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2010 Little Caesars Preview - Toledo vs. FIU
FIU WR T.Y. Hilton & Toledo WR Eric Page
FIU WR T.Y. Hilton & Toledo WR Eric Page
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Dec 25, 2010


The bowl season continues as two of the nation's most explosive unknown players, Florida International all-purpose star T.Y. Hilton, and Toledo's Eric Page, get to show what they can do with the world watching in the MAC vs. the Sun Belt. Check out CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl between the Rockets and Golden Panthers.

2010 Little Caesars Pizza

Toledo
(8-4) vs. FIU (6-6)

 
Sunday, December 26th 8:30 ESPN  

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Pick ATS: Toledo   Confidence Score: 40
OVERALL CONFIDENCE (35 most - 1 least): 13 out of 35
SCROLL DOWN to the bottom for all the CFNers' confidence picks and bowl history

By Pete Fiutak

For those of you MAC fans desperate to get some measure of revenge over the big, bad Sun Belt after what Troy did to Ohio in the New Orleans Bowl, you get your wish. After the way the first few games of the bowl season have gone, it’s tempting to assume this might be another dud game between non-BCS teams, but the potential is there for this to be an interesting battle between two of the year’s most surprising teams.

Florida International isn’t just going for its first bowl win ever – it’s the program’s first post-season appearance – it’s going for its first winning season. The program has only been around since 2004, and while it appeared to be a high-riser under then head coach Don Strock, an 0-12 2006 season derailed the process.

Statistics In Yards
UT   FIU
4,314 Total
Offense
4,828
4,434 Total
Defense
4,360
27.6 Scoring
Offense
28.3
28.1 Scoring
Defense
26.9
1,872 Rushing
Offense
2,270
1.567 Rushing
Defense
2,466
2,442 Passing
Offense
2,558
2,857 Passing
Defense
2,466
1.17 Turnover Margin 2,466
Position Rankings
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
UT   FIU
3 QBs 3
3.5 RBs 4
3.5 WRs 4
3.5 O Line 3.5
3 D Line 3.5
3 LBs 3.5
2 DBs 3.5
3 STs 3.5
3.5 Coach 3.5
CFN 2010 2011 CFN Bowl Previews & Confidence Picks
- New Mexico - BYU vs. UTEP
- Human. - Fresno St vs. NIU
- New Orleans - Troy vs. Ohio
- St. Pete - UL vs. So Miss
- Las Vegas - Utah vs. Boise St
- Poinsettia - SDSU vs. Navy
- Hawaii - Tulsa vs. Hawaii
- Little Caesars - Toledo vs. FIU
- Ind. - Air Force vs. GT
- Champs - NC St vs. WVU
- Insight - Iowa vs. Mizz
- Military - Mary. vs. ECU
- Texas - Illinois vs. Baylor
- Alamo - Ok St vs. Arizona
- Armed Forces - SMU vs. Army
- Pinstripe - SU vs. KSU
- Music City - UNC vs. Tenn
- Holiday - Neb vs. Wash
- Meineke - USF vs. Clemson
- Sun - Miami vs. ND
- Liberty - UCF vs. Georgia
- Chick-fil-A - FSU vs. USC
- TicketCity - NW vs. TT
- Outback - PSU vs. Florida
- Capital One - MSU vs. Bama
- Gator - Mich vs. Miss St
- GoDaddy - MU vs. MT
- Cotton - A&M vs. LSU
- Compass - Pitt vs. UK
- Kraft - BC vs. Nevada
- Rose - UW vs. TCU
- Fiesta - OU vs. UConn
- Orange - Stan. vs. VT
- Sugar - Ark. vs. OSU
- BCS Champ. - Aub. vs. Oregon
The Golden Panthers started out 0-4 against the four BCS teams on the schedule (Rutgers, Texas A&M, Maryland, and Pitt), but they battled hard in every game. Even the 44-17 loss to Pitt was a bit closer than the final score as the defense provided a push before a 28-point Panther fourth quarter made it a blowout. Outside of a puzzling 21-9 loss at Florida Atlantic, and a tough 28-27 home loss to a talented Middle Tennessee team, FIU was terrific throughout the Sun Belt season to scratch and claw its way to six wins and bowl eligibility.

The team knows how to win big games, coming through with a strong performance to get by a dangerous Arkansas State squad for the sixth win, and in the biggest victory in school history, FIU blasted Troy on the road 52-35 to take a stranglehold on the Sun Belt chase. Beating Toledo, though, would be even bigger.

