History: The bowl game now known as the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (that’s “Little Caesars Pizza” Bowl, not “Little Caesars” Pizza Bowl) will be played for the 14th time on Sunday and will feature a pairing of the Toledo Rockets against the Florida International Golden Panthers. The game, formerly known as the Motor City Bowl until the name changed in 2009, is played in Detroit, Michigan and may or may not have prompted reactions from players such as “I’m playing where?!” upon the players learning their bowl destination. Yes, while most other teams head to warm-sounding places like “Glendale” or “Tampa” or “Honolulu,” two lucky teams get to go to Deeee-trooooyt to freeze their asses off. At least the game is played inside! And there’s no doubt that while it may be it will be frigid outside, things will be hot n’ ready inside. Hey!
Toledo has made the short drive north on multiple occasions in the past, playing in this bowl game in 2001 (win), 2002 (loss), and 2004 (loss). Marshall dominated the game in its early years, playing in the first four contests and winning three, and made an appearance again in last year’s game, where they defeated the Ohio Bobcats. The bowl is currently set up to pit a team from the MAC against a team from the Big Ten, with a team from the Sun Belt serving as a fill-in for the Big Ten only as needed. However, a Big Ten team has only appeared once in the game, when Purdue faced Central Michigan in 2007.
The Rockets’ big win on the season came in late November when they defeated the aforementioned Purdue Boilermakers. Two weeks later they lost to Boise State by a score of 57-14, taking their record to 3-3 on the season, but they finished strong and won five of their last six games, including their last two contests, thus making them bowl eligible.
The Rockets’ offense features all-conference receiver Eric Page, who returned three kick-offs for touchdowns this season in a return man role, along with running back Adonis Thomas, who piled up over 900 yards rushing on the season. Toledo’s starting quarterback Austin Dantin was injured and forced to sit out a significant portion of the season, leading to backup Terrance Owens taking over the QB duties. Owens is expected to start again on Sunday. Page is really the player to watch here. He’s only 5’10 and 180 pounds, but he’s a dynamic athlete who could break open some big plays for the Rockets.
After starting the season 0-4, the Golden Panthers came on strong to win six of their last eight games and four of the last five. FIU is only in its ninth season of competition, and only its sixth as part of Division I football. This game serves as the school’s first bowl appearance and a significant milestone in the program’s history. This sentiment was expressed best by coach Mario Cristobal, who said “I don’t smile a lot but as you can see from my smiles today, we are so happy to be here in Detroit.”
Who are we picking?
Toledo and Florida International have played twice previously, in 2008 and again in 2009. In the 2008 outing, FIU defeated Toledo while playing in Ohio. The next year Toledo traveled to Florida, where they came out on the winning end. While the game in Detroit should be much like a home game for Toledo given the proximity of the two cities, history does not necessarily cause this to be a factor in the Rockets’ favor.