FIU vs. Marshall: What You Need to Know About the 2011 Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl
Tonight's Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl will be a battle between FIU and Marshall
Tonight, the college football bowl season will start back up again after taking a quick Sunday breather.
The Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl matchup between FIU out of the Sun Belt and Marshall out of Conference USA may not be all that appealing to a national audience, but make no mistake about it, there will definitely be some legitimate talent on display in St. Petersburg tonight.
Two of college football's most underrated players, FIU wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and Marshall DE Vinny Curry, will try to one-up each other and do everything they can to impress NFL scouts.
Hilton is one of college football's most explosive receivers, while Curry is one of the top edge-rushers in the country.
So even though this may be one of the least-compelling games of the 36 bowls, if you happen to be a fan of football being played on baseball fields, or if you want to get a look at some under-the-radar draft prospects, then make sure to check out the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl tonight on ESPN.
Here's a look at what you need to know about the two teams.
The Basic Details
FIU coach Mario Cristobal
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Date: Dec. 20
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
The Spread: FIU (-4)
Sponsor: Beef 'O' Brady's
Conferences Represented: FIU (Sun Belt) and Marshall (Conference USA)
Stadium: Tropicana Field
City: St. Petersburg, Fla.
Last Year's Result: Louisville 31, Southern Miss 28
Florida International's 2011 Resume
Overall Record: 8-4
Conference Record: 5-3
Sagarin Schedule Rank: 127
Who They Beat: North Texas (41-16), Louisville (24-17), Central Florida (17-10), Akron (27-17), Troy (23-20), Florida Atlantic (41-7), Louisiana-Monroe (28-17), Middle Tennessee State (31-18)
Who Beat Them: Louisiana-Lafayette (36-31), Duke (31-27), Arkansas State (34-16), Western Kentucky (10-9)
Marshall's 2011 Resume
Overall Record: 6-6
Conference Record: 5-3
Sagarin Schedule Rank: 55
Who They Beat: Southern Miss (26-20), Louisville (17-13), Rice (24-20), UAB (59-14), Memphis (23-22), East Carolina (34-27)
Who Beat Them: West Virginia (34-13), Ohio (44-7), Virginia Tech (30-10), Central Florida (16-6), Houston (63-28), Tulsa (59-17)
Florida International by the Numbers
Points Per Game: 26.3
Yards Per Game: 369
Passing Yards Per Game: 219
Rushing Yards Per Game: 150
Yards Per Play: 5.5
Points Per Game: 19.4
Yards Per Game: 347
Passing Yards Per Game: 226
Rushing Yards Per Game: 121
Yards Per Play: 4.8
Field Goal Percentage: 84 percent
Yards Per Punt: 40
Yards Per Kick Return: 25.5
Yards Per Punt Return: 15.3
Turnovers (Gained vs. Lost): 19-14
Third-Down Conversions: 38 percent
Red-Zone Percentage: 86 percent
Marshall by the Numbers
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Points Per Game: 22
Yards Per Game: 335
Passing Yards Per Game: 212
Rushing Yards Per Game: 123
Yards Per Play: 5.1
Points Per Game: 30
Yards Per Game: 417
Passing Yards Per Game: 262
Rushing Yards Per Game: 155
Yards Per Play: 5.7
Field Goal Percentage: 73 percent
Yards Per Punt: 39.6
Yards Per Kick Return: 22.3
Yards Per Punt Return: 39.6
Turnovers (Gained vs. Lost): 28-26
Third-Down Conversions: 36 percent
Red-Zone Percentage: 87 percent
FIU's Key Player: WR T.Y. Hilton
It didn't take long for Florida International WR T.Y. Hilton to make a statement in 2011.
In just the second week of the season, Hilton lit up Louisville's defense in a nationally televised Friday night game, as he hauled in seven passes for 201 yards and scored two key touchdowns in a 24-17 upset win.
That performance was the speedy receiver's best of the season, but the rest of his senior campaign was also full of highlights, as Hilton went on to rack up 64 catches for 950 yards and score seven touchdowns.
The 5'10'', 185-pound senior has the speed and explosion to put big-time pressure on a secondary, and he's the type of playmaker that has to be accounted for on every snap.
Look for Hilton to take advantage of a Marshall secondary that ranks 100th in the country in pass defense and gives up an average of 262 yards through the air per game.
Marshall's Key Player: DE Vinny Curry
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Marshall DE Vinny Curry wasn't just the premier defensive player in Conference USA this season, he was one of the premier defensive players in college football.
Curry was a nightmare, coming off the edge off Marshall's defensive line, as he certainly made a fair share of offensive tackles look foolish in 2011.
The 6'4'', 260-pound senior racked up 11 sacks and 21 tackles for loss this season, and he showed pro scouts that he has what it takes to be an impact pass-rusher in the NFL.
If Curry can have one last big performance in his final collegiate game, it could put him in the Day 2 conversation for the 2012 NFL Draft.
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
You really have to admire what Florida International coach Mario Cristobal has done with the Golden Panthers after taking over a team that finished 0-12 back in 2006, the year before he arrived.
It hasn't been an easy rebuilding process, but it's one that paid off last year when Cristobal took the program to its first ever bowl game and earned a victory over Toledo in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Now FIU will be looking to make it two bowl wins in a row, after a season that saw the team finish with its highest win total ever.
Standing in the Golden Panthers' way will be a Marshall team that has some intriguing pieces, but has also failed to play with much consistency this season.
When the Thundering Herd were bad this year, they were really bad, especially in two blowout losses to Houston and Tulsa, but this is also a Marshall team that won three out of its last four games and one that has a lot of strong senior leadership on the defensive side of the ball.
T.Y. Hilton is going to be the most talked about player for FIU in this game, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the Panthers' success will largely hinge on how budding sophomore back Kedrick Rhodes performs.
This year, Rhodes totaled 1,369 yards of offense and scored eight touchdowns, and he's a very dangerous offensive weapon in his own right.
The Marshall defense will have its main focus on Hilton, but it could turn out to be Rhodes that burns them.
Talent-wise, these two teams are fairly evenly matched, and if both squads come to play, this game should remain close for all four quarters, and I wouldn't even be surprised if it came down to a late field goal just like we saw in the New Orleans Bowl.
In the end, though, I like Hilton and Rhodes more than I like any offensive player on Marshall, and that's why I'm ultimately expecting Florida International to come out on top.
Prediction FIU 27, Marshall 24