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9 posts from July 2012

July 30, 2012

Practice starts Friday for 10-2 football season

Upon my official return today from vacation, it's time to start work on special section stuff and prepare for the daily practice grind, which begins at 8 a.m. Friday at FIU Stadium. Unofficially, I started working on section stuff Saturday night with the game-by-game preseason prediction. Last season, I was one game off on the record, predicting 9-3 (6-2) before an 8-4 (5-3) season, but correctly nailing the Louisville upset.

This season, the game-by-game came out 10-2. What say you all out there in the webworld?

Some video of Tampa Bay Tech's Hakim Henderson. FIU's had some success recruiting there and can always use more tight ends who can create matchup problems, especially in the red zone.


For those who feel I should've updated the blog more from my family vacation than each of the first three days -- bringing it at that point to five blog updates in the last six family vacation days, going back to the Isiah Thomas firing -- to paraphrase Eddie imitating Richard, have a Coke and a smile.

I didn't feel it was worth breaking from my Parkinson's-limited father-in-law's first day at the beach in years -- and on his 86th birthday -- to blog about 6-3 guard Dennis Mavin announcing via Twitter that he's transferring to FIU from FAU (he'll have to sit out this season). Nor did I think my daughter, niece and nephew needed to be told "idle for a bit" while I blogged about the swimming and diving team's 3.39 spring GPA earning them a Scholar All-America honor by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. Nice job by the water women, though.

By APR, FIU's female student-athletes found the time to address both sides of that hyphenated term in 2010-11: tennis, softball, golf and basketball each had an APR of 1,000 for that academic year. Tennis had a 1,000 multiyear APR, of course.

July 20, 2012

Football Recruiting & In the Stax

Don't be surprised if FIU lands Tampa Tech defensive end Antonio Guerad.


And here's some video on Monday's commit, Panama City Bozeman defensive end Chandler Burkett


And here's some video of Sam & Dave.


July 19, 2012

Details on Cristobal extension

Some highlights from FIU football coach Mario Cristobal's contract extension (sorry we didn't get these things last night, but, hey...):

Cristobal's base salary stays the same in the added year, 453,183. He got another $50,000 bonus, to be paid in two installments, from a $100,000 annual program operating cost bump. The other $50,000 of that money will go to assistant coaches base salaries. So in the last two Cristobal extensions, the assistants have gotten an increase of approximately $160,000 from program operating cost increases.

While this keeps Cristobal in the middle of the pack as far as Sun Belt coaches base salary, almost all of whom live in places with cheap costs of living, sources say he didn't think it would be right to ask for much more money with the state education system so economically troubled.

Cristobal did get performance bonus raises: bowl game bonus to $20,000 from $10,000; 940 APR bonus from $10,000 to $15,000; 2.5 team GPA average up from $10,000 to $15,000; new bonuses for finishing in final USA Today Coaches Poll Top 25 of $15,000; and $20,000 for an unshared conference championship.

The buyout clauses remain the same.

Not in the contract, but apparently a leading concern at the negotiating table when this all was first being discussed last winter was the completion of the north side enclosure. Both for stature among other schools -- remember, when all this started, it wasn't a lock FIU would be wanted by Conference USA -- and recruits, it was felt FIU Stadium needed to look like an actual stadium.


July 18, 2012

Cristobal signs another extension; men's soccer schedule out

I'll have more details this evening -- I'm officially on vacation and planning to observe working silence for a few hours this afternoon -- but FIU has added a year to football coach Mario Cristobal's contract to 2017 and given him another raise a year after bumping him up to over $453,000 on base salary.

Realistic about FIU's limits, I don't think Cristobal was looking for the big payday for himself, but did want the football equivalent of occasionally sending flowers and candy when it's not a birthday, anniversary or Valentine's Day -- more money for assistants, some upgrades on facilities befitting a program trying to work its way up.

I'll break this down when I get a peek at the contract or at least the highlights, hopefully later today.


The men's soccer schedule came out Wednesday.

Kenny Arena's first season as FIU men's soccer coach opens with a for-fun exhibition at Barry Aug. 16, then a home game that counts against Bryant University (is the prime major there building and servicing air conditioners and heaters?) on Aug. 24. They have one home game in September, Sept. 16 against Missouri-Kansas City. Their next three home games are Oct. 6 against Alabama-Birmingham, Howard and defending Conference USA champion SMU.

Memphis comes in on Oct. 27 and a home game against Tulsa ends the regular season on Nov. 3. Between those games is a short ride up to FAU Oct. 30.

