Junior pitcher Mike Franco, in his second season after having Tommy John surgery, finished the season 9-3 with a 1.09 ERA, 112 strikeouts and 27 walks. And he's one of 36 semifinalists for the Gregg Olson Award, given to college baseball's breakout player by Toolshed Sports.
FIU didn't get the Ghana-South Korea men's soccer friendly on June 9, which will be played at Sun Life Stadium. But the women's soccer team definitely gets back fifth-year senior Chelsea Leiva, granted an injury redshirt for 2013 after a knee injury before the opener eliminated FIU's best player for the entire season.
Junior catcher Aramis Garcia, named Conference USA Player of the Year last week, was named Third Team All-America on the Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball All-American team.
Garcia hit .368 with eight home runs and 37 RBI. In addition to leading Conference USA in hitting, his .626 slugging percentage was the conference's best.
Whether 2014 FIU football evolves as a drama, parody, spoof or farce, it'll be televised entertainment at least four times.
For the Sept. 13 home game against Pitt on Fox Sports 1, all the university's marketing heads should attempt a Vulcan mind meld to maximize their idea intellect for herding a decent crowd into the stadium for a noon Saturday kickoff. Between the probable heat, the near-dawn (to most Miami residents) kickoff and the usual FIU following, this blasts POTENTIAL EMBARRASSMENT in blinding lights that recall the opening credits of ABC TV movies back when we relied on ABC, NBC & CBS because few had HBO or VHS (DVD was in big Cro-Magnon form called Laserdisc).
Official attendance for the only other noon kickoff at FIU Stadium: 8,593 for FIU beating Louisiana-Lafayette on Halloween in 2009. That being the official attendance, you can estimate for yourself how many folks actually were there.
The following week, at a time to be dictated by FS1 or FSN, Louisville comes to FIU. On Oct. 2, The Shula Bowl, FAU at FIU at 7 p.m., gets a Fox Sports Net broadcast. And, on Fox College Sports, 7 p.m. on Oct. 11, FIU faces rapidly rising Texas-San Antonio.
Some of you closer to my age might remember an ABC TV movie opening that manages to be both more understated and more spectacular.
Former FIU cornerback Anthony Gaitor can come home again if he can make the Dolphins final roster after they signed him Wednesday.
Gaitor played 12 games over his first two seasons with Tampa Bay, his second season being interrupted by a hamstring injury. He was the first player Tampa Bay on whom used the new "injured reserve/designated to return" tag and he did return to start two games late in 2012.The Buccaneers dropped the regular injured reserve tag on Gaitor after tearing knee ligaments in a preseason game against the Dolphins last year then dropped Gaitor earlier this month.
He'll get a shot as a nickel corner with the Dolphins.
Central defensive back Olin Cushion, a 2013 Second Team All-Dade selection as a junior, has committed to FIU for 2015. Cushion, 5-10, 175, had five interceptions for the state champion Rockets.
First college football preview mag out or, at least, the first one I saw: Lindy's. Lindy's ranked FIU 126th out of 128 FBS teams. In answer to the obvious question, The Terrible Two were New Mexico State and UMass. Then again, for the second consecutive year, Lindy's contained a blunder concerning FIU that whacks at its credibility. It missed FIU's 2011 bowl appearance under "Last Bowl."
If they're not already on the stands, Athlon's, Phil Steele, The Sporting News and USA Today should be out by the end of next week.
TRACK AND FIELD
Last week, FIU finally listed the head track abd cross country coach job on the NCAA's job search website. The department left the position vacant as a money-saving measure after Eric Campbell resigned in January.
With FIU's baseball season on the line Thursday, ace junior Mike Franco pitched. Aramis Garcia hit. Alas, Garcia's two two-baggers, bringing in two runs, couldn't overcome another two -- the three times Old Dominion turned two, leading to FIU's 3-2 loss and elimination from the Conference USA tournament.
Franco went three and a third, gave up four hits, no runs, struck out five and walked two. Fifth-year senior Albert Cardenas took the ball and gave up three runs in the fifth, two on a double by freshman Joseph Guaranga.
You can't fault Aramis Garcia's follow-through. Preseason Conference USA Co-Player of the Year to Conference USA Player of the Year for FIU's junior catcher/first baseman despite missing 12 games iwth a right oblique injury. Garcia led C-USA in slugging percentage (.588), was second in batting average (.355) and homers (seven) and third in on-base percentage (.428).