After a 5-7 first year under head coach Tim Beckman, the Rockets were the wild card in the MAC race coming into the season. The offense was expected to be explosive with weapons up and down the roster, while the defense was expected to be quirky-good with speed, athleticism, and plenty of upside. Instead, the offense fizzled, the defense was mediocre, and the special teams were a disaster … and the wins started to flow.

A nationally televised 41-2 home thumping from Arizona to start the season didn’t exactly give anyone a good first impression, but the Rockets quickly rebounded to win two strong MAC road games over Ohio and Western Michigan to turn things around immediately. And then, just as this looked like a world-beater of a MAC team after stunning Purdue 31-20 in West Lafayette, out came the stinker of all stinkers, a 20-15 home loss to a miserable Wyoming team at home, followed up by a 57-14 blasting from Boise State on the blue turf.

Sitting at 3-3, the season was at a crossroads. The offense couldn’t get anything going with the ground game and the defense was inconsistent, but the Rockets managed to take advantage of a soft spot in the slate with wins over Kent State, Ball State, and Eastern Michigan before getting annihilated by Northern Illinois. That 65-30 loss to the Huskies would be the lone black mark over the 5-1 second half of the season, and while things are looking up for Beckman and the program, a win over FIU is a must to round out the bounceback campaign. Losing to a Sun Belt team, even a good one, would be a step back for Beckman and a huge black eye for the MAC after what Troy did to Ohio.

The MAC has its place in the college football world. It’s not miserable, it’s at times entertaining, and once in a while one of the teams rises up and bites a big boy in the butt. But the conference hasn’t done much in the Little Caesars, formerly the GMAC Bowl, over the last few years with four straight losses and with defeats in five of the last six games. On the flip side, Toledo has been great in bowls going 7-3 but it’s only 2-2 since 2001 going 1-2 in the Motor City and with the last win coming over UTEP in the 2005 GMAC.

FIU and Toledo are relatively even, shockingly similar in lots of ways, and hungry for a big bowl win. It should be a close, competitive game, but considering the last three Toledo bowl games were brutal blowouts, and the start of the bowl season hasn’t been that great, be happy if this is still interesting in the fourth quarter.

Players to Watch: FIU WR T.Y. Hilton wasn’t the best player in the Sun Belt this year (it was probably WKU RB Bobby Rainey or North Texas RB Lance Dunbar), but he was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year with 56 catches for 818 yards and four scores, running for 278 yards and four scores, and working as a kick and punt returner. Explosive and deadly in the open field, he needs to have the ball in his hands as much as possible and in a variety of ways. His year was made in the win over Troy with 158 rushing yards and two scores and with two catches for 75 yards. Toledo’s defense will focus everything on stopping him first, while taking its chances against everyone else.

Toledo has an electrifying, do-it-all playmaker of its own in sophomore WR Eric Page, a dangerous 5-10, 165-pound speedster who was the nation’s leading freshman receiver last year with 82 grabs for 1,159 yards and seven touchdowns, and he was even better this year with 94 catches for 1,081 yards and eight scores. An elite kickoff returner, he’s third in the nation averaging 31.76 yards per try. Unstoppable at times, he came up with six 100-yard days in the final eight games and finished up the regular season with a special performance with 12 catches for 127 yards and two scores, three kickoff returns for 215 yards and two scores, and with a 28-yard touchdown pass in the 42-31 win over Central Michigan.

The FIU running game was 28th in the nation and second in the Sun Belt, while the offense led the league with the fewest sacks allowed. By far, the Golden Panther offensive line was the best in the young program’s history. The front five destroyed the strong Troy defensive front, paving the way for 448 rushing yards, and it has to dominated against a Toledo run defense that finished 28th in the nation. Senior center Brad Serini is the star of the line, but sophomore tackles Caylin Hauptmann on the left side and Rupert Bryan on the right are the anchors for the near future. This is a decent-sized, athletic group with the potential to control the game from the start.

Toledo will win if ... it wins the turnover battle by a large margin. FIU is great in turnover margin, but Toledo is special ranking third in the nation overall and first in takeaways with 33. With an offense that doesn’t work all that well, capitalizing on mistakes means everything, and it showed on the ledger. In its four losses, the Rocket defense came up with just three takeaways, while it forced 30 turnovers in the eight wins. Toledo is 7-0 when taking it away three times or more, and 1-4 when it doesn’t. The defense will let the FIU offense move the ball at bit, but the big pop will soon follow with a swarm of Rockets ready to come in and strip the ball away.

