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Football Gameday XIII; baseball gets some preseason props

One nice thing about the bowl game has been running into some of you blog regulars, such as the couple I just spent two hours yammering with in the lobby of our hotel. So what if I don’t get to sleep until infomercials dominate every channel outside the ESPN family? Bob Evans always serves breakfast – if I don’t get breakfast food, unpleasantness ensues -- and that day spa around the corner can deep tissue my back and shoulders in the afternoon.

Trivia question: Anybody else recognize the tune the band on the ESPN 3D bowl game commercial is playing after they march into the living room of the two guys in sunglasses watching a college football game?

The line: FIU opened a 5-point favorite for the Beef O' Brady's Bowl. It’s now down to 4 points with a 48 ½ to 49 over/under. Bettors see FIU winning, but by a late field goal or come from behind touchdown. The over/under number’s a tough one in this game, as there could be a special teams play or two that boosts the point totals.

The game: One team is in its second bowl game, the other is a young team with many players in a bowl for the first time. Scrape yourself on the rust, you could get lockjaw. Players sometimes take time to break mentally from holiday break and get into the game. Expect some blown blitz pick ups, coverages in the secondary, some shoddy tackling early in the game. The wacky could be the norm before things settle down late in the first quarter or early in the second.

I don't think all the "Will Mario Cristobal head for Pitt?" talk will affect FIU's performance. Cristobal's there on the sideline and been there at practices, doing his normal job. When Brian Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame before Cincy played Florida in the Sugar Bowl -- or, currently, Todd Graham leaving Pitt for Arizona State before the BBVA Compass Bowl -- that's the kind of thing that can gut a team.

It’ll be Wesley Carroll at quarterback for FIU. The pinched nerve in Medlock’s shoulder hasn’t healed enough.

Freshman Rakeem Cato starts for Marshall. His net of 28 yards rushing on 54 carries over a season in which he started eight games tells you he shouldn’t give cause Ryan Aplin or Blaine Gauthier flashbacks for FIU. Cato needs good pocket feet against FIU’s rush (14th in the nation at 2.83 sacks per game), and such Bojangles Robinson deftness often isn’t developed yet in a freshman quarterback.

That assumes FIU can get to Cato. Marshall’s done a good job of keeping its quarterbacks upright, giving up only 26. Their size upfront concerns some FIU coaches, but the Thundering Herd isn’t a pound-it-out team and FIU’s had success slowing the solid rushing attacks of teams more multi-dimensional. The Herd’s team rushing average is 3.6 per carry. Top running backs Tron Martinez  and Travon Van (doesn’t “Martinez & Van” sound like either a road-trip show on The Food Network or a cop team from a late 1970s drama?) average 4.1 and 4.0 respectively. The Thundering Herd moves best through the air.

Downfield, the length and height of Marshall 6-3 junior wide receiver Aaron Dobson, Marshall’s leading receiver in catches (42), yards (587) and touchdowns (10) could leave him reaching for the stars while FIU’s diminutive cornerbacks plot for his landing. The only FIU defensive back with similar build is redshirt freshman strong safety Justin Halley, the team leader in interceptions. FIU's been on an seven-game interception roll, though, and Cato's thrown 10. 

Marshall’s defenders likened FIU’s skill position players to those of Houston and Southern Mississippi, the schools that wound up playing for the Conference USA title. Marshall beat Southern Miss 26-20 in the second game of the season for each, then got strafed 63-28 by Houston on Oct. 22. 

Normally, with a defensive end like Marshall’s All-American Vinny Curry, you’d run some traps and screens to his side early just to contaminate him with hesitation. But Marshall moves Curry around so much that adjustments for that would have to be made on the fly. Still, with the Herd worrying about how well they’ll tackle, perhaps FIU should try to hit regular screens to Kedrick Rhodes, bubble screens and hitches early to get T.Y. Hilton and Wayne Times on the edge.

Despite Curry’s 11 sacks and 21 tackles for loss, Marshall allowed 4.2 yards per rush and 155.0 rushing yards per game for the season – that’s including sacks -- and came up with only 25 sacks. Curry’s going to get his, but Marshall’s opponents have done a good job of not letting him ruin their attack singlehandedly. FIU’s had three weeks to figure out how to do that. That also sounds like a lot of running room for Rhodes.

Marshall’s special teams worries FIU – three blocked kicks, three blocked punts and an 87-yard punt return by Andre Booker. Booker also averaged 25.2 yards per kickoff return. FIU will be trying some new players on special teams, so don’t be surprised if Marshall’s first couple of returns blow up big.

FIU’s special teams should worry Marshall just as much. Four FIU players – T.Y. Hilton, Wayne Times, Richard Leonard and Colt Anderson – had kickoff returns longer than 30 yards and Anderson’s was on a pooch kick. Jonathan Faucher got his hands on two punts in the last three games and nearly a third. Jack Griffin gives FIU the edge in kicking.

I’m seeing experience making the difference early as FIU grabs a big lead and late as they hang on for the win. I’m seeing a couple of massive plays out of Hilton, maybe a touchdown from Colt Anderson and maybe some type of special teams or defensive touchdown off a youthful mistake to put the game away.

Call it 31-20, FIU. But that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong.

Trivia answer: It’s the “Theme from SWAT,” which actually went to No. 1 on the charts in 1976 during the show’s year and a half run.

 BASEBALL

In Collegiate Baseball's Fabulous 40 preseason poll, FIU comes in at No. 39.

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