Pitcher Mike Franco and his conference-low 1.13 earned run average joined Garcia as First Team All-C-USA selections. Pitcher Chris Mourelle, 9-2 with a 1.70 ERA, got named Second Team All-C-USA and C-C-USA All-Freshman and C-USA Freshman of the Year.
I asked Turtle Thomas the difference between the Sun Belt and Conference USA. Thomas said he thought the pitching depth was better in the latter. Nobody's got a top three starter you can assume you'll knock around. He also said he thought the Sun Belt was better than C-USA for the 2013 season when The Belt sent three teams and conference tournament winner FAU to the NCAA tournament.
A few things before I scratch out 15 inches for Wednesday's paper on FIU baseball headed for the Conference USA tournament...
Give it up to junior catcher/first baseman Aramis Garcia and senior closer Mike Gomez, members of the Conference USA's Baseball All-Academic Team. No other school put more than one player on the team. Both are sports and fitness majors. Gomez has a 3.79 grade point average and Garcia has a 3.78.
FIU plans to have Garcia behind the plate Wednesday against Rice. He missed 12 games with a right oblique injury and returned to play first base at the end of the season-closing series at Tulane.
At the other end of the battery, FIU plans to throw freshman Chris Mourelle at Rice, according to Turtle Thomas. They didn't throw Mourelle last week against Tulane once the staff felt the chance for an at-large NCAA bid was gone and don't want to throw ace Mike Franco twice on short rest in a conference tournament they now need to win to make the NCAA tournament.
Also, Rice saw Mourelle only for three innings after Robby Kalaf took a shot off his right hand in the first inning in the third game of Rice's sweep earlier this year. Mourelle faced 16 batters, gave up five hits and only one run (it was earned).
FIU fifth-year senior Donald Senat made the 64-player spring watch list for the Dave Rimington Award, given annually to the best center in college football.
Dave Rimington was the best center of his era, a dominating player on Nebraska's 1981 and 1982 teams, seasons that saw him become the first two-time winner of the Outland Trophy as the nation's outstanding interior lineman. Rimington didn't make All-Decade teams. He made All-Century teams. Though he was part of the 1983 NFL Draft's first round, generally considered the greatest first round ever, his seven-season NFL career never quite lived up to the hype. That hype existed for a center should tell you something by itself.
Strong placings by the throwers and points from the sprinters on the last day of the Conference USA Track & Field Championships allowed FIU's women to hold onto fourth in the team standings. East Carolina took the title with 140 points. Texas-El Paso came home second with 88 points, Rice in third with 74 points and FIU in fourth with 66.5 points.
Sophomore Raqurra Ishmar, who finished fifth in the hammer throw, pushed her way to second in the shot put with a throw of 52 feet, 2 inches, 4 feet 2.5 inches behind winner Claire Uke from Rice. In the javelin, another sophomore, Tiffani Hernandez, threw the spear 143-3 to finish third.
Out on the track, sophomore Cam'ree Jackson finished third in a 100 meter final that saw the first four places within nine hundreths of a second. Earlier, Jackson ran the second leg in the fourth place 4x100 relay team led off by sophomore Phillicia Fluellen and closing with sophomore Oriel Anu and senior T'Keyah Dumoy. They ran a 45.2, .15 behind third place UTEP and .82 behind champions East Carolina.
Sophomore Jaylaan Slaughter, in 1:01.45. picked up five points for her fourth in the 400 meter hurdles.
The hammer throwers put FIU's women into the lead going into Saturday's events at the Conference USA Track & Field Championships. Saturday, the jumpers got points while the throwers got disappointed.
Sophomore Phillicia Fluellen's long jump of 20 feet, 5 3/4 inches brought home eight points for second in the long jump behind Louisiana Tech junior Charla Craddock's 20-10 3/4 leap. In the high jump, junior Tikiera Relaford finished tied for fourth with Middle Tennessee State's Barbara Vilson at 5 feet, 7 1/4 inches. East Carolina senior Tynita Butts popped a 6-3 1/4 jump to take her fourth C-USA high jump title and join University of South Florida's 2002-05 shot put queen Chandra Brewer as the only four-time C-USA women's champions.
