Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl: FIU vs. Marshall

Published on Dec. 20 at 12:59 a.m. Eastern.
Updated on Dec. 20 at 2:45 p.m Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

Mario Cristobal inherited a 0-12 team when he took over the Florida International football program from Don Strock in 2007. Strock had been the school’s first head coach when it created a team in 2002.

The Golden Panthers went 1-11 in Cristobal’s first year, 5-7 in 2008 and 3-9 in ’09. They turned the corner last year, going 6-6 to garner their first postseason bid. In the Little Caesar’s Bowl, Florida International (8-4 straight up, 6-6 against the spread) beat Toledo 34-32 as a 1 ½-point underdog.

With the success of an eight-win campaign, interest in Cristobal has naturally heated up. He has interviewed with Pittsburgh and is expected to get an offer Wednesday, so this distraction is hovering over the Panthers.

This development has not impacted the line for tonight’s Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. As of early this morning, most betting shops were listing FIU as a four-point favorite over Marshall from out of Conference USA.The total was 48 ½ at most spots.

As of early this afternoon, however, the number was up to 4 1/2 and the total was adjusted to 49. Gamblers can take the Thundering Herd to win outright for a plus-170 return (risk $100 to win $170).

Cristobal’s potential exit isn’t a given by any means. He played at the University of Miami and South Florida has been his home for a long time. The reality is FIU can’t compete financially with Pitt but if it can step up a decent amount (remember, Isaiah Thomas is the hoops coach), Cristobal might stay and wait it out for a better opportunity in the future.

FIU jumped out to a 3-0 start thanks to impressive wins at Louisville (24-17) and vs. Central Florida (17-10), but then it lost back-to-back games as home favorites vs. Louisiana (36-31) and Duke (31-27). The losses to the Ragin’ Cajuns and the Blue Devils began a 0-6 ATS slide.

However, FIU comes to St. Pete with a three-game winning streak both SU and ATS. The Panthers closed the regular season with a 31-18 win at Middle Tennessee as 7 ½-point road favorites.

FIU is led by senior quarterback Wesley Carroll, a transfer from Mississippi State. Carroll has completed 59.7 percent of his passes for 2,224 yards with a 14/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His favorite target is senior wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who has a team-high 64 receptions for 950 yards and seven touchdowns.

Hilton has amassed 1,756 all-purpose yards and is a serious threat in the return game. Junior WR Wayne Times has 51 catches for 531 yards and a pair of TDs. The ground game features sophomore RB Kedrick Rhodes, who rushed for 1,121 yards and eight TDs while averaging 5.0 yards per carry during the regular season.

Marshall (6-6 SU, 7-5 ATS) had to win three of its last four games to earn bowl eligibility. The Herd beat East Carolina 34-27 in overtime in its regular-season finale as a one-point home favorite.

Freshman QB Rakeem Cato was the catalyst, connecting on 23-of-29 throws for 341 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Travon Van and Tron Anderson both had a rushing touchdown with Martinez’s one-yard plunge putting Marshall ahead to stay in the extra session.

Cato has a 13/10 TD-INT ratio. Junior Aaron Dobson is one of C-USA’s top wideouts, hauling in 10 TD passes.

Marshall has the Defensive Player of the Year in C-USA, senior DE Vinny Curry, who has 11 sacks, 21.5 tackles for losses, six forced fumbles and three blocked kicks. This unit also has C-USA first-teamer Omar Brown, a senior safety who made four interceptions in 2011.

Doc Holliday’s team has been an underdog eight times, going 4-3-1 ATS with a pair of outright victories. The season opener at West Va. was a ‘no play’ since weather cancelled the game before 55 minutes was played.

FIU has been a single-digit favorite four times, posting a 1-3 spread record.

The ‘under’ is 8-3-1 overall for FIU, cashing at a 6-1 clip in its last seven games. The ‘under’ is 7-5 overall for Marshall, but the ‘over’ has hit in four of its last five outings.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–FIU’s campus in Miami is about a four-hour drive to St. Pete.

–While Huntington, WV., is a long way from St. Pete, Holliday is notorious for his ability to recruit in the Sunshine State. The Herd has plenty of players from Florida so I would warn bettors not to think of FIU as the team that’ll enjoy a major advantage in terms of crowd support.

–While most had turned away by the time Wyoming was on its last possession at the end of a blowout loss against Temple in the New Mexico Bowl this past Saturday, there was plenty of pending action at stake with the Cowboys in Owls’ territory on the final drive. Trailing Temple by a 37-7 score, Wyoming backers for second-half wagers still had a chance and the total (closed 51 at most books) was yet to be decided. With three seconds remaining, QB Brett Smith found Kody Sutton on a screen pass and the RB darted 14 yards into the end zone. This made it a 37-13 score for 50 combined points. Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen opted to go for two to put all bets on the total at stake on one play. The first conversion try was an incomplete pass but a flag for pass interference gave the Cowboys another shot. On the next attempt, Smith ran three yards for the score to make it a 37-15 final and give ‘over’ backers a winner. Also, with Temple leading 28-7 at halftime, it was made a three-point ‘chalk’ for halftime plays. This was an adjusted number of Wyoming plus-24 which became a winner thanks to Sutton’s TD and the subsequent conversion.

–The total came down to the wire in Saturday night’s New Orleans Bowl, too. This number closed at 59 ½. Therefore, this wager was on the line when Ragin’ Cajuns place-kicker Brett Baer set up for a 50-yard field goal on the game’s final play. With Louisiana trailing San Diego St. by a 30-29 score, the ‘under’ would cash with a miss and the ‘over’ would hit if Baer came through. Baer did exactly that to lift the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 34-32 triumph in the school’s first-ever bowl game.

–South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has been named as the new head coach at Southern Miss, replacing Larry Fedora, who bolted for the North Carolina job after a successful four-year tenure with the Golden Eagles. This is a big loss for Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks, who have had outstanding defenses during Johnson’s rein as DC.

–Bettors can purchase my bowl package at, where my three-game pick pack in college hoops is also available for tonight. To date, my college hoops record is 12-8 (60%) and is documented here on VI.

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