August 01, 2015

Football Practice Schedule (You Can't Come Yet)

Along with the football summer training camp practice schedule, FIU announced practices would be closed. I'm sure they'll be open via invitation at some point.

Wednesday: 9:05-11:30 a.m.

Thursday-Aug. 10; Aug. 12-17; Aug. 19-22; Aug. 24: 8:05-11:30 a.m.

Aug. 14, 16, 19, 21: Second practice at 7:15-8:30 p.m.

Aug. 11, 18, 23: No practice

FIU got more pledges Friday when Tallahasee Leon safety Damien Crumitie gave his word to Camp Mitch, as did Matt Kramer, Lakeland High defensive end. Crumitie is rated at three stars by 247Sports.com and two stars by Rivals.com. Kramer's unrated by both services.

July 31, 2015

Big Possibility Pencils in FIU

Look what happens when Ron Turner puts Tim Harris, Jr. on staff at FIU as running backs coach.

Arkansas wanted Central linebacker Donavan Thompson, rated at three stars by Rivals.com, like he was a Waffle House. Offer on the table and everything. But if you play football in that part of town, you know Harris, former coach at Booker T. Washington. So, you give a little more of your ear to the man when he talks to you about FIU. It also doesn't hurt when three very good teammates -- defensive lineman Fermin Silva, cornerback Olin Cushion, wide receiver/running back/offensive nitro Anthony Jones -- head for FIU with the idea of building an annual bowl team.

So, for now, Thompson gave the Heisman pose to Arkansas and the other Power Five schools said to be in pursuit and declared his sort-of commitment to FIU Thursday, as detailed here by David Furones. As Thompson described it, it's more like he and FIU are talking than going steady. As we know, nobody's fully yours until somebody puts a ring on the finger or name on the LOI.

Norland defensive back Bryon Brown pledged FIU earlier in the day. Brown's not rated by any of the recruiting sites yet. 

 

 

July 30, 2015

July 28, 2015

FIU Gets a QB Pledge for '16

Junior quarterback Jacob Huesman led the Braden River High School offense to 37.1 points per game in a 10-0 regular season in 2014. Huesman, a pro-style quarterback, gave his verbal pledge to FIU for 2016 Tuesday.

He's rated at two stars by 247Sports.com and Rivals.com, not rated by Scout.com and ESPN.com.

 

July 24, 2015

FIU says "Wasn't me."

At 8:44 p.m. Friday night, a Tweet from the FIU Athletics account said the Heat wouldn't win (spit), disparaged Dwyane Wade and said Justise Winslow was no LeBron James.

At 8:52 p.m., I got a call from an FIU spokesman to say the account likely had been hacked and FIU held no such opinion of the Heat or any local team. FIU got that out on their account swiftly.

I'll bet on a hack. While South Florida's average syntax and grammar might put more dents in English than South Florida drivers put in a taxicab, the Tweet read too undereducated to come from anybody I've met in Athletics. 

CUSA's Leaving & Staying

Most league commissioners on the way out get judged by a deriviative of the Ronald Reagan 1980 Presidential campaign debate line: is your league better off now than it was when you took over?

By that standard, Conference USA commish Britt Banowsky, whose departure for the College Football Playoff Foundation was announced last week, failed over his 13 years as CUSA leader. There's no question stronger athletic programs with larger followings (Louisville, Memphis, Cincinnati, TCU, East Carolina, etc.) comprised the 2002 or 2003 versions of Conference USA as compared to the current model.

That's not the proper gauge of Banowsky, however. He's been a success because Conference USA still exists.

Conference realignment nearly ripped apart the league in 2005. When Virginia Tech and the college in Coral Gables moved from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference with Boston College right behind, the Big East rolled up on Conference USA like the IRS in a mood -- the Big East took five schools. Charlotte and Saint Louis, without football, headed for the Atlantic 10. TCU went to the Mountain West.

When I asked Banowsky about his most difficult period in office, he said, "We had Realignment I, which was new to everybody. We were all kind of waiting on the ACC to see what they were going to do and the Big East was waiting on the ACC. We were waiting on the Big East.

