Marshall Vs. FIU, St. Petersburg Bowl 2011: When And When Not To Watch

HOUSTON - OCTOBER 22: Defensive lineman Vinny Curry #99 of the Marshall Thundering Herd lines up against the Houston Cougars at Robertson Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

If you can time your channel-flipping and tune in only when Florida International has the ball, you could enjoy the St. Petersburg Bowl quite a bit. T.Y. Hilton, Vinny Curry and company gives this bowl a little more star power than you think ... but only so much more.

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

When people go down the "LOL TOO MANY BOWLS" path, it is usually because of games like this. Two teams with less-than-national names face off in a bowl sponsored by either a local business (in this case, a restaurant chain; I hear the Nachos 'O' Brady are divine) most of the country doesn't know or a maker of weed eaters. And they are playing on a baseball field, no less.

Team Record AP Rank 2011 F/+ Rk 2011 Off.
F/+ Rk
2011 Def.
F/+ Rk
2011 S.T.
F/+ Rk
Florida International 8-4 NR 53 78 38 7
Marshall 6-6 NR 97 95 71 88
Team Pace Rk Covariance Rk MACtion Rk Schizophrenia Rk
Florida International 81 63 86 86
Marshall 98 84 52 69

Of all teams in this year's bowl pool, Marshall likely wins the "Wait, they were bowl eligible?" award. The Thundering Herd weren't particularly good at much this year, and they went just 2-5 versus bowl teams (all five losses were by at least 20 points, and three were by at least 35), but tight upsets over Southern Miss and Louisville, in addition to a stunning 5-0 record in games decided by one possession, got them to the magic six-win mark. Thanks to the win over Southern Miss, they even almost stole a division title.

Meanwhile, you know Florida International has come a long way when you can honestly say that this year's 8-4 finish was a bit disappointing. The Golden Panthers let Arkansas State, Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafayette skate by them in the Sun Belt standings and, after an impressive 3-0 start that included wins over Louisville and Central Florida, they went 1-3 in one-possession games, including a pair of home losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and Duke. In terms of matchups, this game sets up a lot like the New Mexico Bowl -- FIU is Temple, the team that will probably win, and Marshall is Wyoming, the lesser team that could begin to derive an advantage if they can keep things close long enough.

When Florida International Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Florida International Offense 78 72 95 71 96 81 85
Marshall Defense 71 70 69 49 57 52 53
Team Std. Downs
S&P+ Rk
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
S&P+ Rk
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Florida International Offense 64.4% 78 30.3% 102
Marshall Defense 56.2% 74 35.1% 54
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

The casual to moderate fan can probably name one player from either one of these teams: FIU receiver T.Y. Hilton. He is the best player in FIU history and one of the best the Sun Belt has ever seen. He could be picked in the top three rounds of the NFL draft. And honestly ... he didn't have a very good season. Hilton was magnificent in the season's first two weeks. He caught seven of nine passes for 132 yards and a touchdown versus North Texas, then followed that up by catching seven of nine for 201 yards and two touchdowns in their nationally-televised win over Louisville. He actually garnered a little bit of very dark dark horse Heisman buzz for his combination of smoothness and speed. But he tweaked a hamstring the next week against Central Florida, and it was downhill from there.

After managing a 78 percent catch rate, 18.5 yards per target and three touchdowns in two games, Hilton averaged just a 56 percent catch rate, 6.9 yards per target and four touchdowns the rest of the way. With 950 yards and seven touchdowns, he was still an easy all-conference selection, but as with FIU's season as a whole, it was successful in a rather disappointing manner. As the season progressed, FIU was forced to become more reliant on the semi-efficient running of Kedrick Rhodes (1,164 yards, 5.0 per carry, 8 TD) than on Hilton's breathtaking explosiveness.

