2011 St. Petersburg Bowl Preview
Florida International Golden Panthers vs Marshall Thundering Herd
Things are finally turning around in South Beach, and no, we aren’t talking about the Miami Hurricanes. The Florida International Golden Panthers are making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in school history. FIU also won a school record eight games this season.
The Golden Panthers will try to add the topper to their eight-win season and claim back to back bowl wins, which would be another school record for a program that is wrapping up the first full decade of its existence. Last year FIU defeated Toledo in the Little Caesars Bowl. The program changing win for the Golden Panthers came on September 9 when they went on the road and defeated Louisville. It was the first win against a BCS automatic qualifying opponent in school history.
Earlier in the season there was a legitimate quarterback battle at FIU. Expected starter Wesley Carroll lost his gig to Jake Medlock but then won it back after Medlock injured his shoulder against Louisiana-Monroe. Carroll, who is a fifth-year senior signal caller, stepped back in and completed 16 of 34 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns, which helped the Golden Panthers win that particular conference game, 28-17, stabilizing the season in the process and enabling coach Mario Cristobal to forge an 8-4 season one year after winning the Sun Belt Conference in 2010.
There are two teams playing in this game, however – FIU’s opponent would like to crash this Sunshine State party and make a name for itself in the early stages of the first of two December bowl weeks. On the other sideline there is the Marshall Thundering Herd, a resilient club from Conference USA which dealt league champion Southern Mississippi an unexpected defeat. Marshall’s prime player is defensive end Vinny Curry, who ranks second nationally this season with 21.5 tackles for loss, and is also tied for second in the nation with six forced fumbles. Oh, by the way, he is also tied for fifth with 11 sacks. Curry is a beast who makes the Thundering Herd defense go. He is the Julius Peppers of this defensive unit. Curry had 11 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss this season. Marshall still ranks in the lower half of the nation in rush defense, yielding 155 yards per game. With that having been said, Curry makes offenses work for every yard, and without him, the numbers posted by opposing offenses would be even higher.
Needing to win its final two games to become bowl eligible, Marshall showed true grit and came up with two clutch wins. One was on the road at Memphis in a 23-22 heartstopper before pulling out a 34-27 overtime win at home over East Carolina in game 12. That survival act enabled coach Doc Holliday’s team to reach this stage inside Tropicana Field. The Herd will try to make the most of it.
Yes, this might not be an LSU-Alabama type of slugfest, but it should be a hotly contested game, giving two smaller-conference teams a chance to strut their stuff on national television.
By: Matt Zemek
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