"People were new at the game of realignment. That was a little bit challenging because folks didn't know how to behave. Go back and read some of the stuff that went on at that time, it was obvious people didn't know how to behave,"  I was really proud of the way our group handled it. They kind of clung to some principles that were good values -- like honesty, openness and following the rules and respect. We fortunately got through that window."

Banowsky guided CUSA through a restocking that he had to repeat in 2012 as another realignment frenzy hit college sports. That's when the conference imported a big chunk of the Sun Belt to keep its personality of schools in or near major markets (for the most part). 

"The second round of realignment, we were better prepared to understand how it went," Banowsky said. "These universities are aspiring universities. Everyone wants to be the best they can possibly be. You want that. So, if they can find their way into a better situation -- if a school in South Florida can find their way into the ACC, you would want to see that opportunity realized. But it needs to happen in the right way.

"But the most interesting and challenging thing I worked on during my time was the management of post-Katrina with Tulane. The way our universities rallied around that and for Tulane, keeping that football program alive during a period the university was shut down and keeping all their sports programs alive."

One sports program nobody could keep alive then nobody could keep dead sits in Birmingham. Both Banowsky and UAB coach Bill Clark tried to find the silver linings in the Alabama Board of Trustees killing the program after refusing to let it prosper, then the public-fueled resurrection now set for the 2017 season.

The revival did save the conference the hassle of booting UAB for not having football and finding another football-playing school.

"I'm proud of our people for giving (UAB) the time or the space to figure it out and not put too much artificial pressure on them," Banowsky said. "It seems like they've just had the problem of getting everyone aligned in the same way around the football program. In some ways, it's a little bit of a wake up call for them. My hope and expectation is they'll be able to get more people pulling on the rope this time around or they realize now how valuable that asset was as they were about to lose it."

That's similar to what Clark said when I reminded him that, a year ago, he talked about getting UAB's facilities up to the level of a modern FBS school. Now, he sat at Media Day talking about rebuilding a whole program, which should start with a smaller, newer, better placed replacement for Legion Field, the only thing in Alabama more out of date than the Confederate battle flag.

"The great thing about the facilities is we're not saying it as an athletic department. Our whole town's saying it," Clark said. "I had a guy call me last night, "Coach, I've never seen Birmingham like this." This isn't me saying it. This is our community. I'm an Alabama guy, hadn't been in Birmingham my whole life. But when you know our school is the No. 1 job engine in the state, all of a sudden, you've got these people saying, "We want our community to be the best."

"That's what we were hoping would happen. So, maybe it took something like this...to wake some of these folks up and say "We've got to get involved." I think that's what we're hearing right now."

What he's also hearing, he thinks, is the effect of social media. I'd throw in the ubiquitous, voluminous sports media always ready to feed the daily ravenous news beast with a bite of the latest news prey. UAB turned into a national story. Fox Sports' Tim Brando jumped on this story like it was hot buttered corn and he'll stay on it for this week's Football Saturday show.

That's brought calls from Left Coast recruits and we're not talking as much Tempe as Tampa.

"We've got kind of a national footprint now that we obviously didn't have before," Clark said.

Barnowsky sees the transition to his replacement happening before the end of football season. He's also seen some pretty cool stuff from the conference he's kept together.

"I've seen teams make it to the Final Four," he said. "I saw that kid from Kansas hit a three-point shot to knock out Memphis. I saw Dwyane Wade put a team on his shoulders and take it to the Final Four out of this league. Saw Case Keenum put up unbelivable numbers on some great Houston teams."

What most of us media types at Media Day want to see is who'll replace Banowsky, who often ended his loquacious interviews with "promote the conference."

July 22, 2015

Quick Hits From CUSA Media Day

FIU cornerback Richard Leonard's working on being faster. And eight Conference USA special teams coaches and offensive coordinators just lost their appetites. Or their lunches.