In the discus, hammer throw winner Kayla Padgett picked up another 10 points for East Carolina. But what allowed East Carolina to extend its lead was FIU recording zero points. Among the nine throws of sophomores Miriam Pierre, Alysha Lewis and Raqurra Ishmar, only Ishmar's final throw, 109 feet, 3 inches, counted as legal. That got her 22nd place. Sophomore Chelsea Goburne's 139-7 got her 12th, four spots out of the points.
FIU's relative strength is in the field events, a fact demonstrated by the women's track finalists limited to being Cam'ree Jackson in the 100 meters and sophomore Jaylaan Slaughter in the 400 hurdles.
Ditto for the men. Three quarters of an inch, 25-7 1/4 to 25-8, separated FIU senior Aubrey Smith from winner Cameron Hudson of East Carolina. Sophomore Marcus Ghent finished eighth with a leap of 24-1 1/2.
The men have nobody in Sunday's individual event track finals.
Once FIU clinched its spot in the Conference USA Baseball Tournament with a win Thursday at Tulane, the last two games of the season still mattered. The Former Sunblazers lost Friday and Saturday on walk-off plays, dropping them to a No. 8 seed and a fourth shot at No. 1 seed Rice, Wednesday at 1:30 Eastern at host Southern Mississippi.
That's the same Rice that swept FIU at Camp Mitch -- 3-2, 10-2, 11-7 -- the only team to do that to the Panthers this season.
The good news is A) the odds say it's hard to beat a good team four times and if you say it'll really only be twice because both teams should throw their aces then you can say B) FIU played Rice on even terms in Ace vs. Ace.
FIU's Mike Franco went 7 1/3, gave up two runs (one earned) on three hits, walked three and struck out seven. Rice's Zech Lemond went eight innings, gave up two runs (both earned) on eight hits, walked two and struck out five. FIU took a 2-0 lead after four innings, gave up the tying run in the eighth and lost 3-2 in 13 innings.
The Conference USA Track & Field Championships don't figure to yield much for FIU. With the Texas-El Paso African pipeline dominating the distance events and other solid programs, an FIU team lacking a head coach all season and facilities all program history doesn't have the raw talent to overcome the deficit handed them by such a setup.
So give it up for FIU's hammer throwing sophomore women, who compiled 18 points in that event Friday. Behind easy winner Kayla Padgett of East Carolina (192 feet, 5 inches), FIU's Miriam Pierre finished second with a throw of 179-7 and Chelsea Goburne was third at 177-10. Raqurra Ishmar's best fling, 176-10, got her a fifth place.
FIU also got points, six of them, from freshman Caroline Reiser for her third place in the 10,000 in 36:12.64.
On the men's side, Chris Sullivan finished the decathlon in sixth with 6,277 points.
FIU's 9-1 spanking of Tulane Thursday night gave the Panthers 16 wins, thus guaranteeing ninth-in-Conference-USA FAU can't catch the Former Sunblazers in the standings no matter what FAU does this weekend against UAB. So, FIU's clinched a spot in the Conference USA tournament next week at Southern Mississippi.
TRACK & FIELD
The Conference USA Track & Field Championships began Thursday at Rice with Day 1 of the decathlon and heptathlon. Sophomore Chris Sullivan sits in third with 3,651 points. Charlotte sophomore K'vonte Scott reached 3,877 points to take a 153-point lead on East Carolina's Alexander Mobley-Hollie, who passed Sullivan for second during the last event, the 400 meters.
On the dirt diamond, freshman Stephanie Texeira made the National Fastpitch Coaches Association's All-South First Team as the first baseman. Baseball's Aramis Garcia is one of the 15 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award, given to the nation's best catcher (naturally).
Barring the kind of calamity that usually involves a Gortex coat and a wine store, Garcia and his teammates will be in the Conference USA tournament at Southern Mississippi next week. So will the radio crews of every other school in the eight-team tournament, according to the schools involved.
FIU will not bring Pete Pelegrin, who does the play-by-play on FIU radio and PantherVision.
Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium will host the 2015 Conference USA softball tournament next May 7 through 9. FIU entered this year's tournament as the No. 3 seed and, with a roster that loses only four seniors, might go in next year as both host and No. 1 seed.
