I hope everybody had a wonderful and fulfilling Christmas, but it's time to get back to some NCAA football. After the Tulsa Golden Hurricane defeated the Hawaii Warriors in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, I've improved to 6-1, and am confident with today's pick. While today's game may not be the most impressive we've seen so far, it signals the beginning of a week of Bowl goodness. Better make sure you've got plenty of snacks ready, because there are a whopping 21 Bowl games in this 7 day stretch. But lets take this cornucopia of football awesomeness one game at a time, starting with the appetizer.
Little Caesars Bowl- Florida International Golden Panthers (6-6, 6-2 Sun Belt) vs. Toledo Rockets (8-4, 7-1 MAC)
When looking at the statistics of Florida International and Toledo, the first thing you notice is that there is no great difference between these two teams in any category, save win/ loss. Both teams feature dynamic offenses, with each having a top-level wide receiver/ returner. FIU has T.Y. Hilton, and Toledo has Eric Page.
This season Hilton has accumulated 56 receptions for 816 yards, 4 receiving TDs, 4 rushing TDs, and a kick returned for a TD. Hilton was also recognized as the 2010 Sun Belt player of the year.
In 2010 Page had a similarly good year. Page was honored as an all-american punt returner by both the Walter Camp Foundation and Sporting News. In 2010 page had 94 receptions for 1,081 yards, 8 receiving TDs, 3 kicks returned for TDs, and 3 passing TDs. Yes, that's right, 3 passing TD's. In addition to Page's 3 passing TD's, Hilton had a passing TD in his Freshman season, so don't be surprised if there are a couple of trick plays in tonight's game.
Now, after looking at those stats, let's talk about the stats and the player that will, in my opinion, decide the outcome of the game. Perhaps the scariest stat, and the one that FIU's coaching staff has likely been most focused on, is the turnovers. Toledo is tied for first in the nation with 33 forced turnovers this season. Yipe. That's a scary stat in itself, but when you have a defense such as FIU's, which is anything but dominant, there is little chance that FIU could climb out of a turnover-fueled deficit. Adding to the likelihood of Golden Panther turnovers, is the fact that FIU QB Wesley Carroll has nearly as many INTs (13) as TDs (15) this season.
The high likelihood of Toledo capitalizing on FIU mistakes, and the fact that the Rockets have a better record against what I consider to be superior competition, formed my pick this week.
I'm taking the Toledo Rockets to win, 44-28.