Leonard's fourth gear already exceeds most players' sixth. But he wants to boost his zoom to any return crease he reaches -- beep! beep! --  six points. All the players at media day talk about getting their team a conference title. There's a sense that runs a little deeper with guys like Leonard, a fifth-year senior, or Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty ("I know I'm not getting a seventh year."), who know this is it for their college careers and maybe their football careers period. That's your CUSA preseason Defensive and Offensive Player of the YEar, coincidentally.

FIU coach Ron Turner feels he's got 100 guys with a team first mentality. Two years ago, he definitely didn't believe that. He thought pockets of selfishness remained last year. That, more than being in the third year with mostly his recruits, makes him optimistic about what this year could be for FIU.

And, yes, he's happy about that $6,000 Cost of Attendance stipend (see last post) for what it allows FIU's athletes to do with the thin slices of life away from class/sport as well as for the possible recruiting advantage.

FAU (vs. FIU, Oct. 31)

Recruiting geeks love the last two classes brought in by FAU coach Charlie Partridge. We'll start finding out if that class can justify that love soon. Partridge said, "Right now, we've got 50 guys we've recruited over the last two years. You're going to see a good portion of them on the field." That's why I picked them under FIU in the East Division.

WESTERN KENTUCKY (at FIU Nov. 21)

By the way, you want to watch Conference USA coaches shiver, have them imagine Jeff Brohm as FAU's head coach with his offensive system, able to recruit South Florida and North Broward Prep's Doughty somehow still at FAU as his quarterback. Doughty threw for 4,830 yards, 49 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions and completed 67.9 percent of this passes. "I really want to expand my game and show I can do a variety of different things. I'm not just a pocket passer and a good system quarterback."

MARSHALL (vs. FIU Nov. 14)

Similar to Leonard and his speed, opposing defenses tended to find Marshall running truck Devon Johnson already big enough. Johnson left 1,767 yards of defenders in ice baths and training rooms last season and averaged 8.6 yards per carry.

Johnson said he's up five pounds to 245 and thinks he's both quicker and faster -- "I think I can break those long runs without getting caught on the 2-yard line."

No accident that the one game Johnson missed via injury turned into Marshall's only loss last year, the 67-66 overtime pinball game with Western Kentucky. He said missing that game bothers him to this day and "my main goal is to be healthy for my team."

LOUISIANA TECH (vs. FIU, Sept. 26)

One reason La Tech's the West Division favorite: quarterback Jeff Driskel, a one-and-done transfer from the University of Florida, to go with a tough defense and running back Kenneth Dixon. 

"I think I came into a really good situation," Driskel said. "The guys have always cared about each other, always been a close knit unit. I think I came in and didn't mess anything up. I came in, shut my mouth for a while and showed the guys I was there to work hard. I earned their respect. Everything's been often. No complaints."

Not having to surf the swarming media waves of SEC Media Days left Driskel loose enough to ask a veteran columnist to take a selfie with him (the columnist, an earthbound, AARP-eligible guy who has never taken a selfie in his life, declined).

"Coming out of high school, when you're being recruited heavily, you look at the stuff that has flash," Driskel said. "You look at the facilities, you look at how much money a school has, what they can provide for you. The second time around, when I announced I was going to transfer, I didn't look for that. I looked for, first of all, a place I could play because I've got only one year. I looked for a situation where I thought I could put up some big numbers. Cody Sokol did that last year (3,436 passing yards, 30 touchdowns) and there's a lot of guys coming back on offense. Also, I looked for a place full of good people -- a place where guys worked hard and enjoyed working hard together." 

CHARLOTTE (at FIU, Nov. 7)

Charlotte put up a 5-6 2014 record against a schedule of 11 FCS opponents. Now, they've got 11 FBS opponents on their 12-game schedule. A bit of a jump. Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said, "It'll be a jolt to them, I'm sure, in the beginning of the year. But we feel like we've prepared. It's not something that got dropped on us. We knew it." 

