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Marshall to meet FIU in Beef O’Brady’s Bowl

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Coach Mario Cristobal of the Florida International University Golden Panthers.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Coach Mario Cristobal of the Florida International University Golden Panthers. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Marshall is capping a late-season run with a return to postseason play, while Florida International will be looking to punctuate a historic season when the Thundering Herd and Golden Panthers matchup in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.

The pairing was announced Sunday for the Dec. 20 game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. It is set for an 8 p.m. kickoff and will be broadcast on ESPN.

The game was slated to be a matchup of Big East and Conference USA teams, with South Florida, Pittsburgh and Connecticut all having a chance to become bowl eligible and qualify for the Big East’s tie-in entering last week.

USF and UConn both lost and ended their seasons at 5-7. Pittsburgh beat Syracuse Saturday, but was also eligible to be selected by another bowl. The Sun Belt Conference had the next contractual tie with the Big East unable to qualify enough teams for its contracts.

The Thundering Herd (6-6), out of Conference USA, won four of their final six games and became bowl eligible with its regular-season finale win over East Carolina last week. Marshall is making its 10th overall bowl appearance. Its most recent was a 2009 win over Ohio in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

Despite and up and down year, Marshall’s season did include upset Louisville earlier this season. It is led by junior receiver Aaron Dobson, who caught 42 passes and 10 touchdowns.

“We are excited to bring our program to the great state of Florida, which is home to over 30 of our current players and many future prospects,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said in a statement.

FIU (8-4) finished with a program-best record this season and is representing the Sun Belt. It won its first-ever bowl game over Toledo last season, also in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

The Golden Panthers featured a fast-paced offense that averaged 26.3 points per game this season and has a 1,000-yard rusher in sophomore Kedrick Rhodes and big-play threat in receiver T.Y. Hilton (seven touchdowns)

“Obviously, we’re beyond excited,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “These past couple of seasons have been a historic run for us. Our players earned this. It’s a fantastic day. Our program continues to elevate.”

Athletic director Pete Garcia also made sure to point out the Golden Panthers’ in-state finish, with traditional powers Florida, Florida State and Miami all having down seasons.

FIU beat both Florida teams it played in 2011 with wins over Central Florida and Florida Atlantic.

Garcia said he expects it to add up to a bump in recruiting with recruits being able to see “where we’re going and where we’re headed.”

“At 8-4, we don’t only have the best record in FIU history, we have the best record in the state of Florida,” he said. “It’s a natural step for this football team to go back to a second straight bowl game.”

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AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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