Early in the season, the Panthers play five consecutive road games: Aug. 31 at North Florida, Sept. 2 at Jacksonville, Sept. 7 at Wisconsin, Sept. 9 against Illinois-Chicago and Sept. 14 against Furman. Their first Conference USA match of the season will be at South Carolina Sept. 29.

July 17, 2012

Sun Belt Media Day stuff from the contenders (FIU, ASU, ULL, ULM)...and FAU

FIU: The one area of uncertainty about the Sun Belt favorites is the quarterback. Jake Medlock's got more physical talent than Wesley Carroll by half a lap, but not Carroll's experience. As Louisiana-Monroe coach Todd Berry said, guys like Arkansas State's Ryan Aplin, Monroe's Kolton Browning, Lou-La's Blaine Gauthier and others have been around long enough that you're not going to fool them.

I asked Mario Cristobal if he wanted to ease Medlock in, tell him not to take too much on his back, or just let Medlock be Medlock (sort of Joe Kapp with a better arm).

“Jake’s not an ease in kind of guy,” Cristobal said. “It’s not in his nature and it’s really not the nature of the offense. The offense is very fast-paced and aggressive. The combination of having a mature defense, a kicking game that should be in the upper tier of the conference, hopefully in the country as well; having a running game, the offensive line, another year under his belt, a guy like Kedrick Rhodes, like Darian Mallary, Jeremiah Harden, Shane Coleman coming on, all those things together should make it so that it’s not all on Jake’s shoulders.

"Now, Jake does have a big arm, so he does expose some areas that we haven’t been very efficient at the last couple of years. But he’s not a pressure overridden kid, being the son of a coach, having played for so long.”

As far as any competition for the quarterback slot, “Jake is clearly in front. We’re going to push because we need (freshman E.J.) Hilliard and Lorenzo Hammonds to play. Lorenzo’s going to play. He’s earned that time already. Hilliard’s capable of earning some playing time. To me, the best approach with Jake is ‘you be you and not worry about having to lead everybody.’ We have mature guys up front. We have mature guys back there. Those guys will help him settle down some. He needs to be efficient, smart with the football and accurate. He needs to make good decisions. He needs to get on the gorund and slide when it’s time to slide. He doesn’t have to get outside of that. Not until he’s a junior or senior. He’s only a redshirt sophomore.”

Arkansas State: Ryan Aplin, the 2011 Sun Belt Player of the Year, and wide receivers Josh Jarboe and Taylor Stockemer return. That alone guarantees points. But seven lost starters on a defense that allowed the fewest yards and points in Sun Belt games could mean Aplin better enter some games thinking, "Fifty."

"Youth and inexperience definitely concerns me," new Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn said. "We don't know what we're going to get. And we open up against Oregon. That's a huge challenge. It looks like a video game when you watch them on film. So we'll need to grow up in a hurry."

Their first two Sun Belt games, their fifth and sixth games of the season, are against Western Kentucky and at FIU.

Louisiana-Layfayette: Lou-La's got nine starters back on offense. Tight end Ladarius Green, one of the Sun Belt's four or five best players last year, one of the two but they should still put up points by the peck behind quarterback Blaine Gauthier. Once Lou-La coach Mark Hudspeth started calling more passing plays for Gauthier their game against FIU, he realized who his quarterback was and how to use him along with a strong running game. A Louisiana reporter told me Gauthier threw more last year than he probably during his entire high school career.

Lou-La gets FIU at home, where they drew and played well last year, but it's Sept. 29. That's pretty early for a defense that lost seven starters off a defense that got turnovers and seven Pick Sixes, but wasn't terribly sound. Hudspeth said his team would be "probably more talented on defense, but less experienced" and admitted last year Lou-La was "a little too exciting," having to outscore too many teams.

Western Kentucky: Willie Taggart's a Western alumnus and was an assistant at Western for eight seasons. Yet Taggart's team plays like Ohio State or Michigan from the "three yards and a cloud of dust" Ten Year's War Big Ten days: physical team featuring a pounding running game, tough defense against the run (not as tough against the pass) and an iffy passing attack. I half expect Western to put down worn artificial turf at any minute.

This year their running backs will be Bobby Rainey By Committee. Rainey ran for 158.6 yards per Sun Belt game. That was 50.4 more yards per game than FAU's Alfred Morris and, among Belt teams with something to play for besides the running back's stats, 53.7 more yards per game than FIU's Kedrick Rhodes. Of Western's nine touchdown passes in Sun Belt play, four went to Rainey. Now, quarterback Kawaun Jakes doesn't have that safety net.

