The Futures market sells big in FIU Athletics these days.
Make no mistake, it always has. Talk of what could be, should be, will be (maybe) always seems to draw more interest at FIU than what is. Maybe it's just I'm noticing this confluence this year.
Softball starts this Friday at home. Baseball begins a week from Friday at Ole Miss. Sand Volleyball will start soon after finishing last season ranked No. 4 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. And, of course, we just had Signing Day with the football coaching staff likely looking at a Pack For a Bowl or Pack Up the Office season.
Now, take men's basketball, 11-13 overall, 5-6 in Conference USA, zero for four in its last four. You knew the season had entered the "just get ready for the conference tournament" phase when when coach Anthony Evans exuded an almost sanguine air after the Jan. 30 men's basketball home loss to Old Dominion. FIU did some things well, not enough or as many as Old Dominion and took a four-point loss. They're still trying to gain the cohesion and consistency of a team, which is where they seem to be at this point every year. Even in Evans' third year, there's still a chop shop quality to the roster -- this part from a Hialeah body shop, this piece from Sanford & Son's area, these pieces driven down from Tallahassee. There's not wholesale roster changes, but enough key players change each year that FIU seems perpetually trying to get past the dating stage.
The good news for the women's basketball team (3-19, 1-10)? Everybody makes the conference tournament. The bad news? FIU has to play with this year's team instead of next year's. This year's Panthers show about 72 times more pluck than they did last year. They're still tax refund light on talent and focus. Nobody's looked forward to next year like this since the Brooklyn Dodgers ("Wait 'til next year!") or 1960s Dallas Cowboys (Next Year's Champions).
Here's what FIU gains next year: a pair of three-star freshman forwards, 6-1 Sydney Fields from Lilburn (Ga.) Parkview and 6-2 Jamesia Amand from Dallas Skyline; three-star 5-7 point guard Alexis Gordon from Palm Bay Covenant Christian; point guard Kayla Rogers, who runs the show for Jacksonville Ribault, which has been nationally ranked this year; and 6-4 transfer Erin Garner, a former three-star recruit who transferred from Georgia Tech. Oh, and last year's CUSA Freshman of the Year, 6-1 forward Kiandre'a Pound, will be back from spending a redshirt season becoming a mommy.
Swim & Dive just finished its dual meet season at 8-5 by beating FAU 115-71 and the defending Conference USA champions enter conference meet prep. With the variation how much stress some programs put on earlier season meets, checking out top conference times can be like looking at a Kandinsky -- looks wonderful, but you might not be seeing what you think you're seeing. Still, FIU's got one of the top two CUSA times this year in the 50 freestyle, 100 free, 200 free, 500 free, 1000 free, 1,650 free (sophomores Kyna Periera and Naomi Ruele, take a bow); 100 back (Ruele), 400 free relay, 800 free relay, 400 medley relay; and sophomore Rebecca Quesnel could sweep the three diving competitions.
But FIU's owned the best individuals at conference meets before and been left to celebrate them while finishing from here to Hollywood from the team title. That changed in 2015 with FIU's depth burying second place Rice. The challenge is to repeat that feat Feb. 24-27 in Atlanta.
This year, the Panthers get a bye week, between Western Kentucky and Marshall. We don't know yet which games will be on CBS Sports Network; Fox Sports Net; or moved by American Sports Network to noon, stripping attendance, then not shown anywhere south of Destin...before the generator blows, taking the broadcast off the air.
Longtime readers of this blog know much as I love the hectic pace of Signing Day and will report analysis of recruiting gurus/websites, I stick by the theory that nobody knows nothin' at the mid-major level. Look how often the big boys whiff on recruits and they're taking guys my daughter (great run after catch, hates watching football) can pick out as good players. Down in Group of 5 Land, it's truly like television programming (Family Guy's in its 11th consecutive season on the same network that twice before canceled it).
Who knows which young man finds greater joy in Proust, pipe or Paula than in post patterns or pass protection? Who knows which young man finds the work ethic that another loses? Who knows who reacts to the challenge of the next level with elan and who suffers shrinkage? Who knows which kid truly responds to a particular coach or which position coach fails the players under him? Or does that coach or coaches stay? Staffs change like the time at G5 schools.
