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22 posts from December 2011

December 29, 2011

To quote The Marx Brothers and Phil Collins....

"Hello, I must be going."


This is my first post since last week because I've been doing that Hanukkah/Christmas thing with the family as well as being stuck in Dolphinland up in Davie. The latter is where I'll be spending this week, back around Camp Mitch more next week (I hope).

But, as for this week...

A) Despite the doubts of a lucid commenter on a previous post, I still trust my sources close to Mario Cristobal who say progress is still being made on an extension. I'm curious to see if the school pusts a little more financial bass in the escape clause.

B) The women's baskteball team's Sun & Fun holiday break tournament offers two chances during the holidays to see sophomore guard Jerica Coley. FIU opens against Albany Thursday night and faces either Charlotte or Auburn Friday.

C) Men's ball heads to the last place in the Sun Belt anyone wants to go when they're having basketball trouble, Middle Tennessee State. This team that's been on the road for all but three games so far plays one half like they just listened to "We're An American Band" and another as if they just listened to "Turn The Page" with little pattern.


December 22, 2011

A few belated thoughts on Marshall 20, FIU 10...

The Mario Cristobal business took up my time Wednesday when I planned to finish and file this. That, I'm sorry about.

I usually do the postgame blog during the wind down of game night, often filing in the wee hours. It’s one thing to do that, get three to four hours sleep, then drive 15 minutes to The Cushman School or to an airport, 20 minutes to Still Joe Robbie Stadium To Me to help cover a Dolphins game, or drag my daughter 20 minutes in a wagon to Flamingo Park or handle the back end of a sleepover. I can caffeine power through that. It’s another to do that before driving four hours while phoning and texting to find out what’s up with the head football coach. Same reason I started the postgame blog, but didn’t finish and file before a 90-minute, predawn drive on unfamiliar roads to the Memphis Airport following the Arkansas State loss. It’s not smart or safe.

For those who have a problem with that, sorry. Actually, I’m not sorry, you’ll just have to get over it.

FIU looked rusty physically, stale otherwise. Five pre-snap penalties, more missed makeable throws, blocks, reads than usual. Ironically, in answering a question of mine about bowl game rust last week, Mario Cristobal said you have to come out with something new even if it’s just for show or a talented team studying you for three weeks eats you up.

I could be wrong, but it seemed the biggest new wrinkles with FIU offensively were in personnel. Redshirt sophomore Jairus Williams got targeted on the first series. Redshirt junior wide receiver Mike Jean-Louis made his first catch of the season. Running back Robert Boswell was out there in the fourth quarter in five-wide sets. Some defensive guys got unusual playing time.

“Lot of injuries,” Cristobal said after the game. “We had a fractured shoulder, a couple of other guys dinged up, a couple of possible concussions. You never want to run the risk when a guy gets dinged up and you’re not certain about how he’s responding.”

Unfortunately for FIU, the game’s most valuable substitute turned out to be Marshall left tackle Jordan Jeffries. Starting left tackle Ryan Tillman hopped toward the sideline after the game’s first play. Jeffries played the rest of the way and, in the fourth quarter, it was Jeffries who fell on Marshall running back Travon Van’s fumble one play after the blocked punt gave Marshall the ball at the FIU 23. Without that play, there’s no Tyler Warner field goal and no touchdown pass to Aaron Dobson with 30 seconds left.

Defensively, FIU looked as if it showed more pre-snap movement. Marshall was only six of 17 on third down and their 59-yard total offense advantage is right there on their final possession, the 60-yard final drive to that second Dobson touchdown. Both defenses hung in well. Marshall tackled well, a big key to the game. The Herd felt in the games they gave up points by the peck, they had too many blown tackles. They were strong practitioners of that lost art Tuesday.

Marshall’s offense just came up with the two biggest plays and Marshall’s kicking game won that matchup.

Heck, Sam Miller even had good coverage on the first Dobson touchdown. That play points up FIU’s size liability at cornerback, however. Several times this season, Miller or Jose Cheeseborough or Richard Leonard has been on the spot, but been too overmatched in size to prevent the catch, even by interference. Not everybody can have a big beast like Ronnie Lott at cornerback (people forget he came into the NFL as a corner and actually was even better there his first few NFL seasons than he was as an all-time great safety), but a few more inches of height or length on Miller might’ve prevented that 31-yard touchdown right before the half. Rakeem Cato made a near perfect throw, as he did on a couple of big plays, including the heave with a leaping James Jones in his face that Jermaine Kelson caught with one hand for a 25-yard gain in the first quarter.

The punting numbers look equal at a glance: 40.1 for Marshall’s Kase Whitehead, 40.0 for FIU’s Josh Brisk; three inside the 20 for each; longs of 46 for Whitehead, 48 for Brisk.

Whitehead’s punts seemed to describe The Arch in St. Louis. Brisk’s described a parabola. FIU couldn’t get off one return. Marshall’s Andre Booker returned four punts for 57 yards. In a defensive battle, that’s valuable land. As FIU lined up for the punt that would be blocked, I thought, “They need a good punt to change the field. The way this is going, Marshall’s going to be in position on this possession or next to win with a first down and field goal.”

One offensive wrinkle that might’ve helped FIU – an under center quarterback sneak. Look at the third quarter turn of events.

