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From the FIU/East Division part of Conference USA Media Day

The story on FIU is here. What follows supplements that.

When asked about the change that gives the "offensive coordinator" title to offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler, last year's "run game coordinator," head coach Ron Turner said: 

“There were times last year when I was in with the defense and those guys were kind of waiting to give direction. Steve Shankweiler can take it and give direction for meetings and all that. The structure of how we do it is not going to change at all. I’m still going to call the plays.

"Steve will still be involved in it, the run game aspects of it. He’ll be able to take some of the offrensive team meetings and do some motivational stuff that he was a little reluctant to do last year when I was doing something else. He’ll head up the offensive team meetings, staff meetings and give it a little direction when I’m focused on other areas.”

I asked Turner about sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith. 

“To me, it’s amazing what he did last year as a true freshman, all the things we asked him to do – dplaying tight end, playing fullback, splitting him out as a receiver, going in motion, all the things we asked him to do in the running game and the passing game. It’s amazing how he handled it, emotionally and mentally. He’s a great young man.”

“The good news is, hopefully, he’ll have a little more help around him. We won’t have to put so much on his shoulders.”

Turner said he was happy with the depth on the offensive line, wide receivers and secondary and most concerned about the lack of depth on the defensive line.

The running back position will be by committee. Last year's transfer from Bowling Green, Anthon Samuel, will be a walk-on. That hit to the knee sophomore Silas Spearman took in the spring game looked worse than just a "tweak." Indeed, Spearman's knee remains ouchy. “I think he’ll be OK,” Turner said. "Shane Coleman had a great spring. Hopefully, he can continue.”

“We’re not going to have one feature guy. It’ll be a lot of guys playing. Whoever’s hot, keeps going.”

 

 MARSHALL

Most players came in slacks and a polo shirt in school colors with logo. The preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato and defensive lineman James Rouse, wore suits.

The players decided their attire on their own. Rouse said he saw players at other conference's Media Days in suits and thought it looked nice. But, also, he said, it symbolizes the "all business mentality" Marshall wants to adopt once official practices start.

The Thundering Herd, upset losers to Rice 41-24 in last year's conference title game, rank not just as the overwhelming conference favorite, but are considered a possible undefeated BCS buster. 

"We see ourselves as a good team," Rouse said. "We're working hard to prepare ourselves for each game. Right now, we're just worried about Miami of Ohio, the first game. We have to take care of business there before we (start thinking about the season)."

Cato said, "I think we have a good chance to have a great season. I love our team right now. I think we have a good shot to win it all."

FAU

If FIU's receivers didn't dribble more passes against FAU than former Owls point guard Ray Taylor dribbled basketballs for FIU last year, the Owls wouldn't have beaten FIU to become bowl eligible. And they didn't go to a bowl. Neither besmirches FAU's remarkable achievement in refusing to let its season get dragged into the Death Star trash compactor muck after head coach Carl Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis resigned amid illegal drug use allegations, Pelini always has denied he used illegal drugs. When Pelini tried to withdraw his resignation, he was fired. He later accused athletic director Pat Chun of dishonesty and desiring his own choice of football coach.

Whatever the truth of that mess, it could've been the final torpedo in a season that stood at 2-6 after Pelini's last game. Instead, helped by closing against Southern Mississippi, New Mexico State and FIU, the Owls won their last four games. Senior tight end Alex DeLeon said he never stopped during the season to think about the wackienss surrounding the coaching situation.

“I can’t control that," DeLeon said. "The only thing I can control is being a leader for our team.”

Oh, and, much like FIU, FAU doesn't like Western Kentucky. When I asked DeLeon and senior linebacker Andrae Kirk for a conference rival aside from their obvious geographic rival, both pointed to Western. The Hilltoppers beat FAU in FAU Stadium's first game. Also, Kirk said, Western's ground bound offense under previous coach Willie Taggart made for physical games against another team with more than a few Florida players.

Both players politely declined to mention that Western under Taggart could be cocky, yappy and a wee bit nasty, especially in victory. Maybe they forgot after a year separated from the Hilltoppers.

WESTERN KENTUCKY 

Besides, this is a very different Western than the one FIU and FAU left back in the Sun Belt for a season.

“Coach Taggart, he’s the one who helped get the program on its feet and transition to Division I-A," junior defensive end Gavin Rocker said. "Coach Petrino came in and led us to our best record since we’ve been there. Coach Brohm, there hasn’t been too much of a difference between he and Coach Petrino because he was the coordinator under Coach Petrino so it’s been a smooth transition. He’s a players’ coach. You can tell he cares about us."

When Taggart headed back to his native area to coach South Florida, Western jumped on Bobby Petrino and he brought a staff that included offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm. Yes, he's the brother of Brian Brohm, quarterback of Petrino's best teams at Louisville, and was his brother's quarterback coach at Louisville.

Now, with Petrino back in Louisville after serving his penance for his Arkansas indiscretions, Jeff Brohm takes over. Instead of winning games 14-7 old school Big Ten style, Western won them 34-31 or 35-26. Brohm's offense set 18 single-season school records and averaged 458.5 yards per game.  

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE

Conference USA's East Division could also be called C-USA Immigration & Naturalization. Four of the five teams that jumped from The Sun Belt to C-USA the last two academic years -- FIU, FAU, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky -- are in the East. They'll be joined by newbies Old Dominion and, next year, Charlotte.

“Conference USA is, top to bottom, more competitive," Middle coach Rick Stockstill said. "There’s a lot of great individual players in this conference. There’s a lot of great coaches in this conference. I think the facilities are at a higher level than the Sun Belt Conference schools. The professionalism and the organization of Conference USA is at a higher level than the Sun Belt.”

If everything's a step up, logic says program budgets must increase also. Or, should increase.

“I think we’ll see that this year," Stockstill said. "We had to pay an exit fee to leave the Sun Belt and we had to pay an entry fee for Conference USA, too. The money that we’ll receive from Conference USA I don’t think we’ll see the rewards of that until this year. With the bowl tie-ins, the TV packagres, the money you get is head and shoulders above the Sun Belt.”

Middle returns four running backs and one backup quarterback who had 100-yard rushing games in 2013 and eight starters on a defense that allowed 26.2 points per game. What they don't return quareterback Logan Kilgore. Sophomore Austin Grammer will get his shot at replacing Kilgore.

ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM

UAB beat one FBS team last year -- FIU. FIU beat only one FBS team -- Southern Mississippi. Southern Miss beat only one FBS team last year -- UAB. Change that. Southern Miss STOMPED UAB 62-27 in the season closer.

That finished the Garrick McGee era at UAB. Coming into a program that's gone 8-28 the last three seasons, new Blazers coach Bill Clark saw a scene reminiscent of what the incoming coaches saw at FIU in 2007.

"We started with the infrastructure," Clark said. "Do you have enough people training your guys in the strength program? Are they good at what they do? What's your nutrition look like? We needed a new locker room, so we built us a locker room. A video system...just some basics.

"Then, we went about the process of coming together. Were we working hard? Were we training correctly? Trying to make them into a family. Then, we had to go out and find some older guys to mix in with our guys because we were so young. Offensive line, we were down to eight players in spring (sound familiar FIU-philes?). Stuff that makes you say, "No wonder.""

Of Clark's signees, 15 were from junior colleges.

 

 

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