What does it mean that Rivals.com, as of this moment, puts FIU at 99th nationally and No. 8 in Conference USA? Or that 247Sports.com puts FIU at 107th and 10th? About as much as it meant in 2013. Remember that FIU class? Only the defensive backs kept that from being the consensus worst rated class in FBS that year. Here's the top rated recruits from that class, according to ESPN:
(What follows isn't to make fun of or throw shade on the young men, who came into a calamitous situation at FIU and I hope are having good college experiences. But, rather, I'm making fun of and throwing shade on analyst projections.)
1. Vontarius West, defensive back -- Saw his first significant playing time this season as a backup linebacker.
2. Travis Wright, quarterback -- Spent the late summer bounce passing throws like the quarterback of a basketball offense. Then, there were questions about his eligibility. Then, he was gone. Never played a down at FIU.
3. Chris Flaig, offensive lineman -- Non-football related health issues sidelined him for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
4. Jordan Budwig, offensive lineman -- Started all 24 games his first two seasons before a shoulder injury ended his junior year before it began.
5. Willie Smith, defensive back -- Never enrolled. Now playing at Division II Ferris State.
Hmmm...maybe Rivals.com knew better. Let's look at their top five from that year:
1. West -- Oh, OK.
2. Xavier Hines, defensive back -- Redshirted, didn't play a game as a redshirt freshman, got into 11 games in 2015, started one.
3. Silas Spearman, running back -- Ran for 130 yards in FIU's only 2013 win, then suffered a knee injury that wiped out 2014. Played four games in 2015.
4. Smith -- Well...
5. Wilkenson Myrtil, defensive back -- Started two games in 2013 and 2014 each, at cornerback. Started three games at safety before suffering a season-ending concussion.
Now, let's look at 247Sports.com. They tend to have the best take on this recruiting thing:
West -- Huh.
Hines -- Huh (again).
Jordan Gibbs, linebacker/defensive end -- Redshirted in 2013. Moved to fullback in 2014. Jettisoned by 2015.
Budwig -- OK.
Jeremy Derrick, linebacker -- Redshirted in 2013. Didn't get into a game in 2014 or 2015.
Anybody see tight end Jonnu Smith, FIU's best offensive player since T.Y. Hilton, on any of the lists? Or linebacker Treyvon Williams? What you do see: injuries, players re-cast in different roles, players just not working out for whatever reason.
Whether or not you like Ron Turner overall as a coach, you have to like that he insists on FIU doing its own homework on players such as talking to custodians -- the eyes and ears of educational institutions -- to discern a player's character (oh, future recruits take note that they really do watch your Twitter account). And FIU does its own player evaluations. You'd be surprised how many times coaches can be lemmings, although you shouldn't be considering how every sports league is a copycat league. The same coaches who bellow about leadership turn into lockstep followers all too often.
Quarterback Maurice Alexander's lack of ideal size limited his offers despite showing some moxie the few times Booker T. got in a tight situation his senior year. Turner loves Alexander's leadership charisma. Running back D'Angelo Ware averaged 12.9 yards per carry in Florida, where speed in the secondary can turn 50-yard average-boosting runs into 20 or 25 yarders. He was offered by Troy, FAU, Georgia Southern and New Hampshire (FCS).
John Madden recalls that during his Raiders coaching days (yes, kids, the guy with his name on the video game used to coach) NFL player personnel ace Ron Wolf would say about a player something like, "He'll be a good player in the league, but he won't be a good player for us." Few players FIU's got a shot to get come one size fits all.
Long-winded way of saying maybe 247Sports.com and Rivals.com are right. And, even if they are, it might not matter one bit.
Unless you're Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh or whoever's at Texas or Notre Dame, a college-affiliated football coach nearing Signing Day better behave like a man with many high maintenance girlfriends on Valentine's Day. Recruits must be basted with attention lest some last minute love from a place with a sexier tradition/conference/campus/student body flips the recruit into another's dorm.
FIU's experienced that Sunday, apparently losing linebacker Donavan Thompson to Utah. And it might happen again Wednesday. It's why FIU coach Ron Turner was happy he got running back/wide receiver Anthony Jones, quarterback Christian Alexander and defensive end Fermin Silva enrolled early last year. Turner's not confident FIU would've been able to hold onto them had they waited another five weeks to Signing Day.