"I think you'll see a lot of the same, but I think you'll see more of the passing game start to develop, which I expected by year three as guys start to understand our system better," Taggart said. "I think you'll see, hopefully, our plan is to be balanced and to complete more passes than we did before. We didn't have good pass efficiency when it comes to completions (55.4 percent for all games). We have to be up around 60-65 percent for us to be what we want to be offensively." 

The Sun Belt players spoke of linebacker Andrew Jackson in a tone of voice that said if they had to deal with him to often, well, there's work at the post office. When Taggart was asked if he was surprised Jackson didn't get the preseason Defensive Player of the Year nod that went to FIU's Tourek Williams, he said in a child-please voice, "I'm not surprised about that! WKU, nobody's going to pick us preseason anything! Come on, what're we talking about? We have to earn that respect. We're going to do it by the way we play."

Lousiana-Monroe: I'm picking FIU to win the Sun Belt, but I had a dark horse alternate, this would be it.

Like FIU a few year ago, Monroe's been laboring under some NCAA sanctions for academic deficiencies. Now, they're out from under those and should have better luck with injuries than they had last year. Running back Centarius Donald was averaging 7.0 yards a carry when he suffered a season-ending injury. Quarterback Kolton Browning played much of the season with a broken sternum.

ULM coach Todd Berry said, "Offensive line is definitely a question. Defensively, this is the best we've had. It's the most athletic and certainly have a lot of experience."

FAU: There's not an FIU-FAU game planned beyond 2012. Don't look for one in 2013, after FIU's move to Conference USA. Beyond that, things are uncertain.

Meanwhile, new FAU coach Carl Pelini has to set about rebuilding from 1-11.

"The first thing I needed to do was sit down and evanuate every askpec tof the program. When I say that, I mean all the way down. The academic policies, the class attendance policies, the weight room, the strength and conditioning program, the nutrition of the kids. Are they living on campus, living off campus?"

As for goals this year, he said, "I want to be competitive in every game. For me, the goal for hte spring was not so much scheme oriented, but to teach our guys how to practice. How to play at a high level. How to be physical. Now, in the fall, it's about getting the scheme installed."

In recruiting, Pelini admitted, "I hit the junior college ranks more heavily more than I will in the future. But when you start evaluating your talent -- going from a 3-4 to a 4-3, going from a pro-style offense to more of a spread -- we just needed immediate help at certain positions."

But he plans to make South Florida high schools his bread and butter. He also knows his advantage, especially being on the other side of it, at Nebraska. Pelini said they discussed the boomerang nature of South Florida kids whenever they recruited one. A cold snap or different mores have sent many a kid home.

"One thing I know -- South Florida kids may come home," Pelini said. "Even though a kid may commit to West Virginia or Penn State, we'll continue recruiting them right up until signing day. If, a year from now, they want to come home, they'll know us."


FIU and Beasley Broadcast Group have a meeting planned next week. They'd meet earlier -- and perhaps have hammered everything out already -- but a state rule prevents it. Though it's getting late in the summer for Beasley to sell ad time, the rights cost could be adjusted so Beasley can make money on the deal.

July 16, 2012

Sun Belt coaches pick FIU No. 1 (again); coaches & media pick Williams as Defensive POY

COMMIT: Chandler Burkett, defensive end from Panama City Bozeman, committed to FIU Monday afternoon.

Back to Sun Belt Media Day...

The Sun Belt preseason football poll of coaches picked FIU to win the conference title by a narrow margin over defending Sun Belt champion Arkansas State. Half the 10 coaches gave FIU first place votes with No. 1 votes also going to Arkansas State (two), Louisiana-Lafayette (two) and Western Kentucky. FIU was the preseason co-pick last year along with Troy.

Asked about keeping his players minds right when so much points to them rolling through The Belt, FIU coach Mario Cristobal said, "I think you said it best right there -- "again." Human nature is what it is, but in this case, human nature might serve us well. We kind of have seen this picture before. Had a great start, stumbled a little bit, then got back on track. I think that's going to serve as a great example and great experience as well."

The vote for Western came from Western coach Willie Taggart, who drew snickers last year when he voted his team No. 1 as they came off a two-win season. He looked like an Old Testament prophet when they came in 7-1 in the Sun Belt.