Hilton scooped a pass over the middle before going down somewhere around the first down line. Officials marked it, measured it and found FIU a midget’s forearm short of a first down. Fourth and a wrist.

FIU calls timeout to challenge the spot. I’ve seen spots changed in the replay era. Far, far, FAR more often, I’ve seen the spot remain via replay confirming the spot; inconclusive evidence (the most common one for something that as judgmental as a spot); or officials just being stubborn about supporting the judgment of one of their own. Sure enough, the spot didn’t change.

FIU punted. At your own 43, 10-10 with 6:41 left in the third quarter, when you’ve gotten stuffed on third and short earlier and aren’t the best short yardage team, punting is the safe move in a field position game. Safe doesn’t always get it done, however. FIU basically used up a timeout, always a valuable commodity in a tight game, to send a message that it’s not confident its offensive line can gain a loaf of bread against Marshall.

Marshall, meanwhile, faced with fourth and 5 on FIU’s 35 with 38 seconds left and a 13-10 lead just needed a first down to end the game. Instead of settling for the decision, they went for the knockout and got the 35-yard touchdown pass from Cato to Dobson.

Smart move? Debatable. I saw Denver do the same thing against Pittsburgh during the Steelers’ Steel Curtain era in the 1977 AFC Divisional Playoff game, the game that made a star out of Denver linebacker and now longtime ESPN studio analyst Tom Jackson. Similar pattern, too, run by a receiver with a similar last name (Jack Dolbin). A safe move? Oh, no. Any number of things could’ve gone wrong for Marshall on that play. Cato could’ve been sacked for a loss that would’ve given FIU the ball at the FIU 40 or better, a couple of nice passes from Jack Griffin field goal range. He could’ve been sacked for a loss and fumbled (See, “Central Florida,” “Jeff Godfrey,” “Tevin Blanchard,” “Isame Faciane”). The pass could’ve been blocked by a lineman and intercepted.

Instead, it was the Joe Frazier left hook that dropped Ali in the 15th round of their first fight. It clinched the decision for Marshall.

FIU ends the season 8-5, having led in every game and with 39 of 44 on their offensive and defensive two-deep returning. Most college programs would take that setup.

December 21, 2011

Source: FIU & Cristobal in negotiations for extension

A source close to FIU head football coach Mario Cristobal said FIU has been in aggressive negotiations involving a contract extension and other football program improvements. Cristobal received an extension through 2016 and a raise the day before training camp started, in August.

Various media reports out of Pittsburgh have Pitt moving on from Cristobal to Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst.


Thursday at The Branch will see the long-awaited arrival of 6-11 Joey De La Rosa out of The Bronx, St. Raymond's Academy and Orlando's Montaverde Academy. He'll play against Bowling Green in FIU's third home game of the season.

Jerica Coley went for 17 points and Fanni Hutlassa had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, but FIU still lost 58-53 to Middle Tennessee State Wednesday in their first Sun Belt Conference game of the season.

Postgame blog coming Wednesday

Started to do it tonight after grabbing MickeyD's late. Then the three to four hours sleep from Monday night caught me and said, "You're not required to do this. Wait until tomorrow. You're driving back across the state tomorrow. Get some sleep."

So I am.

December 20, 2011

Bowl Pregame; Tomic leaves for Bowling Green

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Daniela Tomic has left FIU after seven years to be the head coach at Bowling Green State. Tomic, a three-time Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year, put together a 158-61 record at FIU. The Panthers won three Sun Belt regular season titles and went to two NCAA tournaments under Tomic. 

Football Gameday XIII; baseball gets some preseason props

One nice thing about the bowl game has been running into some of you blog regulars, such as the couple I just spent two hours yammering with in the lobby of our hotel. So what if I don’t get to sleep until infomercials dominate every channel outside the ESPN family? Bob Evans always serves breakfast – if I don’t get breakfast food, unpleasantness ensues -- and that day spa around the corner can deep tissue my back and shoulders in the afternoon.

Trivia question: Anybody else recognize the tune the band on the ESPN 3D bowl game commercial is playing after they march into the living room of the two guys in sunglasses watching a college football game?

The line: FIU opened a 5-point favorite for the Beef O' Brady's Bowl. It’s now down to 4 points with a 48 ½ to 49 over/under. Bettors see FIU winning, but by a late field goal or come from behind touchdown. The over/under number’s a tough one in this game, as there could be a special teams play or two that boosts the point totals.

The game: One team is in its second bowl game, the other is a young team with many players in a bowl for the first time. Scrape yourself on the rust, you could get lockjaw. Players sometimes take time to break mentally from holiday break and get into the game. Expect some blown blitz pick ups, coverages in the secondary, some shoddy tackling early in the game. The wacky could be the norm before things settle down late in the first quarter or early in the second.

I don't think all the "Will Mario Cristobal head for Pitt?" talk will affect FIU's performance. Cristobal's there on the sideline and been there at practices, doing his normal job. When Brian Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame before Cincy played Florida in the Sugar Bowl -- or, currently, Todd Graham leaving Pitt for Arizona State before the BBVA Compass Bowl -- that's the kind of thing that can gut a team.

It’ll be Wesley Carroll at quarterback for FIU. The pinched nerve in Medlock’s shoulder hasn’t healed enough.

