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FIU gets Top 25 votes...and a few thoughts from FIU 17, UCF 10...and a little volleyball

FIU received votes in the AP and the USA Today Coaches polls for the first time in program history Sunday. The Golden Panthers picked up four votes in the AP poll and 11 votes in the coaches poll.

Fall2011 008 

Last week, as I sat on the cement steps outside the visitors' locker room in Louisville, frantically writing an already late game story, a gleeful Mario Cristobal appeared over my shoulder. He said a few things then as he bounced away, I said something like this creates the possibility for something huge in the bigger picture. He threw a smile and "now, now" gesture, thinking I was talking about his future coaching picture. "No," I said shaking my head. "13."

As in 13-0. I thought it was possible then. Now, the only thing that keeps at least 12-0 from being probable is most college teams lose a game or two each season that they shouldn't. We're talking about great athletes, but great young athletes. They have a bad day or the other guys have a great day or the ball just doesn't bounce their way. That's the only reason I picked FIU to lose three games this season. When I went through the season game by game for our special section, this was the only game where I felt sure FIU wasn't the better team. And I didn't pick them there or here in my pregame blog.

Wrong twice.

Central Florida's a good team, still the best team on FIU's schedule. And FIU beat them, not just with a monster defensive play and a short drive after a flat out dumb attempt at fielding a bouncing punt by UCF's Josh Robinson. The Golden Panthers outdefensed a team that shaped its identity around its defense. That's strong.

What happens if FIU goes undefeated? It depends on the way they do it and what happens elsewhere. The Sun Belt does have an automatic bid to a BCS bowl. It just doesn't kick in until a Sun Belt team gets ranked 12th or higher in the final BCS standings or if that team is ranked 16th or higher and is above the conference champion of one of the six automatic qualifier conferences.

Yeah, it's a longshot. At least that's the way it seems now. Something to think about as this season continues...

 

As I talked to FIU athletic director Pete Garcia about FIU's Cheshire Radio situation from Friday and Saturday, he looked out across a packed southeast parking lot with pride. I had just snapped a picture of that and put it on Twitter when another longtime South Florida media member came up to me and said pretty much the reason I took the picture: look at that lot and you see what FIU dreamed about when they decided to get into the college-affiliated football business. Never mind that it took a strong Central Florida travel crowd to almost fill up FIU Stadium. This energy center draws students. Look, I still believe your best schools remain your best schools for reasons independent of the athletic program, i.e, The University of Chicago, which had the first Heisman Trophy winner, dropped football soon after and has been an elite university for longer than anyone can remember. But I also belive in Bear Bryant's line, "It's kind of hard to rally around a math class." 

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The game that followed is the kind that coaches and players envision when they think, "football."

One big play for a score, Faciane's fumble return. Two long drives, Central Florida's to the game's first touchdown, FIU's to their field goal. Mostly, it was about speed and hitting and who could keep their heads while it was being knocked off.

Speaking of injuries, FIU's being -- surprise! -- a little coy about Hilton's injury. It's obviously a hamstring problem. The question is, how bad? When he came back into the game for a couple of plays, you could tell he was trying to give something that wasn't close to being there. More cereal for the Irony Bowl -- the play on which Hilton went down might've been Carroll's best pass of an erratic night and should've been a gorgeous 35-yard touchdown.

Still, without their dynamite, FIU moved the ball against a defense nobody's moved much against since November. Nobody else on FIU's offense requires you play consistently good team defense the way Hilton does. Subtract Hilton and what remains are enough players you have to respect that when FIU really spread things out with formations, then went between the tackles, they got room to run against UCF.

"I thought the rest of the recievers (aside from Wayne Times), even though they didn't catch that many balls, they blocked well, which was just as important the way they play their outside linebackers," Cristobal said. "If it is a run, they're involved in the box and our receivers did a good job of digging some of those guys out."

UCF's touchdown drive shows how psychologically tough FIU is. That's the kind of drive that crushes wills -- over 10 minutes, 94 yards, 18 plays, extended by a 23-yard scramble by quarterback Jeff Godfrey on third-and-11 and a qeustionable pass interference call on Richard Leonard that wiped out a third-and-goal stop (I like offense, especially pass offense, but let men play a man's game.). Just as with the Louisville score right before the half last week, the next series FIU unplugged the momentum machine with a three-and-out.

Godfrey's slippery, skittering, but FIU adjusted to him, started obeying pass rush lanes and at least getting him off balance on first contact. Like everyone else, FIU was impressed with the way UCF punked Boston College with their downhill running game, but they came out with a good scheme and "expressed it well," as former Colorado and Indiana coach Bill Mallory used to say.

"They have big backs, coaches were telling us every day wrap up, swarm," Isame Faciane said. "As long as you swarm, one person might miss, the next person will make the tackle."

