Toledo Rockets (7-5, 5-3 MAC) vs FIU Panthers (8-4, 6-2 C-USA)
Date/Time: Friday, December 21, 12:30 PM
TV: ESPN (Play-By-Play: Steve Levy, Analyst: Desmond Howard, Sidelines: Laura Rutledge)
Radio: WAXY 790 The Ticket Miami (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts, Analyst:Kenny Kelly)/Rocket Radio Network WSPD 1370 Toledo (Play-By-Play: Brent Balbinot, Analyst: Bruce Gradkowski, Sidelines: Mike Robinson)
Location: Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
Betting Line: Toledo -4.5 O/U 58.5
All-Time Series Record: FIU leads 2-1 (Florida International won last match-up 34-32 in 2010)
The Panthers are heading into their second bowl game in as many seasons under head coach Butch Davis.
Since taking the job 25 months ago, Davis has managed the proverbial changing of the culture at FIU. While the phrase is commonly used, the arrival of Davis has brought instant credibility and most importantly, immediate results to Miami.
FIU was in the Conference USA title picture until the final week of the regular season and has a chance to set a program record for wins in a season (9) with a win over Toledo.
The lion’s share of credit for this year’s success lies with the play of the offensive line and quarterback James Morgan.
Morgan transferred from Bowling Green in the off-season and after a sub-par week one outing against Indiana hasn’t looked back.
The redshirt junior signal-caller set the program record for touchdown passes in a season (26) and won C-USA’s Newcomer of the Year award.
For FIU to bring their ninth win back to South Florida, establishing the line of scrimmage and giving Morgan time to find his weapons is a must.
Defensively, it’s been a see-saw year for the Panthers. They’re rife with talent across the board. However, that talent hasn’t equated to results at times, especially against the run.
Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, defensive end Noah Curtis and middle linebacker Sage Lewis will be tasked with stopping a very capable Toledo rushing attack.
Since inheriting the job from Matt Campbell before the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl, Jason Candle has led Toledo to 27 wins and three straight bowl appearances.
However, Candle is still in search of his first bowl victory as the full-time head coach.
This year’s Bahamas Bowl may be his best chance yet. He brings the MAC’s second ranked offense in points per game and rushing into the contest against Florida International.
The Rockets’ offense is extremely efficient in the early downs, which helps them stay of out third and long situations.
Quarterback Mitchell Guarani was effective as a dual-threat before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Eli Peters has taken the helm and done an admirable job through the air, but isn’t the runner that Guadagni is.
Toledo's offense is run based. Running backs Bryant Koback, Shakif Seymour and Art Thompkins all having over 500 yards on the season. However, they will be without Thompkins as he made the choice to transfer to Connecticut as a grad transfer prior to the bowl game.
They’ll face an FIU run defense that has given up rushing yards in bunches at points during the season.
On defense, defensive lineman Tuzar Skipper and Reggie Howard will be tasked with stopping FIU’s trio of D’Vonte Price, Napoleon Maxwell and Anthony Jones on the ground, along with pressuring James Morgan.
FIU is coming off of a disappointing loss to end the season, but has a chance to set a new program standard for wins.
That in itself is a huge incentive for a team that was projected by many to finish near the bottom of Conference USA.
The Panther run defense has to rise to the challenge of stopping Toledo’s run game.
While they’re more than talented and capable enough of doing so, they haven’t shown yet this season that they actually can.
The Rockets are plus-three in turnover margin. Given they hold their standard and are effective in the run game, they’ll pick up the victory.
Toledo 31 FIU 27