Turner looked rather sanguine Tuesday morning. There would be a round of phone calls later in the day to go with the round of phone calls made Monday to retain FIU's commits as well as trying to be some flippin' Panthers themselves. The climax of year No. 4 in this modern era of recruiting was less than 24 hours away (speaking of modern era, recruits, watch your Twitter feeds...)
Turner referred to no recruits, other than early enrollments, by name.
What positions had you wanted to focus on this year?
RT: Several. Corners, we needed to get some help there losing our two starters. We've got some good young guys, but we needed to get some more depth there, we did. Both lines, offensive and defensive. Always need to get numbers up there. We've done that. We've got five offensive linemen committed and four defensive linemen, plus an offensive lineman who gray-shirted last year (Jacksonville Fletcher's Andrew Burgess), so six coming in new, three this spring (Burgess, Jacksonville First Coast twins Douglas and Dallas Connell) and a DB, who'll be here this spring. More of a safety, but he could play corner (Isaiah Hill). We've got two defensive ends, two defensive inside guys, although a couple are interchangeable. Four receivers, which we needed. I like the guys we got, too. They've got a chance to help us right away, all four of them (Booker T. Washington's Darrius Hill, Westminster Christian's Elbre Gaiter, North Port's Stantley Thomas, Orlando Lake Nona's Ulice Gillard).
Why can they help you next year? Are they all of a type? What are they bringing?
RT: Speed. This group has good size and speed. We've got one smaller type guy in the slot, who I think will help us -- shifty, really good quickness. The other three have good size -- big, physical, long good size receivers that are good after the catch. That's the biggest thing. They're playmakers and can run. We had every one of them in camp. So, we got to work with them and see them as well as see all their film.
What's your philosophy on recruiting quarterbacks? (Bud Martin transferred to Eastern Illinois)
RT: I like to try to take at least one every year. We've got two freshmen (Christian Alexander and Maurice Alexander) that I'm very, very excited about and Alex, a two-year starter with two years left. Those two freshmen, I can't wait to get into spring ball now that they've had a year of learning the system, a year in the weight room. They both have a chance to be really good. It's going to be a very competitive situation, a fun situation.
Why have you been pretty successful up in the Jacksonville-Tampa axis?
RT: No. 1, the coaches do a good job up there. They know people. People trust them. They identify the kids early. It's not as heavily recruited as down here, so we give them more attention, I think. The coaches do a good job of seeing them early, this time of year. We see them in December and January, then go back and see them in the spring. Then, get them in camp up there. The camps have been invaluable as well. So we get a chance to know them and they get a chance to know us. We've had quite a few kids from there that have had success, so those kids know that as well.
Who does the Jacksonville/Tampa areas?
RT: We've had different people. My son, Cameron, did it the first two years and did a good job up there. Shannon Moore took it over when (Cameron Turner) left. He and Kort Shankweiler do a lot of it. Kort does all the Orlando area and he got into Jacksonville and he does Tallahassee. So he did a really good job in those areas. Steve Shankweiler does a really good job in Tampa and Central Florida. He coached there for a long time, he knows a lot of the coaches. And he did a good job in Atlanta. That's an area we'll probalby go into a little bit more. Steve's recruited there for a lot of years. We'll probably expand into there because the reception there is pretty good. Matt House has done a good job in Tampa, south Tampa, the Bradenton-Sarasota area.
We're going to really make sure we hit this South Florida area. We've got guys who have, but we're going to make sure every coach on the staff is going to have some schools in Miami-Dade or Broward. Each guy might have four schools. We've done a good job of getting a lot of coaches out. Tim Harris, Jr. might have Booker T. (Washington High). We'll make sure other coaches go in there. If we've got a receiver, we'll make sure (receivers coach) Kort Shankweiler goes in there, Steve Shankweiler as an (offensive) coordinator went in there. We get more people going to all the schools. We'll continue to do the same thing. We'll just have more assigned schools and they'll cross over. I think it's important we have a lot of our guys visible in the area.
Tim being in the area, been a huge name, he and his dad. Greg Moss being a local guy is a big name that's been good and it'll continue to get better when they have a full season to recruit the area. (Defensive line coach) Paul Valero coming on board, he's got a lot of ties, a lot of local connections in Miami. He's already made a little impact here with the guys he knows.
Locally, this year, it's looking thin. Had you expected to do a little bit better?