"We had to mix it up. They're powerful up front. Either plus one in the box or you bring pressure," Cristobal said. "We had an eighth guy in (the box) versus their two-back stuff. Whenever they did their "22" personnel -- two backs, two tight ends -- we found a ninth guy to put in there as well. Against the one back stuff, "11" personnel, we found a seventh. We were always trying to put one extra. We were trying to bring pressure. We were trying to give Jeff Godfrey some different looks."

Kedrick Rhodes and Darriet Perry each missed practice early in the week going back home to deal with deaths in or close to the family. With Rhodes, it was a relative. For Perry, it was the mother of his son. I can't imagine as a young man dealing with that kind of tragedy for a few days, then going back to school and football.

While Perry banged in his team-record tying 24th career rushing touchdown to give FIU a 14-7 lead, I thought it was a mistake to take Rhodes out of the game once he ran FIU to a first down on the Central Florida 14 on FIU's next possession. Rhodes was hot with four carries for 46 yards on that drive alone. I'm a big believer when a shifty back like Rhodes gets hot, scrap the game plan and run him like water.

Faciane's 51-yard fumble return touchdown is exactly the kind of play I thought FIU needed to have to win this game, exactly the kind of play I had in mind when I wrote the momentum story for Friday's paper and exactly the kind of play FIU got in each of its first two games. That's a huge play any time of the game. But six seconds before halftime to tie the game, while your home crowd's already sighing wistfully about the injured best player they saw helped into the locker room? That's almost action movie script perfect on the timing.

As a football fan, I loved everything about that play. I like it when the big guys score. I like how Faciane ran, with perfect form and amazing speed. That is the fastest you will see a 290-pound man run without a meal at the other end. I cracked up watching UCF tackle Torrian Wilson start to chase, then peel off looking like he suddenly realized that he'd be expending a lot of big man energy for no fruit.

Just as I was filing the pregame blog at 3:15 a.m. Saturday, I saw Faciane tweeting, "So I went to sleep at 8 and now I can't go back to sleep thinking about this game."

Saturday night, he said, "I slept a lot actually. I went to sleep early, woke up, went back to sleep and kept waking up thinking about it."

Funny how things work -- if officials hadn't blown a third-down reception dead while UCF's Adam Wessley was still fighting for yardage, FIU would've had a fumble there and recovered on about their own 30. Nice close to the half, but not the transformative spell that Faciane's fumble return score would be.

FIU kept giving both Louisville and UCF long fields with nice punting by Josh Brisk -- guest appearance for a pooch punt by Carroll Saturday -- and hustling coverage. That's always been important in football, but more so in the current era, statistically the most offensive in college football history, when it's so hard to get three-and-outs in anything close to an evenly matched game. Field position gives defenses a greater margin for error.

 

 

 VOLLEYBALL

While the football team dumped UCF, the volleyball team truly broke UCF volleyball's heart. At the TownPlace Suites/UCF Challenge, FIU came back from two sets down to beat UCF 3-2 Saturday, 23-25, 25-27, 26-24, 25-21, 17-15, and win the tournament. Jovana Bjelica won the tournament MVP award, senior Sabrina Gonzalez and junior Marija Prsa were named to the all tournament team.

FIU trailed 19-17 in the third set, but came back to take a 20-19 lead. Bjelica, challenged by head coach Daniela Tomjic to be the go-to hitter, nailed the close out kill for that set. Prsa had that kill in the second set. Each had a double double, Bjelica with 21 kills and 16 digs and Prsa 14 kills and 18 digs. Gonzalez had 15 kills. Andrea Lakovic had 14. Renele Forde's 40 assists were a team high as were Chanel Araujo's 24 digs.

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Why weren't any of the articles about this great win posted in the "top stories" or "latest" section of the herald?

I was the only Herald person there and produced a story and notebook, standard for a single-person covered game, then this postgame blog.

None of the stories should be under "latest" seeing as how they were filed 10 hours ago. And I just looked at the print version of the paper. UM got the bigger play there, but FIU was mentioned. In our college football section, the FIU game story got stripped across the top with the bolder headline.

I just went to the front page of the Herald site. Upper left corner under "highlights," first story listed is the game story. The lead story on the sports is the UM set of stories and right under that is the FIU game story.

The FIU game story is the fifth most viewed story on the site. It's not exactly hidden.

Nice write up DJN. I'm very interested to see how this pillaging of the Big East by the ACC plays out for FIU. This football program is proving their ready for a higher level of competition, and the facilities are catching up quick.

Hey guys, I'm a recent alum (Spring 2010). One thing I hated as an alum and that was highlighted yesterday in my West end zone seat is that the alumni (west end zone is the worst, but the south side sucks.) Long story short, I'd like to start an FIU supporters group. This would not be directly affiliated with the university so we have more freedom in what we do and what we say.

It's largely inspired by some groups I've been a part of in soccer (Sam's Army for the US soccer team and http://www.bulldogsupporters.com/ for the Colorado Rapids.)

Let's make every inch of the Cage a nightmare for opponents. If you're interested in emails or trying to help out, please leave a comment below to see if it would be worth it. I just want a better atmosphere and a very pumped up FIU football stadium. One thing UCF has we didn't was their own traditions and chants. Let's get on it!

Great in-depth blog DNJ.

great read DJN, as usual.

@MRA, sounds like a good idea.

3 and 0!

DJN - why are you still talking about UCF like they were a good team? They've beaten Charleston Southern and BC, who is now 0-3 after also losing to Northwestern and Duke.

They just looked bad yesterday, not to take anything away from the victory but I wouldn't punch FIU's ticket to an undefeated season and a BCS bowl quite yet after beating three relatively poor football teams.

It is so difficult to keep track of/stay interested in your writing. It's like you're writing after a few jack and colas. Keep it simple, sonny!

Received 4 votes in AP poll!

So 4 votes in the AP poll for us, 23 for UM. Not bad! I think Duke is trickier than you all think though. Anyways, only one person thinks it's worth exploring the supporter's club idea?

MRA,

I'd also look into posting your offer on the official FIU sports blog (on the school's website). You might find some people interested in your offer over there.

Since the game, a number of posters on a number of message boards/comments sections have said that UCF/UL are not good football teams. I think it's probably not really fair to judge one loss teams 3 weeks into the season. Maybe they are good, maybe they are not. But UL is a Big East team and UCF finished last season ranked 20/21. I think you can fairly judge that FIU beat teams that are supposed to be better than them.

@Mr. B: This is a blog. The point of it is that it is imperfect and non-vetted but timely and relevant. Welcome to the internet.

@MRA: We need more information. Do you have a blog or message board with more information about your idea?

Nice win by UL over Kentucky an SEC school! We need UL and UCF to keep winning!

I dont like all this undefeated talk. One game at a time. You dont have to be the best team in the nation or 12-0, you just have to be the best team in the stadium. Get it done; 4-0!

Great info DNJ, I had no idea about the automatic BSC berth. That kind of info is why you are so appreciated.

To the talk on the west and south end zone, it is simple. Alumni, buy tickets; FIU keep winning, Pete schedule good teams for FIU to play.

I think FIU should think about making the club section area smaller and making the student section larger.

Thanks for the write ups David. I saw you last week sitting on those steps on the scoreboard end of the field typing that up! I was pretty sure you were trying to meet a deadline.

Three years removed from 20 consecutive losses and a win less season, FIU receives votes in both the AP and Coach's TOP 25 rankings, in only their 6th season in Division 1 college football.

The INEVITABLE Rise continues. Go Panthers!

MikeyD, before Saturday, UCF had a 13-3 record over the last two seasons with a bowl victory over Georgia. Their defense hadn't given up a touchdown since the conference championship game. Most people seeing them thought they were a good team (had votes in the polls) and they're still more highly regarded than anybody left on FIU's schedule.

Mr. B, I've been making a living with this writing style for 24 years. You'll forgive me if I keep it. Sometimes this blog will be written while half asleep (yesterday's 22-hour day was done on 3 hours sleep), but to say it reads like I've been writing off of two Jack and Cokes is an insult -- I'm a Long Island iced tea man.

DJN, you're the man, as usual.

MRA, I was thinking about starting a supporter's club this very weekend while tailgating. I am behind you 110%. Get at me on Twitter (@nothingxs) and we can discuss something.

Thanks for the write up. I agree, I myself didn't think we'd win, but I was pleasantly surprised! I'm hoping for an unforgettable season from our Panthers!

Thanks for the write up.

Go Panthers! Go FIU!

Great win. Awesome atmosphere in the student section. Can't believe we've made it this far in 5yrs. I was a freshman in 2006 and we look like a completely different program and school since the 23 game losing streak ended.

The TY for heisman campaign may have taken a hit last night but it may be time to start a Cristobal for Coach of the Year campaign.

@Wong- totally agree that they need to expand the student section until season ticket demand increases. To see the student section packed like sardines while the south and west sidelines where about 30-40% filled was disappointing to say the least. This programs needs to ride the passion and energy of it's 38,000 students until alumni, many of whom attended FIU before the football program started, start coming out in force.

GO FIU
#41 ranked team in the country

Love your stuff, DJN. Wish we could lock you and Cristobal in for the next 20 years. I took that same shot of the tailgaters btw. You're lucky I didn't see you, I would have forced you to have your picture taken with me, lol.

@MRA- That's a great idea, as was said above, you need to take it over to the message boards.

#1) Glad to see this team is more than just T.Y.

