Beef O'Brady's Bowl
Florida International Golden Panthers vs. Marshall Thundering Herd
Dec. 20, 8:00 pm ET
Tropicana Field (St. Petersburg, Florida)
Line: FIU -4
It's Sun Belt Conference vs. Conference USA in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl as Florida International looks to pick up their second straight bowl victory in as many years, which is not too shabby for a football program that can still be considered to be in its infancy stages. Can their star receiver wrap up his career on a high note, and will their head coach be on the sidelines for a final time as his stock continues to rise?
Making This All Possible
Beef O'Brady's Family Sports Pubs is the title sponsor for this game, which has previously been sponsored by magicJack when it was first played in 2008 in St. Petersburg, Florida. The restaurant franchise was founded by Jim Mellody, a Pennsylvania native who moved to Florida in the early 1970's. The restaurant was founded in 1985. To date, Beef O'Brady's has 215 locations throughout the country, but predominantly in the Gulf and Southern Coastal regions of the country.
Get to know: Florida International
This is just the second bowl appearance for Florida International, which started at the FBS level of college football in 2004. The past two seasons have been the first two winning seasons for the program and this year they have already set a new school-record for wins in a season with an 8-4 record.
Head coach Mario Cristobal has become one of the more trendy names working his way up in coaching profile. In five yars as a head coach at Florida International Cristobal has put together a 24-37 record and has increased his win total each of the past three seasons including this year.
The offensive star is wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who leads the team in receiving with 950 yards and seven touchdowns, but his secodn half of the season saw his offensive production dip. After recording four games with 100+ receiving yards in the first half of the season, Hilton had over 40 receiving yards just once in the second half of the season. He still owns school records for total catches, receiving yards, touchdowns and total scores and wil look to wrap up his collegiate career with a big game. This will be Hilton's final game for Florida International, as the senior will hope to achieve the NFL dream somewhere next year.
Florida International also has an ability to run the football, with Kedrick Rhodes eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since 2005 in program history.
These Panthers also play defense, allowing 19.4 points per game and allowing more than 20 points just three times all season. All three of those times, though, ended up being losses as well (Louisiana-Lafayette, Duke, Arkansas State).
Get to know: Marshall
Marshall is looking for their second bowl win in three seasons and is hoping to once again make going to a bowl game a regular event. Marshall went to six consecutive bowl games when they joined the FBS and the MAC in 1997 (Randy Moss anybody?) but since moving to Conference USA in 2005 this is just their second bowl trip. The 2011 season also matches Marshall's best regular season record since joining Conference USA, and a win would match their high for wins (7) since switching conferences.
The Thundering Herd needed to win their final two games of the season in roder to become bowl eligible, and they did just that against lowly Memphis and with an overtime win against East Carolina in the regular season finale.
Head coach Doc Holliday (love the name) completed his second season on the sidelines and has a record of 11-13 entering the bowl game. The former Florida, NC State and West Virginia assistant coach is well traveled over the past decade. Can he continue his strong track record in recruiting to make Marshall a team to beat in Conference USA?
Defensive end Vinny Curry was named Conference USA's Defensive Player of the Year for 2011 and leads a defense that forced 28 turnovers, second in Conference USA. Curry enters the game with 11 sacks, 21 tackles for a loss and has blocked three kicks in addition to forcing six fumbles this season.
The offense is led by freshman quarterback Rakeem Cato. Cato has thrown 13 touchdown passes while being picked off 10 times this season, totaling 1,833 yards and finishing the season on a strong note.
You Should Know...
This is the first meeting between Florida International and Marshall.
27 players on Marshall's roster are Florida natives.
If You're Going
So, what is there to do in Tampa months before spring training opens up in the spring? Well, as far as sports go, the Beef O'Brady's Bowl is it for the week, with the NHL's Lightning and NFL's Buccaneers both scheduled to be on the road until after Christmas. If you want to stick around for a longer stay, the Outback Bowl will be played on January 2, with Michigan State facing off with South Carolina. So, what else is there to do?
For starters, you can spend some time at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. In addition to the usual amusement rides, the theme park is celebrating the holidays through New Year's with fireworks and special entertainment.
Want to go ice-skating, in Florida? Then head to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, where an outdoor skating rink is open to the public.
Tampa is a big cruise city, so if you feel like putting together ultimate last-minute travel plans you can probably find a spot on a Carnival ship.
If You're Watching At Home
Beef O'Brady's is known for their wings and burgers, so why not try to duplicate some of their more popular menu items for your home-viewing experience. Wings seasoned with lemon pepper and blackened seasoning will give you the Beef's Dry Rubs flavor, or the more traditional honey BBQ or classic buffalo flavor is never a bad way to go.
For the main entree, give The Dubliner a shot. Grilled sourdough bread packed with thinly sliced roast beef and sautéed mushrooms and Swiss cheese should make for a solid meal.
What should you wash it all down with? This may be a matter of preference of course, but I'll recommend the Annihilator Double Bock, a German-style dark malt brewed for the winter season by Tampa Bay Brewing Company. At 7.8% ABV it is not particularly strong and should go down smoothly.
T.Y. Hilton has a memorable finale for Florida International and comes up with a couple catches that "wow" the fans in the stands and those of us at home. Don't expect a lot of points in this one as Florida International picks up their second bowl victory.
Florida International 23, Marshall 16
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