ST. PETERSBURG — For the first time in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl's four-year history, this year's winner on Dec. 20 will not be from the Big East.
The bowl announced Sunday that Marshall (6-6 and 5-3 in Conference USA) accepted an invitation to face Florida International at Tropicana Field.
"Our players are excited. I'm excited," said Marshall coach Doc Holliday, who was part of Urban Meyer's national champion coaching staff in 2006. "There's no doubt we have a lot of guys with family in the state of Florida, and this gives them an opportunity to play close to them."
Marshall has 29 players from Florida on its roster, though none from Hillsborough or Pinellas counties. The Thundering Herd had big wins early, knocking off eventual C-USA champ Southern Miss and Big East co-champ Louisville, though Marshall needed to win three of its final four games to become bowl eligible. The last was a 34-27 win in overtime against East Carolina for the conference's last bowl slot.
The bowl had a shot at getting Pittsburgh from the Big East, but instead the Panthers are returning to Birmingham for the second year in a row and will face SMU.
It's Marshall's second bowl appearance in the past seven seasons, following a win over Ohio in the 2009 Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit.
Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry is a potential All-American and a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, ranking second nationally with 21.5 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles, and ranking fifth with 11 sacks.
Florida International (a program-best 8-4), from the Sun Belt, had nonconference wins against Louisville and UCF. The Golden Panthers, in their seventh season in Division I-A, are in their second bowl.