RT: No, I think it's pretty good, for the guys we targeted and the ones we went after, we didn't get all of them. Obviously, we lost some. We lost some late. But, for the most part, I'm pleased with what we did here and the reception from the coaches. The kids we realistically felt we had a chance to get and went after, I think we did pretty well (four players from Dade). It's an area we'll keep grinding on.
(DJN digression: to be fair, most observers see this as a down year for Miami-Dade talent as compared to past year or Broward County. So, if there's any year to be light on Dade, it's this one).
Do you find locally that some kids just want to leave town?
RT: No question about it. Every kid is different. Some, it's really important to stay home so mother, father and whatever can see them play. Other kids say, "I've been in Miami my whole life. I want something different. I want to get out. There's no question that comes up. You've got to try to identify that early.
I explained to someone Sunday that the difference between an early enrolled player and a verbal commit is the difference between being married and being engaged.
Central linebacker Donavan Thompson took off FIU's promise ring and put on Utah's, he announced Sunday night via Twitter. Thompson had been FIU's highest ranked commit from Miami-Dade, No. 19 on The Herald's Top 50 from the county. Rivals.com put him as FIU's top overall recruit. 247sports.com put Thompson behind Jacksonville Ed White defensive back Jadarius Byrd.
"He was the heart of our defense," Central coach Roland Smith said to me last week. "He was the guy who made sure we were lined up right. He got all the signals. He played in a Ray Lewis kind of fashion for us."
Yeah, that kind of makes FIU's Miami-Dade prospective haul look pretty thin -- three every down players and a kicker. That's less than fellow mid-majors Florida Atlantic and Toledo, which is strange considering FIU really seemed to be building a much better relationship with Dade schools, particularly in North Central Dade.
When the Conference USA winter meetings broke in Boca, the conference proudly spoke of new regulations on student-athlete/athlete-student time demands. That's a problem that long needed to be addressed. Nothing like giving an athlete an education as payment for playing sports, then giving the athlete precious little time to get that education or the education you get from the whole college experience.
(If the education you got at college was the one they gave you the diploma for, you flunked)
The release spoke nothing of new television deals. That doesn't breed confidence in what the conference has cooking with its TV pals.
Maybe you didn't see it on American Sports Network, whose games involving FIU are often as invisible in Miami-Fort Lauderdale as the rights fees ASN pays Conference USA, but FIU center Adrian Diaz might've cost himself some money Thursday.
Diaz showing some nice spin moves on offense and the deft touch around the rim that's given him the conference lead in field goal percentage in conference games, 69.2 percent. But defense and rebounding top Diaz's can-do list. While Diaz slapped down Charlotte freshman guard Jon Davis like, well, a senior hazing a freshman, he had a problem with Charlotte senior center Joseph Uchebo. Uchebo went seven of 12 from the field and pulled down 10 rebounds going mostly at Diaz.
Diaz doesn't have many true big-on-big matchups this season to put on his tape for whatever or wherever his basketball life goes after FIU. He needs to dominate those few games.
You ever avoid going someplace on a date or just looking for a hookup because you know the glare of your competition for attention will render you invisible?
Then you know why FIU moved its season opening home game against Indiana to Sept. 1 from Sept. 3.
Oh, there was some official reason about now there's no chance the game gets jerked into the early afternoon by TV or some such. Yeah, yeah, yeah. As soon as the Hurricane's schedule came out with a season-opening home game against Florida A&M on Sept. 3, the first home game under new head coach Mark Richt, FIU began looking for a different date. Between attendance and attention, even by pulling off the very possible upset of Indiana, that fighting the first glow of Savior Richt would be The Charge of the Light Brigade for FIU.
On into the valley of death, rode the 600 (in the stands)...
FIU got Big Kahuna'd back to Thursday. And I don't blame them one bit.
Life changes fast in FBS. So fast that FIU head football coach Ron Turner's now in the middle of the FBS head coach pack as far as longevity at his school.
That's according to FootballScoop.com's annual list of FBS coaches by longevity. Turner ranks 67th out of 128 on the list, which lines up the coaches by hiring day.
According to the list, Conference USA coaches hired after Turner: FAU's Charlie Partridge, Dec. 17, 2013; Western Kentucky's Jeff Brohm, Jan. 10, 2014; North Texas' Sean Littrell, Dec. 5; and UTSA's Frank Wilson, last Friday. Louisiana Tech's Skip Holtz and UTEP's Sean Kugler were hired the December before Turner. So was Southern Mississippi's Todd Monken, who just resigned to be Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator.