When I asked Lambert if he would've preferred an easing in to FBS, he said, "In the recruiting process, it's all about the brand that's behind your brand. Conference USA is a really realy good brand. So it enabled us to get in on some kids recruiting-wise the last two years that we might not have been able to get in on. We didn't have a team full of guys we'd recruited to an FCS team. Guys knew where we were and what we were doing."

OLD DOMINION (at FIU, Oct. 24)

Lambert says he expects Charlotte to be stronger on offense next year. I wonder how similar the collegiate East Coast 49ers will be to Old Dominion, shootout specialists during a 6-6, 4-4 in Conference USA, 2014 season. ODU put up 51 in regulation on Western Kentucky and lost 66-51. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke ran that offense the panache of a veteran joystick jockey playing Madden.

Redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley, a two-to-three-star recruit, now handles the Heinicke job.

"When we first started football, we had a brand new quarterback, Thomas DeMarco, and we played to his strengths and went 9-2 in his first year," Monarchs head coach Bobby Wilder said. "Taylor's first year, 2011, we changed the offense to fit around his strengths, we went 10-3 and the second round of the (FCS) playoffs. Shuler, the same thing, we're going to change the offense to fit his strengths.

"The good thing is we've got the conference rookie of the year back at running back (Ray Lawry). We return four starters in the o-line and we got an injured player back, Troy Butler, who was a starter for us two years ago. We've got eight wide receivers back who have started or played and been successful. So, there's a lot around Shuler. It's not as if he's stepping in and the cupboard is bare. He's stepping into a full cupboard."

 

 

Cost (of Attendance)/Benefit Ratio

The Cost of Attendance stipend topped the lengthy list of things I wanted to ask FIU athletic director Pete Garcia about when I saw him in the expensive halls of the Boca Resort, where Conference USA Media Day really kicks in Wednesday. Coincidentally, COA ranked No. 1 on the list of things Garcia wanted to discuss.

According to Garcia:

*FIU's maximum stipend per athlete, which is worked out via some formula in the financial aid office, worked out to around $6,000. Garcia believes that's one of the highest in the nation. That means FIU can offer an athlete that much cash above and beyond any scholarship for use on other expenses having to do with being a college student. Garcia believes that's one of the highest in the nation and could be a serious boon in recruiting.

*COA stipends might go to a few FIU athletes this year. Most schools aren't starting this year. But it's in 2016-17 that FIU goes Oprah: "YOU get $6,000 and YOU get $6,000 and YOU get $6,000..." Garcia claims FIU will give stipends for most sports and there will be gender equity. 

*How will FIU come up with all extra cash? Several places, Garcia says. He said he's been building a cash stash by saving money over the past several years. Garcia said his relationship-building visits to Brazil -- OK, one visit counted as vacation -- were followed last week by a contingent from Brazilian soccer club Flamengo visited FIU last week. A couple of Flamengo games in January or February can pull in $300,000. The Van Wagner deal is supposed to bring in an extra $900,000 or so per year.

Be back tomorrow morning from Conference USA Media Day.

 

 

July 21, 2015

Hypothesizing the Future

Some Conference USA schools released their entire basketball schedules Monday. Some released their conference basketball schedules Monday. Some released nothing Monday.

FIU's in group No. 3, but we're not mad. We just had to do a little research and deduction.

Conference USA uses the travel partner system. For example, FIU and FAU are travel partners. When FIU plays at Southern Mississippi on a Thursday, for example, FAU plays at Louisiana Tech. They'll swap opponents for the Saturday games. The week you play your travel partner, you have only one conference game instead of two. The C-USA partners, aside from FIU and FAU, are Rice-North Texas, Texas-San Antonio-UTEP, Southern Miss-La. Tech, Middle Tennessee State-Alabama-Birmingham, Western Kentucky-Marshall and Charlotte-Old Dominion.

Also, the men and women tend to have mirror schedules.

Based on the schedules already released, here's what we know of FIU's schedules with hypothetical games based on the travel partner system noted by "Probably."