#2) Turnout was huge!! Never seen the lot that full!

#3) It is clear to me we are building tradition - saw more ppl doing the "claw" during the 3rd down song, "We Will Rock You" had alot more people involved, glad the ROTC made an effort to coordinate their pushups, ALL THESE LITTLE THINGS MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE!

#4)In Pete Garcia I trust (even more than Mario)! This is the man that hired Mario, hired Isiah, hired Thomas, convinced Rick Sanchez to do Radio (publicity), convinced Miami Heat announcer to announce, and got the Stadium completion to speed up! As long as we have him, I think we are in good hands (even if we lose Mario).

#5) I loved the Hot n Ready song. Hopefully that becomes a tradition so that 20 years from now students will hear stories about how that song is an Ode to our first Bowl game that included players like T.Y., Anthony Gaitor, Wesley Carrol, and Greg Ellingson.

What a game! It was a well rounded performance by Offense, Defense and Special Teams, but it was EASY to pick the MVP of the "Knight" for the FIU Golden Panthers: The O-Line and D-Line

O-Line:
Those 5 guys provided holes for the RB's that where big enough for a truck to go through. They also gave Wes all the time he needed to throw the ball. During the entire game Wes was pressured a handful of times! Simply AMAZING!

D-Line:
Thanks to Faciane and company, the UCF running game that was suppose to run over us but never got off the ground. And their "All-American" QB looked good but not great. He had pressure the entire night. Usually our LB's take most of the credit for the Defense but tonight belonged to the 4 horses in the D-Line! You guys are amazing!

FIU Crowed:
What a night to bring out 20K+ to the Cage. Place was amazing!

Go FIU!

David, can you comment on this?

I'm going back and forth on what is more important for us ... for UCF to do good or bad this year? (THIS IS ASSUMING WE GO 13-0)

IF UCF does bad (lets say they lose 5 games):
It makes our win look less impressive, but it makes the gap between our trajectory pretty big... such a gap can really help in the recruiting in the short term. Players want to play for a team on rise not on the downfall (see FAU).

If UCF does good (lose just 1 game):It makes our win look VERY impressive, likely helps our ranking, and helps us in the long term for conference changes. However, that would mean they are are just as good as us and play in a better conference with a better chance at moving to a BCS conferences, WHICH means a recruit would be less inclined to take this win into consideration when selecting between both schools.

What a dumb question. Of course you want UCF to do well. It gives FIU more credibility beating a strong opponent. That will impress recruits more than having UCF struggle. That's not going to help FIU at all.

fiu fpl, you want UCF to win. You want the teams UCF plays to win against everyone but UCF. You want the win to be impressive. That's how you draw attention to yourself, and how you get better kids.
Recruits, especially from mid-state or South Florida, generally consider the programs on the same tier anyway -- good teams, but not up there with the Big Three.

FIU is over UCF in expansion "status" for one simple reason: TV MARKET.... PERIOD. Orlando is nowhere near the TV MARKET that FIU is, so UCF can win all they want, but if FIU wins as well then FIU will leap UCF in the pecking order. College football $$$ is all about TV $$$

Also, you obv want UL to win the Big East and UCF to win CUSA to help Strength of Schedule, no question about it.

Great Blog DJN. We need Also it would be nice for other SBC teams to win some of their out of conference games. I am worry about the ASU and MTSU games. but I starting to drink the undefeated koolaid.

UCF has every person in Orlando who's interested in college football watching their game. Florida International has 1/12 of Miami Dade.

Hey guys, after chatting it over with some students/alums and others I've decided to start dipping my toes in the water to create this group. For the time being we've started a Twitter account (twitter.com/FIUCheers) to organize cheers during the games before them.

I'm hoping someone with actual HTML knowledge will come forward and build a basic website where we can put chants, info and stuff like that. I'm guessing we'll need an email list, a web site and a lot of alcohol (if you're over 21 only!)

Just saying - after the last two games no one would say UM has played any particularly "good" teams - that goes double for Florida International, enjoy this season but you've set your ceiling by not playing anyone.

As far as BCS rankings, you want anyone you play to win the rest of their games. Period.

FIUforever, you're wrong about the TV markets. Miami-Fort Lauderdale is the No. 16 TV market in the nation. The West Palm-Fort Pierce market is clumped with the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market for the pro teams, creating the No. 10 market (that's why people who talk about the Florida Panthers moving have no what's up -- the NHL isn't letting a team in the No. 10 market with an incredibly favorable arena lease go anywhere). Can you clump them for FIU? Not as readily.
The Orlando TV market is No. 19. The Tampa-St. Pete market, from which UCF draws a number of students, is No. 13. You can legitimately clump those for UCF. Also, either of those markets, separately, is better for college basketball than Miami-Fort Lauderdale, the worst large market for college basketball in the nation.

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