You'll notice in the above item, I didn't just use the information from FootballScoop's list. I told you it was their list and provided a link to it. You'll also notice early in the FootballScoop.com story, the writer pokes fun at himself while giving credit to the former colleague who began doing the list three years ago.
This is what you do when you want to use information or quotes gathered by another media entity or if you want to localize a national story. You don't just lift quotes and copy entire blocs of prose, then use them as if you'd done the interviewing and writing.
Which is what The Beacon's Cayla Bush did for her The Shade Locker column that ran Wednesday in print and online. The story she ripped off was my Miami Herald story that ran online Jan. 14 and in print Jan. 15. The Beacon was made aware of this Wednesday when I called them. Bush's column remains online unchanged.
Perhaps Ms. Bush and I share a Vulcan mindmeld of which I haven't been previously aware. As you can see here in screen grabs from the start of my Herald story and the early part of her Beacon column from six days later:
And, from The Beacon...
Nice of her to add in a little of her own prose between the Horner and Calabrese portions and take out the earlier paragraph she stole that appears in the print version of The Beacon.
She didn't do that for the next chunk of prose she stole from The Herald story. The next two screen shots come from The Herald:
Completely unaccredited, this is what appeared in Bush's column. She made a token -- if lazy -- attempt to change the time element in referencing the FIU-Kansas swim meet by adding the date, but left "last Friday," which it no longer was by the time her column ran.
Hint to plagiarists -- when you want to steal copy, at least change the less-pedestrian word usage, such as "Promethean" from earlier in the story and "omnipresent" in the following screen grabs:
And, from The Beacon...
Some Beacon writers and reporters approach their task with great professionalism and gusto. Others don't. It's the nature of a college student newspaper. But plagiarism's a big no-no in middle school. You'd think college students would know better.
Or at least show a smidgen of shame when busted on it.
I expect to hear soon that the school's given men's soccer coach Scott Calabrese a new deal after his second FIU team won the Conference USA tournament, spent part of the season ranked and lost a tough NCAA tournament road game to Tulsa. Calabrese gets a bump in pay from his $55,000 salary.
That's $55,000 in Miami. Up in Lexington, where you could buy several nice houses and the nearby Waffle House for the cost of one Kendall 3/2 with small side yards, University of Kentucky coach Johan Cedergren makes $105,000. South Carolina's Mark Berson's making $108,060 in a cheap market. OK, that's Kentucky and South Carolina, members of the SEC plutocracy who slum it in Conference USA to play the people's game. So, let's look at Charlotte...
Men's soccer head coach Kevin Langan makes $70,840. In Charlotte.
For those who've asked, FIU athletic director Pete Garcia's contract expires Oct. 15. If he's re-upped, look for it to happen over the summer.
When writing this story on recruiting Florida vs. recruiting International, I thought the following from volleyball coach Rita Buck-Crockett deleted from my recorder. So, obviously, I didn't use it. But Buck-Crockett's built both volleyballs, sand and indoor, with a mixture of players.
""If we need an instant game changer, then you're probably going to get that quicker by recruiting an international to come in as a freshman or a junior college, experienced player," she said. "If you have a program that's built, then you can bring freshmen that you're training and get them involved."
Expect a couple of transfers to be announced from Rutgers and Tennessee soon.
Curious about how FIU ranks among its Conference USA peers since moving from the Sun Belt Fun Belt in 2013, a curiosity prodded by several people inside and outside the athletic department asking the same thing, I did a little record hunting.
Now, obviously, the best answer to the above would be found by compiling the records of each CUSA school in each sport that FIU plays, weighting for things like missed conference tournaments, NCAA runs, conference tournament runs, individual brilliance (such as FIU's Meghan MacLaren tearing up the 2015 conference golf tournament). But all that would take up way too large a portion of whatever time I have left on this plane of existence. So, here's what I did:
I ranked the schools on overall and conference records since 2013 in football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball and then a wild card sport -- each school's best sport in which FIU also participates.
You play to win championships, so when ranking in conference play, the title winners eat first. When I assign point values later to determine an overall ranking, conference play will get greater weight. You get more credit for beating your peers than you do gorging on lesser punks.