MEN

Jan. 2 or 3 -- FAU (probably)

Jan. 7 -- at Western Kentucky

Jan. 9 -- at Marshall

Jan. 14 -- vs. La. Tech

Jan. 16 -- vs. Southern Miss (probably)

Jan. 21 -- at UTSA

Jan. 23 –- at UTEP

Jan. 28 – at Charlotte (probably)

Jan. 30 – at Old Dominion (probably)

Feb. 4 -- at UAB (probably)

Feb. 6 -- at Middle Tennessee

Feb. 11 -– vs. UTEP

Feb. 13 -– vs. UTSA

Feb. 18 – at North Texas

Feb. 20 – at Rice

Feb. 27 -- FAU (probably)

Mar. 3 -- vs. UAB (probably)

Mar. 5 -- vs. Middle

WOMEN

Jan. 2 or 3 -- FAU (probably)

Jan. 7 – vs. Western

Jan. 9 -- vs. Marshall (probably)

Jan. 14 – at La Tech

Jan. 16 -- at Southern Miss (probably)

Jan. 21 -- vs. UTEP (probably)

Jan. 23 -- vs. UTSA (probably)

Jan. 28 –- at Charlotte

Jan. 30 –- at Old Dominion (probably)

Feb. 4 -- vs. UAB (probably)

Feb. 6 – vs. Middle

Feb. 11 -- at UTEP (probably)

Feb. 13 -- at UTSA (probably)

Feb. 18 – vs. North Texas (probably)

Feb. 20 – vs. Rice

Feb. 27 -- FAU (probalby)

Mar. 3 -- at UAB (probably)

Mar. 5 – at Middle

FOOTBALL

Needing to clear the DVR of David recordings, I finally watched Booker T. Washington's 34-28 overtime win against Bingham (Utah) High in the Burger King State Champions Bowl Series. It wasn't the first time I saw FIU soon-to-be freshman Maurice Alexander. It was the first time I thought "He can come in there and take that quarterback job, if those guys already there don't watch it."

Maybe not this year, although only a fool would rule that out when the competition's a sophomore who started 11 games and looked like a freshman with ability (Alex McGough), a redshirt freshman (Bud Martin) and another true freshman who fits the tall, strapping quarterback suit (Christian Alexander). But Maurice Alexander (no relation) will challenge for that No. 1 job.

The "whatever it takes" quality he showed against Bingham impressed me and probably is why, FIU coach Ron Turner noted from a camp, players gravitate to him as a leader. On one play, Alexander threw a hitch left to running back Mike Walton. Walton reversed his field to get around the right side. Alexander didn't just get in the way of a defensive lineman -- he threw a block with a six-pack of gusto. Later, he broke the same lineman's tackle on a read option keep to slip into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

Alexander ran for two touchdowns and threw for three, including two achingly beautiful touch passes to the numbers. Quarterbacking a team that rarely trails at all and only once before in the fourth quarter, he marched the Tornadoes the length of the field in 1:51 for the tying touchdown with 18 seconds left. He got away with his only mistake, not just getting the first down on a scramble, but trying to dip wide for the sidelines or bigger yardage. He got away with it because on third and 1, he threaded the needle with a throw down the middle. A miscommunication with a receiver that almost turned into a game-killing interception, but you can't tell if that goes on Alexander's account or the receiver's.

Alexander will wear No. 13, probably until Richard Leonard finishes with No. 3. Don't be surprised if, by that point, Alexander's No. 1 on the depth chart.

I'm not saying it will happen. I'm just saying don't be stunned if it does happen.

 

July 20, 2015

What's a Van Wagner?

To sum up FIU's seven-year deal with Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment, announced today:

*VW takes over the selling of advertising and signage in FIU's facilities. They're also responsible for tickets packages and suite sales.

*The contests and games at the stadium/arena for fans attending the game? That's them.

*If rights to an FIU game aren't already assigned by Conference USA's deals with various partners, VW can shop them around to local radio or TV stations.

FIU expects the deal to bring in $9.1 million over the seven years.

ALSO...

This offseason, the athletic department finally hired a dedicated video person, which should improve the production qualities of the PantherVision broadcasts as well as any in-house produced video materials. 


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