Florida International, which picked up key nonconference wins against Louisville and UCF and finished with a program-best 8-4 record, has accepted an invitation to play in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl on Dec. 20 at Tropicana Field.
"I haven't checked exactly who's going to play where, but I think we're the only South Florida team representing in the postseason," coach Mario Cristobal told reporters, taking a shot at crosstown rival (and his alma mater) Miami, which self-imposed a bowl ban amid NCAA investigations. "That speaks volumes of our athletic department, our student-athletes, the university."
The Golden Panthers' presence from the Sun Belt Conference will end the fourth-year bowl's traditional pairing of teams from the Big East and Conference USA, though their opponent could come from either conference.
FIU likely will face either Pittsburgh or Marshall, depending on how the Big East bowl lineup shakes out. Both teams are 6-6. If Pittsburgh wants to avoid a return trip to Birmingham, Ala., where it went last year, the Panthers might wind up in St. Petersburg, with Marshall of C-USA taking their place in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Cristobal said St. Petersburg was his ideal bowl destination, giving his players and their families a chance to play close to home. He said FIU has about 5,000 alumni in Central Florida.
The Golden Panthers are in their seventh season in Division I-A and are in their second bowl. They beat Toledo 34-32 in last season's Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit.