2011 Bowl Predictions: Beef O'Bradys Bowl Preview from the Sports Mac

Jay McAnanyCorrespondent IDecember 19, 2011

GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 21: Coacg Mario Cristobal of the Florida International University Golden Panthers directs play against the Florida Gators, November 21, 2009 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

I love watching all of the bowl games.

The three weeks at the end of December and the beginning of January are some of the best times of the year for me. Some people say there are too many bowl games, with over 58 percent of FBS teams making it to the postseason.

Generally, I’ve come to expect that a 6-6 team is eligible for a bowl game nowadays, but when you start to dig a little deeper, you might begin to wonder if they should change the rules.

Take for instance this year’s Beef O’Brady’s Bowl. It features a school that continues to rise from the depths of FBS and a school that made it to the postseason just because they were able to win half of their games.

Florida International has continued to improve steadily under the direction of Mario Cristobal.  After a 1-11 record in his inaugural season, the team has continued to improve with a winning season and a bowl game win last year. That improvement continued this season with three wins to start the campaign.

There was a stumble in the middle of the season when they lost three of four. But they recovered, winning four of their last five with the only loss on the road to Western Kentucky. The eight wins are a high mark under Cristobal and they made it to St. Petersburg when the Big East couldn’t field enough teams.

On the other side of the coin, there is Marshall. The Thundering Herd have been up and down all season and needed to rally to just make it to a .500 finish. They started by losing three of their first four, getting blown out by West Virginia, Ohio, and Virginia Tech. They were sitting at 3-5 before they blew out a three-win UAB team, beat two-win Memphis on the road by a point, and had to go to overtime to win over East Carolina to just become bowl eligible.

So, can Marshall take advantage of getting the extra practices and game as a leap into 2012? Or will FIU finish off their best season ever with second consecutive bowl victory? Read on for the preview of the 2011 Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.


Florida International offense vs. Marshall defense

If you look at the numbers, FIU has struggled to move the ball this year, finishing just 80th nationally in total offense.

But there are a couple players of note to keep an eye out for. RB Kedrick Rhodes and WR T.Y. Hilton are the two main cogs in the Panther offense. Rhodes finished in the top 40 nationally in rushing and Hilton in the top 50 in receiving yards per game this season. Hilton ends up doing a little bit of everything, as he is 21st nationally in all-purpose yards this season.

They should have plenty of opportunities against a Marshall defense that hasn’t been very good all season. The Thundering Herd has given more than 30 points and 415 yards per game this season.This should mean a good chance for FIU to move the ball up and down the turf in St. Petersburg.

Edge: Florida International

Marshall offense vs. Florida International defense

As much as Marshall has struggled on defense this season, they’ve struggled more on offense. They ended up being one of the 20 worst offenses in FBS and managed to score more than 24 points just four times all season. Rakeem Cato leads the way and must play well to give the Thundering Herd a chance to stay in the game.

FIU has played solid defense all season. They’ve been tough to run against, giving up just over 120 yards per game, and tough to score against as well, giving up under 20 points per game for the season. That will be a problem for Marshall and their struggling offense.

Edge: Florida International

Special Teams

The Panthers have a major advantage here as Hilton is one of the best kickoff returners in the nation, finishing 3rd by averaging 32 yards per return. Also, PK Jack Griffin ended up as one of the Top 10 kickers in the country making almost two field goals per game this season.  Andre Booker is the main return man for Marshall, averaging over 25 yards per kickoff return this season.

Edge: Florida International


As detailed above, FIU coach Mario Cristobal continues to impress, as he has taken the program from one win to possibly nine wins in just five years. His name will surely be mentioned with bigger head coaching jobs in the near future. Doc Holliday is in his second season at Marshall has taken them to a bowl game, but he remains under .500 in his brief career.

Edge: Florida International

This and That

FIU should have a decided advantage here as it will just be a trip across the state for the Panther faithful. The Beef O’Brady’s bowl has typically been high scoring, with at least 55 points being scored in the previous three editions. There is plenty of potential for that trend to continue with this year’s participants.


So, what will happen in the 2011 Beef O’Brady’s Bowl

This has the potential to be one of the early blowouts of the bowl season.  Florida International has the better talent, led by Rhodes and Hilton, and the defense that has been very solid all season. Marshall is in this game only because they managed to get to six wins and their conference had enough bowl slots to allow them to play the extra game this year. It will not be a fun ending.


Line: Florida International by 4


The Sports Mac Prediction: Florida International 45, Marshall 13