By Zac Ellis
December 19, 2011

FIU (8-4) vs. Marshall (6-6)Dec. 20, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Reason to watch: Marshall might have squeaked into the postseason with an overtime win over East Carolina in its season finale, but FIU laid claim to a record-breaking year on many fronts this fall. The Golden Panthers shot out of the gate for the best start in program history (3-0), which included the school's first win over a team from a BCS automatic qualifying conference -- a 24-17 road victory over Louisville on Sept. 9. Coach Mario Cristobal's crew turned that momentum into an 8-4 record, the program's best season to date.

Keep an eye on: Receiver T.Y. Hilton, the favorite target of FIU quarterback Wesley Carroll this season. Seven of Carroll's 14 touchdown passes went to Hilton, who registered 950 yards on 64 catches, including an FIU-record 201 receiving yards against Louisville. Hilton proved dangerous on special teams as well, garnering All-Sun Belt nods as a kick returner and all-purpose player in addition to receiver. Meanwhile, Marshall boasts its own receiving threat in wideout Aaron Dobson. The junior hauled in 42 catches and 10 scores for the Thundering Herd this season.

Did you know: FIU's 8-4 regular-season record surpassed that of traditional in-state powers Florida (6-6) and Miami (6-6) and tied the mark of preseason top 10 pick Florida State.

Final analysis: Marshall's defense is anchored by end Vinny Curry, who ranks second in the nation with 21.5 tackles for loss. The Thundering Herd's success rests on Curry's ability to shut down Carroll in the pocket and neutralize FIU's 1,000-yard rusher, Kedrick Rhodes. Curry was tied for fifth in the country with 11 sacks this season, but Marshall's lackluster pass defense (100th nationally) won't be able to prevent Carroll from finding big-play threat Hilton down the stretch.

Prediction: FIU 27, Marshall 14

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