Three years ago, one victory was cause for celebration at Florida International.
Now, the Golden Panthers are enjoying something much more impressive — a trip to a bowl. It’s a big step forward for a team that’s endured embarrassing scenes on the field and tragedy off it.
“It’s really one of the best stories in college football,” coach Mario Cristobal said. “And I’d be saying it if it wasn’t our team.”
Three seasons after ending a 23-game losing streak, FIU will play in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl tonight in Detroit against Toledo. It’s the first bowl appearance for the program, which is in its sixth season in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
When Cristobal took over as coach, the Golden Panthers were coming off a winless 2006 season – and that was hardly their only problem. That year had been marred by an ugly brawl against Miami, where Cristobal had been an assistant.
“A month after we took the job we found out they were losing 25 scholarships from the previous regime’s infractions,” Cristobal said. “We knew we’d fall off the face of the earth for a couple of years.”
The Golden Panthers finally snapped their losing streak in their final game of 2007, and they appeared to be on the rise when they went 5-7 the following season. Instead, they won only three games in 2009.
All those on-field woes were put into perspective this past March, when running back Kendall Berry was stabbed to death on campus.
IOWA FB OUT
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz says fullback Brad Rogers will miss next week’s Insight Bowl against Missouri, and the rest of this season’s practices, because the freshman is undergoing heart tests.
TODAY’s game: Little Caesars bowl
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (6-6) VS. TOLEDO (8-4)
kickoff: 5:30 p.m., Ford Field, Detroit.
THE LINE: Toledo by 11/2.
THe Buzz: Toledo’s Eric Page and FIU’s T.Y. Hilton are listed as receivers, but they are threats from all over the field – as passers, runners and returners. Their play will go a long way toward determining who wins. FIU is 5-0 when Hilton accounts for a touchdown and 1-6 when he does not. Toledo is 6-1 when Page accounts for a touchdown, 2-3 when he doesn’t. Hilton has 56 receptions for 816 yards and four touchdowns, and RB Darriet Perry has rushed for 707 yards and a school-record 14 touchdowns. Toledo QB Terrance Owens has been impressive filling in for Austin Dantin, who hurt his shoulder in late October. Owens has thrown for 1,112 yards, with 11 touchdowns with two interceptions. Page has 94 catches for 1,081 yards and eight TDs. Adonis Thomas leads Toledo with 905 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
The PIck: FIU 35, Toledo 31