title. Marshall beat the Cardinals 17-13 and FIU sunk Louisville 24-17.
But the Herd was destroyed by the other 5 teams it played with a winning record, losing to West Virginia
34-10 (rain-shortened game), Ohio 44-7, Virginia Tech 30-10, Houston 63-28, and Tulsa 59-17. That's a combined whipping of 230-72.
FIU, which brings an 8-4 overall record into this game and a 5-3 Sun Belt mark, scored 7 of its victories over teams that won no more than 5 games and finished a cumulative 21-63. Victories vs. Akron and FAU came against schools with 1-11 records, and another victim, Middle Tennessee, finished 2-10. It's strength of schedule ranks dead last out of 120 teams, according to the Congrove Computer Rankings, which bases its schedule strength data on the power rating average of that teams' opponents, not its won-loss record.
Marshall's schedule ranks as the nation's 59th toughest.
Another common element of these teams is that each won its last bowl outing by defeating a MAC team in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl in Detroit. The Thundering Herd posted a 21-17 victory over Ohio in 2009 and FIU upset Toledo 34-32 last year.
FIU, based in Miami, is making its second bowl appearance, though it has only been fielding a football team at any level since 2002. The Golden Panthers moved up to the FBS in 2005.
Marshall, which began playing football in 1895, is making its 9th bowl appearance, all since 1997. The Herd is 6-2 in its previous 8 bowl games. Its 1948 Tangerine Bowl appearance does not count as an FBS bowl game.
Marshall has a bona fide defensive standout in senior defensive end Vinny Curry, a CollegeFootballPoll.com 3rd Annual All-America Team selection who was a finalist for several of the top national defensive player awards. He ranks second nationally this season with 21.5 tackles for loss. Curry is also tied for second nationally with six forced fumbles and tied for fifth with 11 sacks. His 48.0 career tackles for loss is also tops among all active FBS student-athletes, while his 26.5 sacks rank him seventh.
Unfortunately, Marshall's anemic offense ranks 10th in the 12-team C-USA in passing and 9th in rushing. Wide receiver Aaron Dobson leads the team with 10 touchdown catches, while the running back tandem of Tron Martinez (591 rushing yards, 3 TD's) and Travon Van (529 rushing yards, 3 TD's) paces a weak ground attack that topped 200 yards just once all season and was held to 6 yards by Virginia Tech.
FIU ranked just 6th in total offense in the 9-team Sun Belt, but T.Y. Hilton had 64 receptions for 950 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He added 512 yards on 16 kickoff returns for an average of 32 yards per return.
Sophomore running back Kedrick Rhodes became just the second Panther and the first in FIU’s FBS history to reach 1,000 rushing yards in a single season with 1,121 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in 2011.
The FIU defense ranked 3rd in the Sun Belt in yards allowed at 347.6 per game. It surrendered just 19.4 points per game to finish just 0.1 yards out of a tie for first with Arkansas State.
The Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl is played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., home of Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays. Kickoff is scheduled for Dec. 20, at 8p.m. EST with national network television coverage on ESPN.
The Congrove Computer Rankings project FIU as a 5.61-point winner in the first-ever meeting between the two teams.