Offensively, the Rockets have to work well on the ground. The running attack started to shine over the second half of the season as the line found a rhythm with three 200-yard games in the final five weeks. FIU’s defense is great on third downs, and the Toledo passing game doesn’t have a whole bunch of pop, so getting the ground game to crank out 3-to-5 yards per crack is a must to avoid a slew of third-and-longs. If the Toledo passing game has to start pushing the ball deep, there will be problems.

FIU will win if ... line play makes a difference. The Golden Panther defensive front is far better at getting into the backfield than the Rocket line is, and the last thing the sputtering Toledo offense needs is to be thrown off kilter. The Golden Panthers will bring the pressure from all angles, and while the Toledo offensive line has been fine in pass protection, it’s not great. On the flip side, the Rocket pass rush has to work or the mediocre secondary will have problems. Yes, Toledo will take the ball away, but it’ll also give up yards in chunks through the air. Offensively, if the FIU front five gets into a lather, it’ll be a long night. The Golden Panthers are 14th in the nation in time of possession and are great at controlling the tempo to their liking, depending on the situation.

In a game with two marginally-talented offenses, field position will be at a premium. FIU might have the second-worst punting game in the nation, but Toledo’s punting game isn’t much better and the punt return game is horrid. FIU isn’t going to light up the scoreboard with a high-flying passing game, but it can run the ball well and has a huge advantage at kicker. Jack Griffin is a clutch, accurate kicker who can nickel-and-dime the Golden Panthers into a nice lead if the game is tilted on the Rockets’ side of the field.

What will happen: Toledo will be ultra-motivated and it’ll have the home crowd (at least a bit of one) with the game just an hour away, but FIU should play at another level. The running game should control things early, the defense is strong enough to bother the Toledo offense, and as long as the turnovers are kept to a minimum and if QB Wesley Carroll is stingy with the short to midrange passes, the great Golden Panther season should end on a major high note.

CFN Prediction: FIU 34 … Toledo 28 ... Line: Toledo -1.5
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Little Caesars (formerly the Motor City) Bowl History

2009 Marshall 21, Ohio 17
2008 Florida Atlantic 24, Central Mich, 21
2007 Purdue 51, Central Mich 48
2006 C. Michigan 31, Middle Tenn 14
2005 Memphis 38, Akron 31
2004 Connecticut 39, Toledo 10
2003 Bo. Green 28, Northwestern 24
2002 Boston College 51, Toledo 25
2001Toledo 23, Cincinnati 16
2000 Marshall 25, Cincinnati 14
1999 Marshall 21, BYU 3
1998 Marshall 48, Louisville 29
1997 Ole Miss 34, Marshall 31

Pick ATS: Toledo   Confidence Score: 40
OVERALL CONFIDENCE (35 most - 1 least): 13 out of 35

Pete Fiutak: Pick ATS - Toledo   Pick Confidence - 19
- You've got to love, LOVE bowl games to make this appointment television. FIU had a great year under head coach Mario Cristobal, who'll be off to bigger and better things soon, while Toledo overcame a bad offense and a slew of injuries to win five of its last six games. It'll be a defensive battle.

Richard Cirminiello: Pick ATS - Toledo  Pick Confidence - 12
- While ratings and attendance will be low, this is an epic achievement for Florida International and of the feel-good stories of the postseason. A decade ago, this program didn’t even exist.

Matt Zemek: Pick ATS - FIU   Pick Confidence - 3
- Two overachieving teams hook up in a bowl game, always the best circumstance for an under-the-radar contest. SEC refugee Wesley Carroll, formerly of Mississippi State, will give FIU a slight edge.

Russ Mitchell: Pick ATS - Toledo  Pick Confidence - 10
- Seriously? Toledo v. Florida International? C’mon. That said, we love what FIU has done this year. Mostly for the smile it puts on Pete’s face.

Barrett Sallee: Pick ATS - FIU  Pick Confidence - 5
- Toledo wide receiver Eric Page led the MAC in all-purpose yards with 158.75 per game.

Gabe Harris: Pick ATS - Toledo  Pick Confidence - 2
Brian Harbach: Pick ATS - Toledo  Pick Confidence - 26
Matthew Smith: Pick ATS - Toledo  Pick Confidence - 2
Billy Gomila: Pick ATS - FIU  Pick Confidence - 8
Clucko (A coin flip): Pick ATS - FIU   Pick Confidence - 13