Freshman Rakeem Cato starts for Marshall. His net of 28 yards rushing on 54 carries over a season in which he started eight games tells you he shouldn’t give cause Ryan Aplin or Blaine Gauthier flashbacks for FIU. Cato needs good pocket feet against FIU’s rush (14th in the nation at 2.83 sacks per game), and such Bojangles Robinson deftness often isn’t developed yet in a freshman quarterback.

That assumes FIU can get to Cato. Marshall’s done a good job of keeping its quarterbacks upright, giving up only 26. Their size upfront concerns some FIU coaches, but the Thundering Herd isn’t a pound-it-out team and FIU’s had success slowing the solid rushing attacks of teams more multi-dimensional. The Herd’s team rushing average is 3.6 per carry. Top running backs Tron Martinez  and Travon Van (doesn’t “Martinez & Van” sound like either a road-trip show on The Food Network or a cop team from a late 1970s drama?) average 4.1 and 4.0 respectively. The Thundering Herd moves best through the air.

Downfield, the length and height of Marshall 6-3 junior wide receiver Aaron Dobson, Marshall’s leading receiver in catches (42), yards (587) and touchdowns (10) could leave him reaching for the stars while FIU’s diminutive cornerbacks plot for his landing. The only FIU defensive back with similar build is redshirt freshman strong safety Justin Halley, the team leader in interceptions. FIU's been on an seven-game interception roll, though, and Cato's thrown 10. 

Marshall’s defenders likened FIU’s skill position players to those of Houston and Southern Mississippi, the schools that wound up playing for the Conference USA title. Marshall beat Southern Miss 26-20 in the second game of the season for each, then got strafed 63-28 by Houston on Oct. 22. 

Normally, with a defensive end like Marshall’s All-American Vinny Curry, you’d run some traps and screens to his side early just to contaminate him with hesitation. But Marshall moves Curry around so much that adjustments for that would have to be made on the fly. Still, with the Herd worrying about how well they’ll tackle, perhaps FIU should try to hit regular screens to Kedrick Rhodes, bubble screens and hitches early to get T.Y. Hilton and Wayne Times on the edge.

Despite Curry’s 11 sacks and 21 tackles for loss, Marshall allowed 4.2 yards per rush and 155.0 rushing yards per game for the season – that’s including sacks -- and came up with only 25 sacks. Curry’s going to get his, but Marshall’s opponents have done a good job of not letting him ruin their attack singlehandedly. FIU’s had three weeks to figure out how to do that. That also sounds like a lot of running room for Rhodes.

Marshall’s special teams worries FIU – three blocked kicks, three blocked punts and an 87-yard punt return by Andre Booker. Booker also averaged 25.2 yards per kickoff return. FIU will be trying some new players on special teams, so don’t be surprised if Marshall’s first couple of returns blow up big.

FIU’s special teams should worry Marshall just as much. Four FIU players – T.Y. Hilton, Wayne Times, Richard Leonard and Colt Anderson – had kickoff returns longer than 30 yards and Anderson’s was on a pooch kick. Jonathan Faucher got his hands on two punts in the last three games and nearly a third. Jack Griffin gives FIU the edge in kicking.

I’m seeing experience making the difference early as FIU grabs a big lead and late as they hang on for the win. I’m seeing a couple of massive plays out of Hilton, maybe a touchdown from Colt Anderson and maybe some type of special teams or defensive touchdown off a youthful mistake to put the game away.

Call it 31-20, FIU. But that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong.

Trivia answer: It’s the “Theme from SWAT,” which actually went to No. 1 on the charts in 1976 during the show’s year and a half run.


In Collegiate Baseball's Fabulous 40 preseason poll, FIU comes in at No. 39.

December 19, 2011

A few words from the president...

Post Beef O' Brady's Bowl luncheon, after talking to FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg about the impact bowls and the football program have had on the school's visibility, I asked him if the Pitt rumors were unsettling and has Mario Cristobal told him that he would be FIU's coach next year?

He replied, "I'd rather not comment on that. All I can say is I think it goes with the turf. When your'e successful, everybody loves you. So, I think that's a great thing. But, the particulars, I'm focused. I'm focused."

For what it's worth...


From Sunday in St. Pete

I apologize. I thought I had posted this last night. Apparently, I had only saved a draft. It's been a long weekend...

I know that which you seek. I know what you want. So, here it is....


Oh, and I think FIU will still have a football coach after Wednesday.

That said, nobody wants to totally squash the Mario Cristobal-to-Pitt talk, there's a lot of smoke coming out of Pittsburgh and they haven't reopened the steel mills. Cristobal acknowledged talk about his future would grow with the FIU program, but clammed up beyond that, feeling anything said would only feed the rumor mill.

Whatever offer Pitt does come up with, if they decide to offer Cristobala big hunk o' money, FIU likely won't be able to match financially. By the way, Todd Graham's reported total compensation was to be $2 million, but that was with if he hit every bonus: undefeated, national championship, curing the common cold, etc. Still his base was nearly triple what Cristobal makes now. FIU would have to give Cristobal something else. Time's a precious commodity and security is nice, but will a combination of the two just stave off this until the next noted program loses a coach? There might be something else in the way of program funding that could help keep make FIU a comfy place to stay.

Also, remember what I wrote before the season about the family ties: Cristobal has two young children and many a smart football coach says you better keep your wife happy because they're carrying the ball for your homestead like Walter Payton. Having the family in town can be a factor for the next few years. More money can buy nannies and au pairs, but not everyone's comfortable with that, especially after you've had a blood family support system. 