I see the obvious flaws. With a relatively small sample size, one great or abysmal season can swing the results too hard in one direction. That's even more the case with schools that entered CUSA after the Great Sun Belt Migration of 2013 brought FIU, FAU, North Texas and Middle Tennessee State to the league. But, outside of Intelligent Benevolent Dictatorship, no perfect systems exist.
Here's the rankings for each sport:
1. Marshall – 33-8, three bowl wins
2. Western Kentucky – 20-7, two bowl wins.
3. Rice – 23-16, two bowl appearances, one win.
4. Louisiana Tech – 22-17, two bowl wins.
5. Middle Tennessee State -- 21-17, two bowl appearances.
6. Old Dominion – 11-13
7. North Texas -- 14-23, won one bowl game.
8. UTEP – 14-23, one bowl appearance
9. UTSA – 14-22 (ranked behind UTEP and North Texas despite a smidge better record because UTEP’s extra loss came in a bowl game and North Texas’ extra game was a bowl win).
10. Southern Mississippi – 13-25, one bowl appearance
11. FAU – 12-24
12. UAB – 8-16 (loses tiebreaker with FAU on, you know, the program being dead, then revived to two-season coma).
13. FIU – 10-26
14. Charlotte – 2-10
1. Marshall -- 20-4, one conference title
2. Western Kentucky -- 12-4, one conference title.
3. Rice – 15-9, one conference title.
4. Middle Tennessee State – 17-7
5. Louisiana Tech -- 16-8
6. UTSA – 12-12
7. Old Dominion – 7-9
8. Southern Mississippi – 9-15 (gets the tiebreaker over UTEP, North Texas and FAU based on a Conference USA West Division title.)
9. UTEP 9-15 (gets the tiebreaker over North Texas and FAU on combined head-to-head record)
10. North Texas -- 9-15 (head-to-head tiebreaker over FAU)
11. FAU -- 9-15
12. UAB – 5-11
13. FIU – 7-17
14. Charlotte – 0-8
MEN’S BASKETBALL OVERALL
1. Louisiana Tech – 68-19
2. UTEP – 55-27
3. Old Dominion – 53-32
4. Middle Tennessee State -- 51-31
5. UAB – 49-32
6. Western Kentucky -- 28-18
7. FIU – 38-40
8. North Texas 36-42
9. Charlotte – 17-28
10. Marshall – 27-52
11. UTSA – 25-50
12. Rice – 24-53
13. FAU – 21-53
14. Southern Mississippi – 41-36 (placed down here for two years of self-imposed postseason bans after fundamental NCAA violations, such as completing homework assignments for recruits).
