DETROIT -- The Michigan football team is scheduled to arrive in Jacksonville, Fla., today -- most on the charter from Ann Arbor and some from their homes in other parts of the country -- to enjoy its week leading up to Saturday's Gator Bowl at EverBank Field.
As the Wolverines prepare for their first bowl appearance in three years, there are a number of looming questions.
1. Can the Wolverines stay focused on the game? Rich Rodriguez's job status hangs over it. While everyone insists that won't be a distraction, it will be hard for the players to ignore, knowing the coaches' status may affect some of their own decisions for next season.
2. Will anyone be missing? Rodriguez would not confirm last week if everyone was academically eligible to make the trip, saying he had to wait to see the final grades, so there will be an interesting dynamic if impact players are not available.
3. How quickly will a placekicker emerge? Rodriguez said the snow in Michigan prevented any outside kicking so that will be a major emphasis this week -- to find out who among Brendan Gibbons, Seth Broekhuizen and Kris Pauloski can handle it for the bowl game.
FIU rises from the ashes
Three years ago, one victory was cause for celebration at Florida International.
Now, the Golden Panthers are enjoying something much more impressive -- a trip to a bowl. It's a big step forward for a team that's endured embarrassing scenes on the field and tragedy off it.
"It's really one of the best stories in college football," coach Mario Cristobal said. "And I'd be saying it if it wasn't our team."
Three seasons after ending a 23-game losing streak, FIU will play in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on tonight against Toledo (8:30 p.m., ESPN). It's the first bowl appearance for the program, which is in its sixth season in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
When Cristobal took over as coach, the Golden Panthers were coming off a winless 2006 season -- and that was hardly their only problem. That year had been marred by an ugly brawl against Miami, where Cristobal had been an assistant.
"A month after we took the job we found out they were losing 25 scholarships from the previous regime's infractions," Cristobal said. "We knew we'd fall off the face of the earth for a couple of years."
The Golden Panthers finally snapped their losing streak in their final game of 2007, and they appeared to be on the rise when they went 5-7 the following season. Instead, they won only three games in 2009.
All those on-field woes were put into perspective this past March, when running back Kendall Berry was stabbed to death on campus.
For a program in need of some happy news, this season has been refreshing. After starting with four straight losses against a difficult schedule that included trips to Texas A&M and Pittsburgh, FIU went 6-2 in Sun Belt Conference play, finishing tied atop the league with Troy.
The reward for FIU (6-6) is a matchup with Toledo (8-4) at Detroit's Ford Field -- not exactly a long trip for the Rockets. Toledo is back in a bowl for the first time since 2005.
Tulsa takes Hawaii Bowl
HONOLULU (AP) -- Damaris Johnson broke loose for 326 all-purpose yards to set an NCAA career record and Tulsa took advantage of six first-half turnovers to beat No. 24 Hawaii 62-35 in the Hawaii Bowl late Friday night.
The Golden Hurricane (10-3) grounded the nation's No. 1 passing offense most of the night and broke it open with a 21-point third quarter for their seventh straight win and third consecutive bowl victory.
The short, speedy Johnson earned MVP honors, rushing for 98 yards and a TD and catching four passes for 101 yards and a score.
Hawaii (10-4) was led by senior Greg Salas who also had a record night. He had 13 receptions for 214 yards and two touchdowns, setting Hawaii single-season records in receptions and receiving yards.