Florida International makes its first bowl appearance when it takes on Toledo in the 14th annual Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on December 26 at Ford Field in Detroit.
The Golden Panthers, co-champions of the Sun Belt Conference, began their football program in 2002 and moved up to the FBS in 2005. This year, they finished the regular season 6-6 overall and 6-2 in league play. A heads-up win over Troy left them poised for a New Orleans Bowl bid which typically goes to the Sun Belt champion, but that bowl opted to take the Trojans (7-5, 6-2) instead. Troy blasted Ohio 48-21 on the opening day of bowl season on Saturday, December 18.
Toledo filled one of the Mid-American Conference's contracted slots after a 2010 campaign that left it one game out of first place in the MAC West, behind 8-0 Northern Illinois.
Both teams faced ambitious nonconference schedules. The Golden Panthers faced three nonconference bowl teams in Texas A&M, Maryland and Pitt and lost by 7, 14 and 27. The Rockets faced two OOC bowl teams in Arizona and Boise State and lost by 39 and 43. However, Toledo did score a 31-20 upset win at Purdue to highlight an 8-4 overall campaign.
FIU went 1-1 vs. in-conference bowl teams Troy (52-35 win) and Middle Tennessee (28-27 loss). Toledo went 1-1 against in-conference bowl teams Ohio (20-13 win) and Northern Illinois (65-30 loss).
FIU outranks Toledo 44 to 77 on offense and 57 to 62 on defense.
Toledo is making its 11th bowl appearance overall, but first since 2005 when it rolled 45-13 over UTEP in the GMAC Bowl (now the GoDaddy.com Bowl).
The Rockets are led by All-MAC wide receiver Eric Page, linebacker Archie McDonald (who is tied as the MAC's leading tackler), and running back Adonis Thomas,the MAC's second leading rusher.
The Golden Panthers are led by All-Sun Belt Conference receiver/kick returner T.Y. Hilton, cornerback Anthony Gaitor, and safety Jonathan Cyprien.
"We are very honored to have been invited to the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl," FIU Athletic Director Pete Garcia said. "Our ever-growing student body, alumni and fan base, as well as the South Florida community, is excited about this historic moment and what it means for our future."
FIU's appearance will be the third by a Sun Belt Conference team in the Detroit bowl. Middle Tennessee lost to Central Michigan in 2006 and FAU, led by Tennessee Titans quarterback Rusty Smith, defeated the Chippewas in 2008.
Toledo's appearance will be its fourth in the Detroit bowl. The Rockets beat Cincinnati here in 2001, then lost to Boston College in 2002 and UConn in 2004. A team from the MAC has competed each year of the bowl since 1997.
The CCR Top 120 (Congrove Computer Rankings) favors No. 50 Toledo by 3.23 over 74th-ranked FIU.
The 2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl will be played before a prime-time national television audience on ESPN, beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. It was the only bowl game scheduled that day.