MEN’S BASKETBALL CONFERENCE
1. UAB -- 20-15, one Conference USA title
2. Louisiana Tech – 31-6
3. UTEP -- 27-9
4. Western Kentucky -- 12-7
5. Old Dominion – 23-12
6. Middle Tennessee State – 22-13
7. FIU – 16-19
8. North Texas -- 17-21
9. Charlotte – 7-12
10. UTSA -- 13-23
11. Marshall – 12-23
12. Rice – 10-26
13. FAU – 7-27
14. Southern Mississippi -- 17-18 (See above)
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL OVERALL
1. Western Kentucky – 40-7
2. Middle Tennessee State – 60-20
3. Southern Mississippi – 60-22
4. UTEP – 52-25
5. UAB – 41-33
6. Old Dominion – 44-37
7. FAU -- 38-34
8. Marshall – 38-37
9. Charlotte – 22-22
10. UTSA – 34-40
11. Louisiana Tech – 33-42
12. Rice – 24-49
13. North Texas -- 23-48
14. FIU -- 20-54
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL CONFERENCE
1. Western Kentucky – 17-2, one conference title
2. Middle Tennessee State 30-5, one conference title
3. Southern Mississippi -- 27-8
4. Old Dominion -- 21-14
5. UTEP – 21-15
6. Charlotte – 10-9
7. UAB – 18-17
8. Louisiana Tech – 15-20
9. UTSA -- 15-21
10. FAU -- 14-21
11. Marshall -- 11-24
12. Rice – 11-25
13. North Texas -- 11-25
14. FIU – 6-29
1. Rice – 79-42, one NCAA at-large bid
2. Southern Mississippi – 71-43-1
3. FAU – 70-44, one NCAA at-large bid
4. UAB – 68-46
5. UTSA – 68-51
6. FIU – 66-51
7. Old Dominion – 63-54
8. Middle Tennessee State – 63-54
9. Western Kentucky – 24-28
10. Louisiana Tech – 40-62
11. Marshall – 40-63
12. Charlotte – 38-60-1
North Texas & UTEP – No team
1. Rice -- 45-15, one conference title
2. FIU – 29-31, one conference title
3. Southern Mississippi – 38-21
4. Middle Tennesse State – 37-24
5. UAB -- 35-25
6. FAU -- 33-26
7. UTSA -- 33-28
8. Old Dominion – 30-30
9. Marshall -- 22-37
10. Charlotte -- 21-38
11. Western Kentucky – 10-19
12. Louisiana Tech – 13-46
North Texas & UTEP – No team
WILD CARD SPORT
1. Western Kentucky – Volleyball. 62-10, 30-2 in conference, two conference tournament titles.
The 13 Conference USA coaches select the All-Conference USA teams. Address all complaints to them.
FIU put two, seniors defensive end Michael Wakefield and cornerback Richard Leonard, on the All-CUSA First Team. I was surprised senior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon only received Honorable Mention all-conference after leading FIU in interceptions, passes broken up and being fourth in tackles. Leonard also made it as punt returner after his 10.7 yards per return led the league. Wakefield's .33 fumbles forced per game were third in the conference. His .62 sacks per game placed him fourth, the same place his 1.21 tackles for loss per game did in that category.
Second Team members from Camp Mitch were redshirt junior center Michael Montero and sophomore linebacker Anthony Wint. If you go back to FIU coach Ron Turner's year-end Q&A, you'll see he thought Montero graded out well almost every game. Wint led FIU in tackles (Leonard was second) and led defensive players in fumble recoveries with two.
Now, let's mention the Honorably Mentioned: McKinnon, junior tight end Jonnu Smith, senior defensive end Denzell Perine, Leonard (as kick returner), long snapper Sam Medlock.
Q: Which players stepped forward this year that maybe you didn't expect?
A: I think T.O., not that I didn't expect it, but probably quicker than we thought. (Redshirt junior center) Mike Montero played really well. He started every game and graded out really well. He graded out a winning grade in almost every game, I'm not sure every one, but he palyed really well. I'm very pleased with how he stepped up. (Sophomore running back) Alex Gardner, we expected it, but I didn't expect him to play sixtysomething plays a game and hold up as well as he did. We were playing him too many plays, but we really didn't have a choice.
When Napoleon Maxwell went down -- that's one we didn't mention -- that hurt because he's our biggest and fastest back. He would've really spelled (Gardner). (Fifth-year senior) Anthon (Samuel) and (freshman) Anthony (Jones)...Anthony wasn't quite ready to play early. When he got ready, we were really trying to get him in the game. He hurt his hamstring and missed two and a half weeks. When he came back, he still wasn't 100 percent. I thought A1 really stepped up with his durability.
Defensively, the defensive line guys were guys we anticipated playing well. Jephete stepped in and did all he could do.
Q: Where did you grow as a coach this year?
A: Learning to deal with frustration and staying focused. (Turner said this with a laugh.) Probably that and handling the adversity, having to make the adjustments with everything you worked on in the preseason not being able to do. Mentally, the emotional part was keeping everyone positive, keeping everyone focused. For the most part, we did. The guys worked hard and prepared hard. There was a game or two, it wasn't where it should be. For the most part, they came in and competed every day in practice hard and maintained a tremendous attitude.
Q: You mention "a game or two where it shouldn't be." In retrospect, how disappointing is the loss to FAU? I know you want to win every game and think you should win every game. But as far as games that look like...
A: ...on paper.
A: The UMass game (24-14 loss) was worse. I think FAU is a very good team. They're not a 2-9 team. I have no idea how they're 2-9. I know they lost to Tulsa (47-44) and they lost some of those games where they had a lead and somehow didn't win them. But you look at them up front on both sides of the ball. They're a physical team, got a good quarterback and good running backs. Defensively, they're physical up front. They're much, much better than 2-9.
Of course that one hurt because it's FAU. We just didn't play as well as we're capable of playing. The UMass one was the one that you look at and say, "That one we let get away." For whatever reason, we didn't play well. We had (10) penalties, (five) of them 15-yard variety. And several personal fouls, late hits, stuff like that. And we had 10 dropped passes. That's the one I look at and say the focus wasn't where it needed to be and we did not play nearly as well as we're capable.
