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St. Petersburg Bowl Preview and Prediction: Connecticut vs. Marshall


Maybe it's only fitting Connecticut and Marshall will play in this year’s St. Petersburg Bowl on a field normally used for baseball.

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This one could easily end in a baseball-type score. OK, so that might be a slight exaggeration, but there's certainly going to be two salty defenses taking the field Saturday at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Marshall (9-3) ranks 14th nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 18.4 points per game, while Connecticut (6-6) isn't far behind at 17th, yielding 19.8 points per game. Both defenses are particularly strong against the pass. But, hey, someone's got to score, right?

While Connecticut's offense is one of the most anemic in the country, ranking 120th out of 128 FBS schools, Marshall's offense does possess some pop, thanks in large part to the right arm of quarterback Chase Litton, who's only getting better each time he takes the field. The 6-foot-6, 207-pound true freshman has passed for 2,387 yards and 22 TDs this season to go along with seven interceptions.

Both teams have reason to be motivated for this bowl game. For Connecticut, this is its first postseason appearance since its Fiesta Bowl trip in 2010. Bowl trips are nothing new for Marshall, but if it can notch a win Saturday it would give the Thundering Herd its third straight season of 10 or more victories.

Connecticut may be the underdog on paper in this matchup, but, of the two squads, the Huskies do own the best win this season -- a 20-17 upset victory over then-No. 18 Houston on Nov. 21. That was the only loss this season for Houston, which finished the regular season 12-1 and will face Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 31.

Connecticut vs. Marshall (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

Kickoff: 11 a.m. ET (Saturday)


Spread: Marshall -4.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Marshall QB Chase Litton vs. Connecticut CB Jamar Summers

This should be a fun and competitive matchup to keep an eye on throughout the game. Litton has had a solid rookie season under center for the Thundering Herd. The true freshman has thrown 22 TD passes this season. That's just two less than College Football Playoff-bound quarterback Connor Cook of Michigan State and five more than fellow Playoff participant Jake Coker of Alabama.

Summers, meanwhile, is one of the top ball-hawking defenders in the country this season. The 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore is tied for third in the nation in interceptions with seven, and all of them came in the final two months of the regular season.

2. Marshall defensive standouts Evan McKelvey and Gary Thompson

McKelvey, a linebacker, leads the Thundering Herd in tackles with 113, including nine for a loss, while Thompson, a defensive end, leads the team in both tackles for a loss (11.5) and sacks (eight). Both guys should have big days Saturday against a punchless Huskies offense, which averaged a mere 10 points a game over the final three contests of the regular season.

3. Connecticut running back Arkeel Newsome

If the Huskies are to pull off the upset, Newsome, the Huskies' 5-foot-7, 182-pound sophomore running back, is going to need to have a big game. The multi-threat playmaker leads the team in rushing with 760 yards and six touchdowns. He's also caught 40 passes for 432 yards and two more TDs.

Final Analysis

It's been a nice, feel-good season for Connecticut and second-year coach Bob Diaco, who has the Huskies trending in the right direction now after some lean years. But there's still work to do, especially on the offensive side of the football. Marshall is the more polished, established program right now -- and the one with a legitimate threat at the all-important quarterback position.

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Prediction: Marshall 23, Connecticut 9

— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.

(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)