Two of the luckiest teams this bowl season are the Toledo Rockets and Florida International Panthers, as they will have the fortune of heading to the Carribean to play in the 2018 Bahamas Bowl. Kickoff is set for 12:30 EST on Friday, December 21, at Thomas Robinson Stadium in Nassau in the Bahamas. Fans who can’t make the trip can watch the game on ESPN.
According to this year’s bowl game betting odds, the Rockets are favored by 6.5 points over FIU. The over/under for the game is set at 67.5 points.
Going to bowl games has become somewhat routine at Toledo. The Rockets are playing in their eighth bowl game in the last nine years. Of course, they are just 3-4 in those games. Toledo is also a little disappointed that they weren’t able to successfully defend their MAC championship this season. The Rockets finished the 2018 regular season just 7-5 and 5-3 in conference play. However, they came on strong toward the end of the season, winning four of their last five games to assure themselves of another bowl bid.
On the other hand, Florida International is going to a bowl game for just the fourth time in program history. However, veteran Butch Davis is taking the Panthers bowling for the second straight season. FIU also entered last bowl season at 8-4, only to lose the Gasparilla Bowl to Temple. A win over Toledo would set a new program high with nine wins. Davis certainly has Florida International moving in the right direction, but nine wins and a bowl trophy would mean another big step in the right direction.
These two teams have met on three previous occasions. Most recently, they faced one another in the 2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit. Despite Toledo playing an hour away from home, the Panthers edged out a 34-32 win. This time around, it’ll be FIU that’s playing just a short flight, boat ride, or swim away from their Miami campus.
I’m a little surprised the line in this game isn’t reversed. Florida International had a more impressive season than Toledo, and they did so in a better conference. The Rockets have a little more name recognition and track record, but I think this game is virtually a tossup. That makes me lean toward FIU as the underdog.
For me, the biggest difference in this game will be FIU quarterback James Morgan. As a transfer from Bowling Green, he knows all about playing against MAC teams. In fact, he tossed five touchdown passes against Toledo in 2016. More importantly, he’s had an outstanding season. He’s thrown multiple touchdown passes in 10 of his 12 games, totaling 26 TD’s to just seven interceptions on the season.
It’s also worth noting that Morgan has only been sacked 10 times this season, which is incredible for a quarterback who’s not that mobile. That stat tells me that he’s getting plenty of help around him from both his offensive line and skill players. The Panthers averaged close to 35 points per game this year. Even against a schedule that only included three bowl teams, that’s impressive consistency from the FIU offense.
The Toledo defense, on the other hand, wasn’t so impressive. The Rockets gave up over 30 points in seven of their 12 games this year. Even teams at the bottom of the MAC like Bowling Green and Kent State had a lot of success against the Toledo defense. To be fair, the Rockets played seven games against bowl teams. However, they gave up nearly 38 points per game against those seven teams. That makes me even more confident in the FIU offense heading into this game.
In fairness, the Rockets are more known for their explosive offense, averaging 41 points per game. Again, they played seven bowl teams, including Miami and Fresno State, so this is definitely a team that can score points. The Rockets are particularly potent on the ground. But if this game turns into a shootout, they’ll need quarterback Eli Peters to have a good game. Peters was a little erratic for my liking this season. His accuracy plummeted against quality defenses and he averaged less than seven yards per pass attempt, which is low for a quarterback who faced mostly MAC teams.
As for the FIU defense, they were solid if unspectacular for most of the season. Against the three bowl teams they faced, they gave up no more than 31 points, and that was against rival Miami early in the year. By no means are the Panthers poised to shut down the Toledo offense. But they should provide a little more defensive resistance than most teams Toledo faced in the MAC this season.
All things considered, I’m not sold on Toledo winning and covering against a quality team. In their seven games against bowl teams, they were 2-5. Those wins came against Nevada early in the season and against Western Michigan in a game that WMU lost their starting quarterback in the 1st quarter. That doesn’t mean the Rockets won’t find a way to win this game. But I feel more comfortable leaning toward Florida International and the points.