Now, the only problem will be where the media covering the tournament will be placed. I've stood in the new press box a few times. Between scoreboard operators, statisticians, media relations staffers -- all necessary in a press box, mind you -- there was room for one reporter to sit. One, in-shape reporter with narrow hips. You get one of my more blobby bretheren in there, that hole is plugged.
In the Academic Progress Rate reports released by the NCAA minutes ago, FIU didn't suffer any single-season disasters from 2012-13 and only men's basketball remains in the penalty zone in multi-year tracking, although football is close. That men's basketball showed a significant single season jump opened the door to the NCAA letting FIU off postseason grounding, but leaves them still facing some minor penalties -- practice reduction and limits on number of games.
Let's start with the good news. Perfect 1000 APRs for 2012-13 were attained by women's indoor & outdoor track, women's basketball, golf, tennis, cross country and men's soccer. Baseball came in with a 990.
On the low side were men's track, 897 indoors and 933 outdoor for 2012-13. Football's single season APR was 926. You hit 925, you get a nasty note from The Four-Letter Organization. You get below 900 for multiple years, time for the penalty box. Men's basketball, as previously mentioned, showed single-season hops, going from 750 to 959.
The multi-year APRs show basketball at 866, up slightly from 858. Football is at 933. Women's basketball provides FIU's zenith to the men's nadir in multi-year APR, 995, just ahead of tennis' 992.
Football Scoop reported and I confirmed that former FIU defensive assistant Juan Navarro will soon be named the new head coach at Los Angeles Valley College. Navarro spent the 2013 season as co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Pierce College.
After going 1-11 in 2013, including 0-6 at home, maybe you'd expect FIU to give those who stuck it through last season a break on 2014 season tickets. Maybe give the game against FCS foe Wagner -- half of Hart to Hart, for Pete's sake -- as a freebie.
Well, in a way, yes.
CORRECTION FROM THE PREVIOUS:
Season tickets remain the same price, $150 total betwen price and forced donation, despite FIU having eight home games this year compared to the standard six. FIU faculty and staff prices have gone from $100 to $120 or $16.67 per game to $15 per game.
The Conference USA men's and women's basketball tournaments will be in Birmingham next year, Mar. 11 through the 14th. Long notice for you traveling FIU fans to hotel up.
Started looking over some things, figuring up some numbers, then got to playing with Windows Movie Maker after watching the Heat then Kings-Ducks and, well...
FIU pitcher Mike Franco has been named to the watch list for the Gregg Olson Award, which recognizes college baseball's breakout player of the year. Olson, an Auburn pitcher, rebounded from a mediocre first season to gain All-American status.
Word around Camp Mitch is it was just a knot in the shoulder that took FIU ace Mike Franco out of Friday's start against Middle Tennessee State. Franco should be properly unknotted going forward and be available for this weekened's season closing series at Tulane as well as the Conference USA tournament.
FIU is No. 63 in RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com, and has a 1-5 record against teams in the RPI top 50.
FIU could make some needed non-student fee cash if the stadium gets the Ghana vs. South Korea pre-World Cup friendly that'll be in town June 9. Sun Life Stadium has a pair of England friendlies, June 4 vs. Ecuador and June 7 vs. Honduras, and has room for another on the calendar. But South Korea might be training at FIU before heading to Brazil for the World Cup.
Schedule and being one-and-done in the Conference USA tournament clearly hurt FIU softball, which will be none-and-home for the NCAA tournament. Conference USA regular season and tournament champion Tulsa got the conference's automatic bid with Alabama-Birmingham getting the at-large bid.
No. 2 seed UAB got upset in the first round of the conference tournament, by Marshall, just as East Carolina upset No. 3 FIU. The Blazers were 31-25, 15-8 in conference compared to 33-20 and 15-9 for FIU. But UAB also took two of three from FIU head-to-head, played the second toughest non-conference schedule in the nation and had four wins against teams in the top 35 of RPI. In fact, UAB got sent to the regional in Athens, Georgia, home of No. 4 seed Georgia, which UAB smoked 8-0 this season.
Meanwhile, baseball's win Sunday not only prevented a Middle Tennessee State sweep but nearly clinched a spot in the conference tournament for FIU. Only FAU sweeping UAB (won't happen) while FIU gets swept by anemic Tulane (definitely won't happen) could prevent FIU from making the tournament.
FIU hopes all is well with Mike Franco by that time.