The Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl will feature the Florida International Golden Panthers versus the Marshall Thundering Herd.
The game will be played on Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. ET at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Note: Rankings used are from my National Top 25 rankings.
Head coach Mario Cristobal
Record: 8-4 (5-3 Sun Belt)
Biggest win: at Louisville, 24-17, Sept. 9
Worst loss: vs Duke, 27-31, Oct. 1
The season started out very well for the Florida International Golden Panthers, with non-conference victories over Louisville and UCF during a 3-0 start. However, the Golden Panthers would go on to lose three conference games, along with an embarrassing loss to Duke, on the way to a fourth-place finish in the Sun Belt.
The Golden Panthers have a good defense this year, which ranks 16th nationally in points allowed— just 19.4 per game.
On the other hand, their offensive production has been weak. They rank 80th nationally in total yards of offense per game.
Record: 6-6 (5-3 C-USA)
Biggest win: vs #23 Southern Miss, 26-20, Sept. 10
Worst loss: at Ohio, 7-44, Sept. 17
The Thundering Herd needed two wins at the end of the season, the second of which came in overtime against East Carolina, to struggle back to a 6-6 record and become bowl-eligible.
However, Marshall did play a difficult schedule in which they played four teams currently in the BCS Top 25, and actually got a win against one of them— Conference USA champion Southern Miss.
Statistically, Marshall does not hold up well. They rank 101st nationally in total offense, and 86th nationally in total defense.
They certainly played a stronger schedule than a large number of teams ranked ahead of them, but no matter how they are spun, those numbers are not good.
Florida International WR T.Y. Hilton, Senior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 5
There are few players in all of college football who are more dangerous with the ball in their hands than Florida International’s T.Y. Hilton. Hilton may be small at just 5-foot-10, but he has tremendous quickness.
Hilton has caught 64 passes for 950 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Additionally, Hilton ranks 3rd nationally with an average of 32 yards per kickoff return, on 16 kickoff returns this season. Hilton has also added a punt return touchdown this season.
On both offense and special teams, Hilton is a dangerous player who can burn a defense for one big play. Marshall will have to cover him well all game long, as Hilton will be looking to make a statement in his final collegiate game.
Marshall DE Vinny Curry, Senior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 4
He does not get great hype playing for Marshall, but Vinny Curry is one of the top defensive ends in the nation, and is a likely fourth-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Curry is an explosive athlete who has been making plays for the Thundering Herd defense all year. Curry has 11 sacks, part of his 21 tackles for loss on the season. Additionally, Curry has forced six fumbles this season, and has blocked three kicks.
When Curry is on the field, he can wreak havoc on an opposing offense, so keep an eye on him throughout this game.
Florida International SS Jonathan Cyprien, Junior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 7 - Undrafted
Jonathan Cyprien is the best player on the stout Golden Panthers’ defense. At strong safety, Cyprien is the leader of the team’s secondary, and the team’s best defensive playmaker.
Cyprien is a well-rounded safety who is second on the team with 74 tackles, and second in passes defended with nine. Watch for Cyprien to take on a leadership role and make plays for his team in this contest.
Common opponents: Louisville and UCF
Win at Louisville, 24-17, Sept. 9
Win vs UCF, 17-10, Sept. 17
Win at Louisville, 17-13, Oct. 1
Loss at UCF, 6-16, Oct. 8
Wins vs bowl-eligible teams: Florida International 1, Marshall 1
Losses vs non-bowl-eligible teams: Florida International 1, Marshall 1
Florida International’s total offense: 80th in nation, 369.7 yards per game
Marshall’s total defense: 86th in nation, 417.8 yards per game
Marshall’s total offense: 101st in nation, 335.3 yards per game
Florida International’s total defense: 33rd in nation, 347.6 yards per game
The X-factor in this game is undoubtedly Florida International wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
If Hilton can make big plays against the Marshall defense, the Golden Panthers have a great likelihood of winning this game.
Statistically and record-wise, the Thundering Herd are not an impressive team. That said, the best player on the field might be Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry. The Thundering Herd are also much more battle-tested than the Golden Panthers this year, having faced West Virginia, Southern Miss, Virginia Tech, and Houston.
I think Marshall comes away from their season with a winning record by getting a victory over the Golden Panthers in this game. It may not be as memorable as the one-handed catch with tremendous extension that Marshall wide receiver Aaron Dobson made against East Carolina to get top billing on SportsCenter’s Top Plays, but I expect a close contest.
Final Score Prediction: Marshall 23, Florida International 16