"I can't pick anybody else but us," Taggart said Monday. "I don't know those other teams. I'm not around those teams. I don't know what they did in the offseason."

The All-Sun Belt team, selected by the coaches and some media folks (including me), included seven FIU players.

FIU got three on one side of the ball (junior running back Kedrick Rhodes, senior offensive linemen Rupert Bryan and Caylin Hauptmann) and four on the other (defensive tackle Isame Faciane, defensive end Tourek Williams, linebacker Winston Fraser and safety Jonathan Cyprien). Williams pick as preseason Defensive Player of the Year signifies how dominant FIU's defense is expected to be this season, especially in Sun Belt play. That's FIU's anticipated edge over Arkansas State (great offense, young defense), Lafayette (great offense, young and iffy defense), Western (questionable no-Bobby-Rainey offense, good defense). So far, just asking general questions about defenses and defensive players in the shoot-'em-up Sun Belt, the players and coaches have brought up FIU instantly.

Surprisingly, kicker Jack Griffin got outvoted by Lafayette's Brett Baer, whose punting and kicking was responsible for Lafayette upsetting FIU last year at The Cage. I voted for Baer as a punter, a position that went to North Texas' Will Atterberry.

Akansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin, last year's Sun Belt Player of the Year, was the preseason Offensive Player of the Year. The rest of the offense: running backs Rhodes and Lou-La's Alonzo Harris; wide receivers Ark State's Josh Jarboe, Troy's Eric Thomas and Lou-La's Javone Lawson; tight end Western's Jack Doyle; offensive line Bryan, Hauptmann, Ark State's Zack McKnight, Lou-La's Leonardo Bates, North Texas' Cyril Lemon.

The defense aside from the aforementioned FIU players: defensive linemen Troy's Tony Davis, Western Quanterus Smith; linebackers Troy's Kanorris Davis and Western's Andrew Jackson; defensive backs Ark State's Don Jones, Lou-La's Melvin White and Troy's Brynden Trawick. Western's John Evans was the return specialist.

We're at Sun Belt Media Day and will have more from it throughout the day (we hope).

July 12, 2012

All Quiet on the Western Dade (Radio) Front

Which doesn't bode well for FIU having its football games on radio this season.

From what I'm hearing -- and not hearing -- nothing's close except Sept. 1, Opening Night, at Duke. FIU and Beasley Broadcast Group don't have much time to get everything ironed out for this season. The window for selling advertising gets increasingly anorexic each day.

In today's world of online streaming and 72 ESPNs topping the pile of sports channels available via dish or cable, nobody would argue radio's role in bringing games to fans and alumni is what it was even 20 years ago. In fact, other than cars and some folks at the game, you wouldn't be wrong in asking, "Who listens to games on radio?"

But when the answer comes back, "Fans of almost every other Division I team," it's not what FIU wants to hear.


I'm not a guy who looks at quarterbacks and says, "Oh, HE wins" or "How many games has HE won?" Too many other factors go into winning a football game or a series of them. It's no accident Ronnie Lott has the same four Super Bowl rings Joe Montana has. The four Super Bowl rings owned by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning? Adam Vinatieri has his own version of each. No coincidence.

That said, as I filled out my preseason All-Sun Belt Conference ballot during my week of news desk rotation, I could only think: barring injury, Jake Medlock, it's your position to lose and, after that, your Sun Belt title to lose.


Offensive tackle Caylin Hauptmann could be better than Orlando Pace and Jake Long put together this year and he won't win the Outland Trophy (nation's best interior lineman) award this year. It's hard for voters to decently analyze and compare interior linemen from big name schools seen regularly. But that Hauptmann's even named to the 71-player watch list for the storied Football Writers Association of America award says FIU's getting more national notice.

July 09, 2012

Pictures from inside a Cage

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But there's still some work to do, especially behind the new north side stands...

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July 03, 2012

Giving You the Times of Play

Being mostly from Miami (not exactly an up-and-at-'em town) many FIU fans harrumphed about the noon start time for the Sept. 15 FIU football game at Central Florida, the Orlando school's home opener.

Smile and sleep in, FIU faithful. Game time has been changed to 4 p.m.

Also, FIU's Sept. 8 home opener against Akron and the Oct. 13 home game against Middle Tennessee State will be 6 p.m. kickoffs.

Andy Griffith passed away Tuesday at the age of 86. A generation that knew him only as Matlock missed an ace comedian and comic actor (two different things). A "SAL-LUTE" to Griffith with one of his classic routines.


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