December 16, 2011

(A little more on...) Cristobal and Pitt

A couple of reports out of Pittsburgh have Cristobal interviewing for the job today. I have no confirmation of that and one source says flatly, "There was no interview with Pitt."

FIU practiced today. There's an official visit from junior college offensive lineman Delmar Taylor, a Miami Beach High graduate and FIU verbal commit, and home visits with recruits later. The FIU football party heads over to St. Petersburg Saturday at noon.

But surely Pitt will do some background checking on Cristobal. In the last year, Pitt saw one head coach leave for Arizona State after a season and his immediate predecessor, Mike Haywood, last only 16 days before Pitt responded to Haywood's arrest on a domestic violence charge by firing him in January.

Cristobal should come back clean on that check. Also, it helps that FIU's players don't wind up in the miscreant section of the police report. 


A source close to Cristobal said Friday morning any statement that there had been contact betwen Cristobal's agent and the University of Pittsburgh about the Pitt head coaching job was "all speculation."

For his part, Cristobal insisted that with the plethora of coaching rumors, he'd never comment on any job openings aside from FIU and his focus remained on FIU and Tuesday's bowl game.

As mentioned in my last post, compared to what Pitt was paying Todd Graham, now departed for Arizona State, Cristobal's out clause payment is just north of chump change.

Here's the funny part: Pitt would be perceived as a step up for Cristobal. It's a soon-to-be ACC program with a history of national championships, legendary players in a city that's truly drenched in football (go Christmas shopping during a Steelers' game. You'll have the store to yourself, but good luck getting someone to ring you up, even during radio commercials).

But, right now, if FIU was bowl gaming against Pitt (as nearly happened), while Pitt would be favored, I'm not sure I wouldn't take FIU. And if you told me they would be playing early next season, I might pick FIU there, too.

Then again, that's exactly why Cristobal's name comes up with every job opening east of the Mississippi.


Defensive back Davison Colimon tweeted that he remained strong in his FIU committment despite hot pursuit by Middle Tennessee State.

Some Football Stuff

Today's story: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/15/2548479/bowl-win-for-golden-panthers-could.html

You know it's a loose day at practice when AC/DC plays during some of the early team drills and players from the two-deep dance and sway to hip-hop on the PA system during the scout team scrimmage. On the sidelines were some local television cameras.

This was a "Monday" practice for Tuesday's game, albeit one without the responsibility of classes or tutors hanging over players.

Running back Kedrick Rhodes said his ankle wasn't quite 100 percent healthy, but he would be starting Tuesday. Mario Cristobal promised some new wrinkles would be added to the offensive and defensive schemes even if just for show, reasoning you can't give an opponent three weeks to get ready for you and come at them with the same stuff you used during the regular season.

Speaking of Cristobal, some of the lists made by the media covering the University of Pittsburgh have him as a potential target for the head coaching job that opened up when Todd Graham went to Arizona State. Cristobal's name gets thrown around with every opening, but wouldn't this have thrown another layer onto this game had South Florida beaten West Virginia and Pitt wound up in St. Pete against FIU?

Anyway, Graham was making a reported $2 million per year in total compensation. If you're willing to lay that kind of jack out for a coach, the buyout of Cristobal's contract, $453,183 wouldn't be much of a problem. Not saying either has pursued either at this point. Just saying the extension Cristobal signed the day before 2011 training camp started would be a low hurdle that would be taken in stride.

FIU's renaming the weight room Friday after Doctors Hospital Center for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.

December 15, 2011

Bermudez up, men's basketball down

But for a first half injury to DeJuan Wright and some missed putbacks, FIU might've pulled off another upset. As it was, they fell to 3-7 with a 65-61 loss to Maryland.


Outfielder Pablo Bermudez was a Third Team preseason All-America pick by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

December 13, 2011

On Quarterbacks and Bowl Practices; volleyball recruits (avec video)

Jake Medlock or Wesley Carroll at quarterback for FIU next Tuesday night in the Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl against Marshall?

"Both of those guys are doing a good job," head coach Mario Cristobal said. "We'll let it play out for a few more days, see where we're at. Heck, they've seen enough film on both guys that they'll be preparing for both quarterbacks. I don't think it changes anything for them or us.We'll keep repping those guys. Whoever looks best will go."

They run the same offense, but they run it different ways, which is why I'm sure FIU would love to keep the decision as secret as Formula 7X as long as possible. Medlock's the better runner, creates more space for the rest of the running game and was improving his accuracy before the shoulder bruise. Carroll's more experienced, generally a better decision-maker -- a huge edge in this offense -- and can do enough damage to win if he's hot for just two quarters.

Practicing for bowl games is a funky business. NFL coaches complain about the unnatural rhythms of Super Bowl preparation and that's bang-bang compared to bowl game prep. Bear Bryant once said he never figured out how to properly set up bowl game prep. Even taking into account The Bear's typical poor-mouthing, it's not an easy business.

"Many teams around the country don't have these practices, six of them are in our conference and a couple of others are opponents for next year," Cristobal said last week. "They're going to hear us use the word "develop" a lot. whether a guy is an all-conference or all-American guy or whether he's on the scout team, we can never ever stop developing."

