FIU is having their best season since the program started in 2002 and will look to cap it off with their second straight bowl victory Tuesday night in St. Pete.
Last year the Golden Panthers defeated Toledo 34-32 in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, their first bowl appearance in school history. Fifth year head coach Mario Cristobal has guided the team to a matching record with Florida State, and two more wins than the other “Big 3” programs in the state, Florida and Miami (both 6-6). A balanced squad this season, FIU was third in the Sun Belt Conference in points scored (26.3 ppg) and second in points allowed (19.4 ppg).
The offense was led by senior QB Wesley Carroll who had 2224 yards with 14 TDs and 4 INTs, and ran the ball 55% of the time with RB Kedrick Rhodes leading all rushers with 1121 yards and eight touchdowns. Ty Hilton was the team’s leading receiver, catching 64 passes for 950 yards and seven scores and was third in the FBS with an average of 32 yards on kick returns. The Golden Panthers were also third in rushing defense allowing 120.92 ypg and total defense with 347.6 ypg.
Marshall was 5-6 heading into their final game, and clinched bowl eligibility with a 34-27 victory over East Carolina in OT.
Offensively the Herd were led by freshman QB Rakeem Cato and ranked near the bottom of all major offensive categories in Conference USA. Cato threw for 1833 yards, 13 TDs and 10 INTs and had a completion percentage of 58.5% but is coming off his best game in his last outing going 23-of-29 for 341 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT. Marshall’s best player is DE Vinny Curry who has 72 total tackles (39 solo) and ranks second in the nation in TFL with 21, third with six forced fumbles, and sixth in both sacks (11) and kick/punts blocked (tied with 3). Curry is considered one of the best defensive end prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft.