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By DANNY P. SMITH
Quarterback Wesley Carroll has once again led a college football team to bowl eligibility when few people expected it would.
As Mississippi State's quarterback in 2007, Carroll helped the Bulldogs to an 8-5 record and a 10-3 victory against Central Florida in the Autozone Liberty Bowl.
Carroll transferred from MSU to Florida International following the 2008 season and after sitting out a year due to NCAA rules, he has enjoyed similar success with the Panthers as he had with the Bulldogs.
Florida International became bowl eligible and claimed at least a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship after defeating Arkansas State 31-24 last Saturday.
"Everything is going very well," Carroll said. "Obviously the season has culminated to what they've been working on here for the last four years. I'm just happy to be part of it and happy to be involved in such a program changing time."
The Panthers (6-5) have an opportunity to strengthen its bowl standing and win the conference title out right when they host Middle Tennessee Saturday night.
Carroll considers himself fortunate to have been a part of MSU and FIU at the right time.
"While I was at State, there had not been a team to have gone to a bowl since 2000, but being a part of that Liberty Bowl team has helped because we weren't supposed to win a lot of the games we won that year," Carroll said. "We did (win) and proved a lot of teams wrong. We ended up going 8-5 and we have that same opportunity here (at FIU).
"We have a chance to go 7-5 after this week, win the Sun Belt out right and go to a bowl, win it and be 8-5. Just knowing that possibility causes you to sit back and think how lucky I am to be in this position. Being a part of both of these programs that were underrated and nobody gave them a chance, it's something later down the road will be considered and thought of as special."
Carroll has been a big part of what the Panthers have been able to do just as he was when the Bulldogs won in 2007.
After a season where Carroll completed 134 of 255 passes for 1,392 yards and nine touchdowns for MSU's Liberty Bowl squad, he struggled the next season by only completing 55 of 115 pass attempts for 560 yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The Bulldogs finished with a 4-8 record, head coach Sylvester Croom resigned under pressure and Carroll decided to leave for Florida Atlantic.
Carroll became the starting quarterback for the Panthers this season after sitting out in 2009. He has completed 195 of 321 pass attempts for 2,342 yards and 14 touchdowns.
"This year it's been a blessing to start and to be able to play as much as I have for this program and this team," Carroll said. "I feel like I've been such a big part of this offense and been able to help score points, move the ball and I think we've done a good job this year.
"We've broken a lot of records this year in being able to run the ball and throw the ball. We've put points on teams we were not supposed to be putting them on. It's been an awesome feeling being a part of it."
Carroll was part of an 11-play game-winning drive against Arkansas State and threw the deciding 42-yard touchdown to T.Y. Hilton. Carroll finished the game completing 21 of 27 pass attempts for 266 yards.
After the game, Carroll was able to celebrate with his teammates just like he did with MSU in 2007 following victories against Auburn, Kentucky, Alabama and Ole Miss.
"It was very emotional and obviously everyone was very excited and very relieved about doing it because we knew we were capable of doing it," Carroll said of FIU reaching the top of the Sun Belt. "It all fell on us and we controlled our destiny whether or not we were going to get it done. A lot of guys felt the need to make that next step and get it done. We were able to follow through with accomplishing our goals. There was a lot of emotion and happy faces in that locker room on Saturday night."