Cristobal feels these practices afford the opportunity for the younger players to get in more work with more specialized attention, which should help in special teams for the bowl game (Marshall's teams play concerns FIU) and in setting the team up for next season. He said the early practices they've found a couple of young players who can play special teams next Tuesday.

"I thought last year's 15 days did wonders for us. Giancarlo Revilla is an example. What he did last year in thos epractices determined what he was in the spring adn what he was coming in as a starter. These practices are priceless."

Wide receiver T.Y.Hilton and kicker Jack Griffin received honorable mention notice on SportsIllustrated.com's All-America team.

ESPN's announcing crew for the game will be Mike Patrick on play-by-play, Craig James on color, Jeannine Edwards in the thankless sideline reporting role.


During the early signing period, FIU signed Ashlee Hodgskin, Gloria Levorin, Gabriela Roman, Hayley Miller.

Hodgskin, a 5-10 setter from Windemere, went to three high schools in four years.


Levorin's a 6-1 middle blocker from Padova, Italy. Playing for Logitronic Fidas Vicenza, she was the 2009 MVP of the Bleu Girl League. She also was the MVP in 2008-09 for her scholastic team.

Gabriela Roman, 5-11, is a hitter from Puerto Rico, a member of 2011 Puerto Rico's Junior National Team.

Hayley Miller, a 5-4 defensive specialist, was a three-time all-county pick at St. John's Creekside High.




December 12, 2011

New sport in 2013: women's sand volleyball; told ya' so on Godfrey

Women's Sand Volleyball becomes FIU's 18th interscholastic sport in the 2013 spring with Rita Buck-Crockett as the head coach. FIU will field five doubles teams.

NCAA Division I sand volleyball began in August. According to the American Volleyball Coaches Association, in addition to FIU, adding the sport will be FAU; FSU; Florida Gulf Coast; North Florida; Jacksonville; Stetson; Mercer; CSU Long Beach; Pepperdine (possibly the most beautiful campus in America); USC; Hawaii; College of Charleston; UAB; Tulane; and Georgia State.

Buck-Crockett was the head coach of volleyball programs at FSU (2004-06) and Iowa (1998-2004) as well as the Swiss National Team (1995). As a player, she was on the U.S.'s 1984 silver medalist team and was a world beach champion parntered with Jackie Silva in 1989.


Central Florida quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey will be transferring from UCF, his father confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel. The elder Godfrey said a new school hasn't been decided upon yet. According to the story, the sophomore from Miami Central High is prevented from transferring to a Big East or Conference USA school, covering UCF's new and old conference. Godfrey will have to sit out a season, then have two years of eligibility left.

FIU's in the Sun Belt (for now). FIU also has redshirt freshman Jake Medlock, who started two games this season, and two recruits from the high school class of 2012. So, maybe there's no need. But you can bet there's interest.

An interesting thought...

The Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach of FIU sports weekend

Been gone for a few days covering other stuff. Short post now, more in a couple of hours.

FIU Stadium looks less like The Cage than The Birds today. Turkey vultures stalk about the empty lot east of the field when they aren't hovering around the stadium edges. Menacing-looking birds tweet under the bleachers. I'm not opening any closed doors around here today...


About the Byron Leftwich doll: it was hanging around The Herald newsroom before I approrpriated it to sit on a South Beach bookshelf several years ago, west of the Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightning Indy 500 winners and pace cars, east of the action figures (including Superwoman and Power Ring from Earth 3).

Anyway, here we go...


On his visit, Orlando Freedom High defensive end Dieugot Joseph visited Ocean Drive and eat at The Rusty Pelican. Joseph already was singing FIU praises before the visit and did just what he said he'd do -- verbally commit to FIU during the visit.

Haines City linebacker Josh Glanton reaffirmed his committment to FIU on Twitter after being romanced otherwise.

Port Charlotte defensive end Marcus Gilchrist, 6-4, 240 pounds, also, reportedly, verbally committed to FIU.


Lose at home to Alabama State last Saturday, lose to Texas Wesleyan this Saturday...but beat George Mason that's now 7-3, beat a hot Coastal Carolina team that's now 8-1, beat Stephen F. Austin, which hadn't lost in its ETech Lumberjack Classic, 58-56 Sunday. Oooookay. Bet that got Maryland's attention for Wednesday's game up in College Park.

DeJuan Wright got the Tournament MVP nod after an 18-point night in which he was five of six from the floor. As a team, FIU shot 63.2 percent in the first half and 58.3 percent for the game including 57.1 percent from three-point range. Sophomore Dominique Ferguson threw in a season high 13 points and pulled down five rebounds. Sophomore Phil Taylor dished out five assists.


Sophomore guard Jerica Coley  poured in 32 points Sunday against Western Kentucky. The rest of the team had 16. She was 10 of 27 from the field. That's a Maravich-ian number of shots...until you consider the rest of the team was five of 30.

That FIU lost 65-48 doesn't change that Coley's averaging 24.7 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game, 5.5 assists per game and 1.33 steals per game. She averages 1.79 assists to each turnover. She's an 88.7 percent free throw shooter, meaning the only point to fouling her are the two points after she hits the free throws. 

Anything in the previous two paragraphs to call into question head coach Cindy Russo's assessment that Coley's the best player she's ever coached? 

December 07, 2011

A sampler of football stuff...and a big-headed Byron Leftwich

A few things while listening to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" soundtrack and watching the wife make turkey marsala...


The opening line of FIU by 5 has held only at the Wynn. The rest of the Vegas books and offshore sites have dropped it to 4.5 or 4. Means little other than Marshall was a little better against the spread than FIU was. The over/under across the board is 49.


Riviera Beach Suncoast defensive back Davison Colimon, a verbal commit in November, apparently had a good in-home visit Wednesday night. He's a hurdles champion, speaking to his speed and athleticism, but he also has the size FIU could stand to add on the back end.

Prattville (Ala.) High's quarterback/wide receiver/athlete Jalen Whitlow says FIU, Minnesota, Arkansas State, FSU and Auburn are recruiting him, but only FIU, Arkansas State, South Alabama, Minnesota and Samford have offered him so far.


Both FIU and Marshall did some preseason Heisman campaigning to get exposure for their stars and, by extension, their program and school. FIU used Facebook and Twitter for its Hilton4Heisman push. Back in 2002, Marshall went a different, slightly goofier (creepier?) route...



Hilton, Griffin All-Sun Belt First Team; Rhodes, defense put on Second Team; practice report

Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and kicker Jack Griffin were FIU's only two players on the All-Sun Belt First Team, announced Wednesday morning.

Hilton, a First Team wide receiver, kick returner and all-purpose runner, caught 64 passes for 950 yards and seven touchdowns; ran 16 times for 101 yards; returned averaged 32.0 yards on 16 kickoff returns; averaged 23.25 yards per return on his eight returns, boosted by his 97-yard touchdown return against FAU, the second longest in Sun Belt history.

Griffin went 21 of 25 on field goals and was perfect on 35 extra point attempts.

Despite getting 1,121 yards and averaging 5.0 yards per carry, running back Kedrick Rhodes lost out on First Team honors to Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey and North Texas' Lance Dunbar. Rainey, who won the Offensive Player of the Year award, was an obvious call. Voting closed Monday and going into Saturday's season finale against Middle Tennessee State, Dunbar was under 900 yards rushing and averaging 3.5 per carry for the season. Then, he marched over Tennessee for a Sun Belt-record 313 yards on 40 carries. Garbage time yards clearly didn't hurt for a guy with over 4,200 yards rushing in his career.

FIU's defense finished in the Sun Belt's top three in every category, and really sat on teams late in the season -- one touchdown each allowed to Troy, Western Kentucky, FAU and Louisiana-Monroe -- but didn't have a defender voted to the First Team. Junior defensive end Tourek Williams, redshirt junior middle linebacker Winston Fraser and junior safety Jonathan Cyprien were giving Second Team honors.

"It's disappointing," FIU coach Mario Cristobal said.

Left tackle Caylin Hauptmann received a Second Team nod.

Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin received the Sun Belt Player of the Year. Rainey was the Offensive Player of the Year. Arkansas State defensive lineman Brandon Joiner was the Defensive Player of the Year.

At practice, Cristobal said Rhodes, who sprained an ankle in the season finale, took some reps and should be fine for the bowl game. Jake Medlock threw the ball some, but the coach said he and Wesley Carroll would battle it out next week for the bowl game start.

December 06, 2011

Coley, Beapre win Sun Belt Player of the Week awards; swimming rules in Little Rock

Back in the non-bowl part of the FIU sports world last week, two sophomore women threw it down well enough to win Sun Belt Player of the Week Awards. And the swim team overcame a slow start to dominate the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Christmas Invitational.

On the court, sophomore guard Jerica Coley won the women's award mainly on the strength of a career-high 33 points and 14 rebounds against Central Florida. In the first half, Coley outscored UCF 22-21. That's right -- she had 22, the entire UCF team had 21. The Knights eventually outscored Coley, 46-33, but officials also counted Coley's teammates for a 61-46 win. In FIU's 68-30 defeat of Lynn University, Coley tied career highs with eight assists and three blocks to go with her 14 points and seven rebounds. She's seven into the nation in scoring, 10th in blocks per game and 16th in assists per game.

Sabrina Beaupre's going to retire the Sun Belt Diver of the Week award. Her fourth win of the season rewarded the complete shattering to smithereens of her own FIU and Sun Belt records in the 1-meter and 3-meter dives at the UALR meet. Her 1-meter record used to be 295.72. It's now 323.85. The 3-meter went from 306.75 to 356.0.

Sophomore Sonia Perez Alau rolled up three firsts and a second and set FIU records in the 200-meter backstroke (2:02.53) and the 400 Individual Medley (4:25.97). Her 2:05.29 in the 200 IM was a pool record.

Freshman Jean Madison won the 200 breaststroke (2:26.14) and sophomore Melissa Moreno won the 200 butterfly (2:10.15).


Riviera Beach Suncoast defensive back Davison Colimon, a verbal commitment to FIU who has Tweeted he doesn't want to leave Florida but playing in the cold might make him a better NFL draft prospect, Tweeted he's having an in-home visit from FIU tonight.

Orlando Freedom High defensive end Dieugot Joseph will have his official visit to FIU Friday and probably will make his verbal commitment. 

 Oh, by the way, some of you got a little too nasty and/or racist in your comments on previous posts. I had to Sarah Connor them.


December 05, 2011

More on FIU vs. Marshall

Last night, I made the blog post, wrote a separate story, sent it...and it didn't get posted for two hours. Only military folks and my daughter, who has heard my wife and I in South Florida traffic, would have failed to blush at the language that ensued. Probably why the kid didn't wake up.

Anyway, here's some stuff to chew on about this matchup...

The game matches the last two Pizza Bowl winners in the first bowl for each since winning that game. Marshall beat Ohio in the 2009 Little Ceasar's Pizza Bowl. FIU beat Toledo last year. Suffice to say that, while both appreciated doing the bowl thing, both would rather be in St. Petersburg during December than Detroit.

Louisville should steer clear of St. Pete. Both FIU and Marshall beat Louisville at the Howard complex.

Marshall gives up 30.2 points per game, which means unless the Tropicana Field folks slap down the ice rink that the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning played on from 1993-96, each FIU play should start with a starter's pistol instead of a snap count. Or, maybe not -- aside from stat-skewing games against Houston (63-28 loss) and Tulsa (59-17 loss), Marshall's given up 24.0 points per game. FIU's scores 26.2 points per game.

Marshall quarterbacks have thrown 14 interceptions this season. FIU closed the season on an seven-game interception run, 12 over that span.

There's no spread up yet. FIU went 6-6 against the spread the first three games and the last three games. The over played in three games, the under in nine with one game being a push. Marshall went 7-5 against the spread with the under playing in seven games, the over in five games.

Three Sun Belt teams made bowl games, tying last year for the most in the conference's history. The Hill People up at Western Kentucky have taken to doing the Twitter version of assault with broken bourbon bottles against the BBVA Compass Bowl.

FIU's one-stop shopping for bowl activities is on http://www.fiusports.com.

The first things that come to mind when I hear "Marshall" (outside of "Plan")...

*Lost 75 players, coaches and football staff in a Nov. 14, 1970 plane crash. The 2006 movie "We Are Marshall" is based on the reconstruction of the lives and program after that crash.

*Former Dolphins and Jets quarterback Chad Pennington and NFL wide receiving great Randy Moss are alums.

*And this...


December 04, 2011

Some Things About Saturday...

ADDING ONTO THE TOP: Several folks have told me they've heard a Division I quarterback out of Miami, a spectacular sophomore with a spread option skill set, isn't terribly happy with where he is and might want to transfer back home. If he did, it wouldn't be to the offense in Coral Gables.


FIU got what everybody connected with the program wanted because athletic director Pete Garcia got proactive. As I wrote months back, I think Garcia's done an excellent job in understanding what a pivotal year this is for the football team and athletic program overall.

Garcia's been talking to the Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl for over a year, lobbying hard the last two months and building an overall relationship with them and the bowl folks at ESPN, owners of the game. If you're a college football program that still could use some broader exposure, there are worse friends to make.

"The fact that ESPN had us on national TV seven times in the first eight games...I keep (talking) about ESPN because they believe in us," Garcia said. "We've got a great relationship with them and we've got to do everything we can to keep that relationship going."

As stated on a blog going into last week's season finale, FIU gives ESPN fun football: big plays, speed, usually some drama. Frankly, if I were ESPN, the only thing I'd want to tell FIU as far as its games on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU is let's not do Tuesday anymore -- on TV, the crowd for the Troy game came off as embarrassing for a good program.

I asked Garcia how much he thought he the online fan blitz of the Beef O'Brady's folks affected the bowl's decision.

"I thank all our fans for their enthusiasm and support. We take our hats off to them. But this is something without winning the eight games, I'm not even sure if we had won seven, if we would've gotten the invitation. I've got to give credit to our football team for putting us into position to be invited. The quality of football they're playing...I don't want to single any one player out, but we play pretty exciting football and TV likes that."

"It's a team effort. We're the FIU family." 

Garcia kept giving props to the football team, as if needing to hammer home that the team had a good season: "I want to brag on our football team a bit. They're 8-4. That's not only the best record in Florida. They are the only football team south of Orlando and Tampa going to a bowl game."

Earlier, Cristobal was finishing answering my question about comparing the feeling this year to last, he also threw in a reference to FIU's unique position locally. He said the way last year ended, with a tough loss to Middle Tennessee, made it hard to fully enjoy the bowl game invitation that came the next day.

“What makes this one just as special is that we won our last game at Middle Tennessee with a better regular season record. And the ability to play a game right here, in our home state that speaks volumes. To represent the city of Miami and South Florida in a postseason game. I haven’t checked who’s playing where, but I do believe we’re the only South Flroida team representing in the postseason. It speaks volumes of our athletic department, our student-athletes and the university.” 

Check out Bowl Central at http://www.fiusports.com for oodles of Beef O'Brady's Bowl information stuff.

Also want to say again -- it's in the comments of the previous blog -- why there wasn't a headlined story online sooner than a few hours afterwards Saturday.

This season, this blog is where I've put breaking news first. On a few occasions, I've updated this blog several times until it's time to write the story that'll appear online or in print, then I've come back to the blog later for a more analytical look at the news. I've done it that way because it's faster, allows more flexibility in posting (a few blog posts, including Saturday's first, were made off my BlackBerry while doing Daddy stuff) and it's the way I've seen it best handled in other places at this paper and others.

That's the way I did it Saturday. Could I also have taken much of the same information, juggled it around a bit and done a regular story that would've appeared online earlier? Yes. But I didn't. I was slammed and felt the news was out there in a blog post that would be noted on the front page of the site and the sports site page. As it was, I wound up filing the last item 30 minutes late, an eternity in this business. If you want to say the "tease" to the blog post off the front or the one off the http://www.miamiherald.com/sports page should've been more prominent, maybe you're right.

I just grabbed the print Sports section. Top story, stripped across the top, Dolphins vs. Raiders. It's an NFL Sunday, folks. Two columns, one by Dan LeBatard on NFL violence and one on Howard Schnellenberger's last game coaching. Below the fold, my column on FIU/Orange Bowl/bowls, focused on FIU. You can say that's playing FAU over FIU, so it's bad story placement. Or you can say that's a column on the last game of, arguably, the most significant figure in modern South Florida college football, without whom neither program would exist (see my postgame FIU-FAU game blog or my pregame print/online story), so it's correct story placement.

To say I or The Herald were trying to "sit on the story" or downplay it is ridiculous. I wrote about FIU's bowl situation several times in stories that ran online and in print -- it was the advance story for the Louisiana-Monroe game -- and even more often on this blog. Though Thursday was my day off, I blogged as soon as the West Virginia-South Florida game ended with the result, a few things about the game and what it meant for FIU's chances to get to St. Pete. Saturday, as soon as the Cincy game ended, a blog post went up saying that alone might've been enough to get FIU into the St. Pete game. I texted, called furiously Thursday, Friday and Saturday, hoping to find out FIU's bowl fate as soon as possible for both professional and personal purposes (in 24 holiday seasons of this profession, I've been extremely lucky to be home every Christmas and all but two New Year's Eves.).

No blog appeared Friday nor story in Saturday's paper advancing Saturday's games and what might happen for FIU. I was on furlough Friday. That means I'm off, no pay and not allowed by company policy to have anything to do with The Herald. My Twitter account is personal. I chose that furlough date back in September.

Some of FIU fans' dissatisfaction with The Herald I understand from living it as an FIU beat reporter back when 70 percent of the buildings on campus now were no closer to reality than being on the Brady dad's architect drawing table. It wasn't a "we hate FIU" attitude at The Herald, but just a mindset that FIU was the other Division I program in town, the one without a football team, with good baseball, soccer and women's basketball teams. I'm not sure anybody cared enough about FIU to hate FIU. It wasn't even a full stand alone beat. I got into some blistering arguments with editors -- all of whom have gone on to retirement, other papers or their reward in the hereafter -- over decisions they made out of habit. ("I did it right the first time. You butchered it. You made the mess, you clean it up!" a 22-year-old me snapped often in a running argument with an editor over one story.)

I'm sure slights have happened that nursed anti-Herald feelings in the many years between then and when I re-took this beat in June. But I'm also sure there's been a plethora of good coverage from each beat reporter and The Herald. Good coverage isn't always pretty. I'm comfortable with most of what we've done since June. Nobody's ever going to be perfect and complain when you want here. You can be mean, just keep it clean (relatively).

But when I or The Herald doesn't handle something in the manner you like, do me a favor and at least assume an absence of malice on our part. I'm not sure who in The Herald has time or energy for malice these days. I sure don't.


December 03, 2011

Vegans Begone! It's Beef O'Brady's Bowl for FIU

The only team in town that's going bowling this season will do so across the state on Dec. 20.

As expected after Cincinnati withstood a furious comeback attempt by Connecticut for a 35-27 win Saturday, thus keeping UConn from being bowl eligible, the Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl extended FIU an invitation that the school accepted. The opponent hasn't been determined, although it'll likely be Pitt if it comes from the Big East.

A second consecutive bowl trip, the second in the program's seven Division I seasons, follows the school's first eight-win season and a season in which the Panthers recorded their first win against a school from a conference with an automatic BCS bowl bid.

"These last couple of seasons have been a historic run for us and hte opporutnity to continue to play into December," FIU head coach Mario Cristobal said, "in our home state, in a bowl game of the caliber of the BEef O'Brady's Bowl is an honor and privilege."

Cristobal expressed happiness at being able to go into a recruit's home Saturday night and immediately talk about FIU accepting another bowl bid. He also mentioned how nice a sendoff it would be for the program's seniors, many of whom came to FIU after a 1-11 2007 season.

FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said though the invitation came around 4:30 p.m. Saturday, they had been talking with the Beef 'O Brady's Bowl people for two months and said the bowl was always FIU's first choice.

Though the Sun Belt Conference's tie-ins are the New Orleans Bowl and Mobile, Alabama's GoDaddy.com Bowl, it's obvious why FIU would prefer this game over the other two: a three and a half hour drive for most FIU students on holiday break, a game that allows everyone to be home for Christmas and New Year's and an ESPN-connected game getting "The Worldwide Leader in Sports" hype.

Garcia said he expects FIU to sell out its allottment of around 5,000 tickets easily (ticket offices are already open or phone at 305-348-4263) and hopes to take 8,000 to 10,000 fans over for the mid-week game.

The dominoes that had to fall for this to happen began Thursday with West Virginia winning a wild game with South Florida 30-27 on a walk-off field goal. That kept South Florida from being bowl eligible. UConn's lost took it out of contention. That created a hole on both sides, Conference USA and the Big East.

Before Thursday, it was entirely possible FIU could get shut out of the bowls, despite an 8-4 record and win over Big East co-champion Louisville.

"There are so many moving parts," Garcia said. "To say things were changing by the day is an understatement. They were changing by the hour."


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