St. Petersburg Bowl: Connecticut Huskies vs. Marshall Thundering Herd
Date: Dec. 26, 11 a.m. ET on ESPN
Location: St. Petersburg, Florida | Tropicana Field
Best moment: UConn clinched bowl eligibility with an unlikely upset of undefeated and seven-point road favorite Houston on Nov. 21. The Huskies did it with a dominant defense, which has been UConn’s staple all season. Houston averages 42 points and 499 yards of offense; UConn held Houston to 17 points and 318 yards. The UConn offense used a little trickery to complement the defense, using a wide receiver pass to score the decisive touchdown. After the win, the fans rushed the field and celebrated with the team at midfield.
Low moment: It looked as if the Huskies were going to overtime at Missouri and might have had the chance to upset the ranked Tigers. Trailing 9-6 with less than a minute to play, UConn lined up for a tying field goal attempt from 42 yards. The Huskies weren’t confident in their kicker, though, and coach Bob Diaco called for a fake pass. Missouri was ready and intercepted it to seal the win.
Key player: The Huskies’ pass defense ranks 13th nationally against FBS opponents, and the secondary’s headliner is sophomore cornerback Jamar Summers. During the second half of the season, Summers became one of the best defensive backs nationally at creating turnovers. Summers is third nationally with seven interceptions, and they all came over the final eight games. His last interception sealed the Houston upset.
Motivation level: Medium to high. The Huskies went four seasons without a bowl berth, so the program is going to savor its first postseason trip in quite some time. The Huskies finished the regular season seventh in the AAC, but they were 6-6 overall and have an opportunity for a winning season for the first time since 2010.
-- Jared Shanker
Marshall Thundering Herd
Best moment: The Thundering Herd overwhelmed Southern Mississippi, 31-10, on Oct. 9. In Marshall’s lone defeat of a team with a winning record, the Thundering Herd outscored Southern Miss 24-0 after trailing 10-7 early in the second quarter. It was the best defensive performance of the season from Marshall with Chuck Heater’s defense forcing five turnovers, four sacks, 15 pass breakups and 17 quarterback hurries.
Lowest moment: Western Kentucky knocked off Marshall, 49-28, in a battle for the Conference USA East Division title on Nov. 27. It was the second straight season the Hilltoppers defeated Marshall on the final day of the season after WKU ruined Marshall’s undefeated season in 2014. The Thundering Herd had a chance to avenge that loss this year, but a 28-point second quarter from WKU proved too much to overcome.
Key player: LB Evan McKelvey has been Marshall’s most productive defender with 113 tackles in 2015, ranking second in Conference USA. He finished with at least seven tackles in 10 of 12 games.
Motivational level: A bowl win would mean a third straight season with at least 10 wins, after failing to reach eight wins during each of the previous five seasons. Few teams would be able to match Marshall’s 33 wins in three seasons with a bowl triumph.
-- Brandon Chatmon