St. Petersburg patrons and viewers alike can expect an interesting matchup as the Marshall Thundering Herd and Florida International Golden Panthers take the field in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl. Set amidst the sprawling Tampa area, Tropicana field provides a warm escape from West Virginia for Marshall, but will they be acclimated to the heat like their counterparts from southern Florida?
Finishing 6-6 on the regular season and 5-3 in Conference USA, Marshall showed a particular inability to compete against any of their truly competitive opponents, including West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Houston. Their best victories are an early-season upset of Southern Miss and a 17-13 victory over an unimpressive Louisville program. The Thundering Herd ranks near the bottom of the NCAA in every category on offense and defense.
Despite its history of producing NFL-quality talent, Marshall limps into St. Petersburg behind an average quarterback in Rakeem Cato who's been sacked 21 times. With 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, any offensive productivity is offset by his mistakes. The rushing game is equally inept as carries are split by Tron Martinez and Travon Van who barely surpassed 500 yards on the season each. Marshall's best bet is to lean on its defense which has allowed a whopping 30 points per game this season.
On the other side of the ball is an 8-4 Florida International program which is not very impressive, either, but has a lot more power than Marshall. Finishing 5-3 in the Sun Belt Conference, the Golden Panthers beat the programs they were supposed to beat while notching zero impressive victories outside of those games they were supposed to win. Losing to a 3-9 Duke program is questionable, While Florida International is unimpressive in its own right, it's more solid than their St. Petersburg competitor.
Quarterback Wesley Carroll threw for 2,224 yards during the regular season with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. Furthermore, he is complemented by runningback Kedrick Rhodes who rushed for 1,121 yards on 224 carries. His backup Darriet Perry nearly surpassed 500 yards on 122 carries. The offense ranks middle-of-the-pack in Division I Football, but the Golden Panther defense ranks 16th in points against, allowing only 19 points per game.
In the end, a matchup of unimpressive teams should mean a victory for Florida International. Though they're the visitors on the scoreboard, this is a home game for Florida International in terms of crowd and weather. Also, the balance of the Golden Panthers on offense and strength on defense appears too much for Marshall to handle. While the Thundering Herd may have success passing, look for Cato to make multiple mistakes as Florida International focuses on the passing game, knowing Marshall's ground game is inept. Furthermore, look for heavy pressure, as well, as Florida International exploits a weak Marshall offensive line.
Any predictions must be qualified, however, than one can never know how well teams have prepared in their time off before bowl season. Bowls are always unpredictable, despite all of the numbers that may be in a program's favor. Did a team have too much fun in the pregame festivities? Are they complacent, because the regular season is over and the bowl really means nothing?
This should be a Florida International blowout, but Louisiana-Lafayette proved anything can happen when they defeated San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl.