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2018 Bahamas Bowl Preview: Toledo Rockets vs. FIU Panthers

Toledo faces its archrival’s former QB in the lone international bowl game.

Ball State v Toledo Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

One lucky MAC team and one lucky C-USA team leave the country every year to play in college football’s only active annual game outside of United States boundaries.

Two first-time Bahamas Bowl participants, Toledo (7-5) and FIU (8-4) will duke it out in Nassau in one of two MAC vs. Conference USA matchups of 2018’s bowl season.

The Rockets slid a bit from their pedestal, posting their worst regular season since 2013 after winning the 2017 MAC Championship. Toledo is in its fifth-straight bowl game, qualifying for bowl eligibility every year since 2010. This decade, the Rockets have three bowl wins and one under head coach Jason Candle (2015 Boca Raton Bowl vs. Temple).

Toledo ended 2018 strong, winning four of its last five after a 3-4 start. Candle’s program is one of 12 in the nation to average over 40 points per contest, ranking second in the MAC behind Ohio with 41.1. The Rockets defeated just two teams that qualified for bowl season, 7-5 Nevada and 7-5 Western Michigan. However, all five of Toledo’s losses occurred against teams with seven victories or more in 2018.

The Rockets’ opponent, FIU, has evolved into a steady winner since the veteran Butch Davis was named head coach prior to the 2017 season. Davis finished 8-5 last season with a bowl loss against Temple, but his team replicated its 2017 success in hopes of earning the program’s first bowl win since 2010. FIU’s only bowl win in history was that year’s Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, ironically, against Toledo. The teams have not met since.

But Toledo is very familiar with FIU’s starting quarterback. James Morgan transferred down south from Bowling Green last offseason, and he’s achieved plenty of success with the Panthers. Morgan threw for 26 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, improving his completion percentage from 45.3% at his final year in Bowling Green to 65.3%. Morgan lost his previous start against the Falcons’ archrival in 2016, but the quarterback put up a ridiculous stat-line that featured 335 passing yards and a career-high five touchdown passes.

Toledo will start sophomore Illinois transfer Eli Peters, who started each of the Rockets final five games. Peters does not bring the mobility factor like the previous starter Mitchell Guadagni, but Peters has a strong arm and excelled on deep throws during the final stretch of the year. He’s assisted by a dominant receiving corps which features two First Team All-MAC selections in Cody Thompson and Diontae Johnson.

Thompson has been catching passes for Toledo since 2014, and Friday will be his final game with the program. Several other Rocket seniors to keep your eyes on include wide receiver Jon’Vea Johnson, defensive end Tuzar Skipper, defensive tackle Reggie Howard, and free safety Josh Teachey.

Stat Breakdown

Points Per Game

  • Toledo — 41.1 (11th)
  • FIU — 34.6 (30th)

Points Allowed Per Game

  • Toledo — 30.2 (84th)
  • FIU — 24.7 (46th)

Rushing Yards Per Game

  • Toledo — 30.2 (11th)
  • FIU — 24.7 (30th)

Passing Yards Per Game

  • Toledo — 223.6 (22nd)
  • FIU — 170.0 (64th)

Total Yards Allowed Per Game

  • Toledo — 430 (58th)
  • FIU — 387 (93rd)

Game Notes

  • Time and Date: Friday, December 21 — 12:30 p.m. ET
  • Venue: Thomas Robinson Stadium — Nassau, Bahamas
  • Network: ESPN
  • Spread: Toledo (-4.5)
  • ESPN FPI Predictor: Toledo has 58.6% chance to win
  • All-time series: FIU leads 2-1

The programs met three consecutive years from 2008-10, with the final matchup occurring in Detroit for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. The road team won each game in the 2008 and 2009 home-and-home series, before FIU narrowly took home hardware in Detroit in 2010 after a 34-32 victory.

Fun Bahamas Bowl facts

  • The official name of the event is the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl. “Makers Wanted” actually isn’t a brand or corporation but rather a slogan of Elk Grove Village, an industrial park located in Eastern Illinois. Yes, a small town in Illinois sponsors a bowl game in the Bahamas.
  • The Bahamas Bowl didn’t have a sponsor last year, but the sponsor from 2014-16 was Popeyes, the Louisiana based chicken and biscuit fast food chain. There are actually three Popeyes locations in the Bahamas. Also, this tweet needs to be brought up every year because it’s impossible to watch the following GIF without shedding a tear:
  • Lou Holtz was in the announcing booth for the first-ever Bahamas Bowl, his final call ever with ESPN. That game ended up being one of the best finishes in college football history, as Central Michigan rallied back from a 49-14 deficit in the last 12 minutes of the fourth quarter. On the final play of regulation, Chippewas quarterback Cooper Rush launched a Hail Mary to Jesse Kroll, and three laterals later, wide receiver Titus Davis scored on the 75-yard miracle. However, Western Kentucky won 49-48 because of a failed 2-point attempt.
  • The MAC’s last two bowl wins were in the Bahamas Bowl as of Wednesday morning on December 19, 2018 (2015 Western Michigan and 2017 Ohio).
  • There are no laws at the Bahamas Bowl. Well, there are technically laws, but please check out this Reddit thread, where several attendees of last year’s Ohio-UAB game tell the tale of the unique atmosphere. Quotes from posters supermav27 and cunninghamc16 include:

Brought beer right in to the stadium. The locals at the gate didn’t even ask to check tickets. One of them took a sip of my beer.

We walked all the way around the stadium, until we reached a fenced off area. A Royal Bahamas Defense Force guard said we should check behind the fence, because he doesn’t know what’s back there. Upon walking past the fence, we ended up in the Ohio locker room. No questions asked.

A drunk fan just walked on to the sideline and high fived a player. He then high fived a Royal Bahamian Defense Force soldier when walking back. The soldier couldn’t stop laughing.

There’s like 20 entrances to this stadium, and only like 10 of them are guarded. Literally anyone could walk in here.

The entertainment on the outskirts of the stadium right next to concessions includes ARCHERY. I saw a child as small as 4 getting help aiming an actual bow and arrow at a target 20 ft away.

Prediction

Toledo’s last bowl game was one every Rocket would like to forget. After failing to score a single point against Appalachian State in the 2017 Dollar General Bowl, expect Toledo to come out with plenty of fire.

The Rockets present the better offense, having a dynamic passing attack with wide receivers of all different talents. With the exception of the loss to MAC champion Northern Illinois, Toledo’s offense dominated during the second half of the season while FIU showed some lapses, specifically in a 49-14 loss to 5-7 Florida Atlantic.

The Rockets actually scored 45 or more points in all seven wins and at least 51 in six of them. If Toledo’s offense gets in the slightest groove, things will be dangerous for FIU’s defense. The Panthers’ defense didn’t have the most phenomenal close to the season, allowing 35 to Charlotte and 28 in a loss to Marshall.

Toledo only had two wins over bowl eligible competition, but FIU faced just four teams with a winning record this year and lost to three of those games. The Rockets will make amends for last year and win by two scores in Nassau.

Prediction: Toledo 42, FIU 32