If Hilton is dialed in for one last game in an FIU uniform, then there will be quite a bit of star power on the field when the Golden Panthers are on offense. Opposite Hilton will be one of the best play-making defensive lines at the mid-major level. Senior Marshall end Vinny Curry leads an active, if sometimes glitch-ridden, defense. His 21.0 tackles for loss (11 sacks) are second in the country, and his six forced fumbles are third. Meanwhile, the Herd have two other defenders with at least 10 tackles for loss: tackle Delvin Johnson (10.5) and linebacker Tyson Gale (10.0). In all, Marshall is fifth in the country with 95 tackles for loss. The problem, of course, comes when they don't make the play in the backfield. This is a strong mid-major defense, but they can be beaten ... at least, if you stay out of passing downs.

When Marshall Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Marshall Offense 95 105 99 109 95 111 71
Florida International Defense 38 42 55 50 60 82 38
Team Std. Downs
S&P+ Rk
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
S&P+ Rk
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Marshall Offense 57.8% 95 35.5% 100
Florida International Defense 54.0% 53 31.4% 80
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

While Marshall's defense may be able to make enough plays to keep FIU's point total low, it is still uncertain whether they can actually score enough to keep up. Marshall has shown potential at times, but they have just been too damn young to succeed consistently. The backfield is manned by quarterback Rakeem Cato (1,833 passing yards, 59-percent completion rate, 6.9 yards per pass, 13 touchdowns, 10 interceptions), a true freshman from Miami who has faced a rather difficult slate of defenses in his first year. The primary running backs are sophomore Tron Martinez and redshirt freshman Travon Van; the two combined for 1,120 yards, though they averaged just 4.1 yards per carry (and combined for a minus-18.4 Adj. POE) in the process. In pure "protect the young quarterback" fashion, Marshall passes a lot on standard downs and runs a lot on standard downs. Junior Aaron Dobson (66 targets, 42 catches, 587 yards, 10 touchdowns) and all-or-nothing Antavious Wilson (50 targets, 29 catches, 462 yards, one touchdown) are the primary passing targets. Tight end Gator Hoskins' production has been less than memorable (31 targets, 14 catches, 123 yards, three touchdowns), but as with a good portion of this offense, he at least has a great name. (Get this: he was born in Gainesville, FL! I know, right? You'd have never guessed.)

When Marshall falls into passing downs, they will have a choice to make. They typically play things conservatively, but FIU has been a bit vulnerable to big gains on such downs through the air. Like Marshall, the Golden Panthers are reliant on (and vulnerable to) big plays -- they have pulled down 81 tackles for loss, led by ends Tourek Williams (12) and Greg Hickman (11) and linebacker Jordan Hunt (9.5). Strangely enough, pass defense is a strength, but not necessarily on passing downs. They attack from everywhere -- starting cornerbacks Sam Miller and Jose Cheeseborough have combined for five sacks -- but don't always get there. Duke dink-and-dunked them down the field, but that really isn't in Marshall's repertoire.

The Verdict

Florida International by 10.7.

As with the New Orleans Bowl projection, this doesn't take what will basically be a home-field advantage for FIU into account. Regardless, they are projected to win comfortably. Marshall is difficult to figure out, and if things are close, you know they will have a shot, but even with FIU's occasional defensive vulnerability, the Golden Panthers appear to be too athletic and experienced, especially on defense. Throw in a hefty special teams advantage, and you've got what probably won't be the most memorable bowl of the bunch. Still, tune in for one last look at T.Y. Hilton and maybe a sack or two from Vinny Curry.

 

 

--------------------

A Quick Glossary

Covariance: This tells us whether a team tends to play up or down to their level of competition. A higher ranking means a team was more likely to play well against bad teams while struggling (relatively speaking) against good ones. (So in a way, lower rankings are better.) For more, go here.

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

Pace: This is calculated by going beyond simply who runs the most plays. Teams that pass more are naturally inclined to run more plays (since there are more clock stoppages involved), so what we do here is project how many plays a team would typically be expected to run given their run-pass ratio, then compare their actual plays to expectations. Teams, then, are ranked in order from the most plays above the expected pace, to the least.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

S&P+: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

Schizophrenia: This measures how steady a team's performances are throughout the course of a full season. Teams with a higher ranking tend to be extremely unpredictable from week to week. For more, go here.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

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