Q: Where do you think you failed or needed to be better as a coach this year?
A: A lot of areas, I guess. (Laughs) I don't know, tough question. Not adjusting as well to the injuries and probably trying to do too much. Not hide my frustration, but not get as frustrated and not try to do too much. I didn't do it a lot, but I did it at times. Like I said earlier, tried to do things we weren't capable of doing. Same thing talked about Alex and some of the players did. Not so much game planning, but calling he game sometimes. I knew we probably couldn't protect this, but I'd call it anyway. Or, I knew we didn't have the receivers or whatever, call it anyway. That's probably the biggest thing. On the offensive side of it. You've can't let the frustration get to you. Stay in the moment -- this is what we can do.
Q: What did you think of Alex McGough's development this year?
A: I thought Alex played really well, especially through the first 10 games. His development -- his decision-making, his accuracy, his ball placement, especially down the field, his touch. When he came in here, he was a fastball thrower every play. And he wasn't very accurate down the field. He really improved his downfield accuracy, he improved his touch. He improved his eyes. His eye discipline for the most part through the first 10 games was good. The last two games, it was not. It goes back to trying to do too much. I think he made huge progress from last year to this year in just being a quarterback. That's probably the best way to put it -- being an overall quarterback, not just a thrower.
Q: You used Anthony Jones at running back a lot this season. Obviously, that's a place where you can get him the ball easily. Is he a guy you'd rather place more on the edges?
A: His main position is going to be running back. But he's a guy we can put in there with A1 or with Napoleon and now get him out in the slot. Those are the things we wanted to do with him, but it was hard. First, we had him playing receiver, then running back, then trying to do both. We weren't getting him in as much as we wanted to because of that -- where does he fit in? So we put him in at running back and said, "OK, he's going to go in every other or every third series." Then, he got hurt. That game he got hurt (vs. Old Dominion) on the opening kickoff blocking for Richard (Leonard), that was the game we said "He's going in every other series. And we're going to give him the ball and do the things he knows and we can do." He got hurt on the opening kickoff and he went into the game early. He starte dthe game. We threw him a little screen pass. He caught it and was jogging. I said, "What is wrong?" and he was out (hamstring). I think he played three plays. He was out the next week, came back and still wasn't 100 percent. But he's a guy who'll be a huge part of what we do starting as a running back. We wanted to do some of the so-called "Wildcat," which we call "Rocket Package," but we couldn't. He's a guy we've got to make a big push to get him playing and involved.
Q: With all the injuries, did you have to burn any redshirts you hadn't planned to burn?
A: Oh, yeah, definitely. And we almost did a couple of others. (Offensive lineman) Neal Mars, for sure on the offensive line. We played him week (eight). He ended up playing mostly on field goal, but we had to get him in there. What other true freshmen played? We almost did with (running back) Collin Olsen. One game, he was the backup. He came this close to going in to putting him in and we didn't. The next week, he would've played, but he got a concussion in practice. (Cornerback) Kenyatta Anderson was one who wouldn't have played. He got a blocked punt for a touchdown, but...(Emmanuel) Lubin would've played, regardless. Kenyatta would not have. (Defensive end) Fermin (Silva) played, but he would've played anyway. Anthony (Jones) played, but he would've played. (Tight end) Mac Carey, for sure, would not have played...Milord Juste would not have played. Came that close to playing (linebacker) Sage Lewis. When I say close, I'm talking about on the sidelines asking "Should we put him in?" We did that one game with Neal Mars, "No, let's not put him in" and the next week, he went in anyway.
Those guys were great. Even with one or two games to go, they said, "If you need to put me in, I'm ready to go." (Wide receiver) Austin Maloney came close in one stretch.
Q: Will (safety) Wilkenson Myrtil be back? (Myrtil suffered a scary concussion in the third game of the season).
A: I don't know. He's made good progress the last two weeks. Right now, to be honest, that's the least of our concerns. Our concern is just getting him right. And it's going to be a little while. He's made really good progress and the last week or so or two weeks, he's looked like the Wilkenson of old.
Q: Has he been able to go to classes?
A: He has not. He went home for about 10 days. He's come back and not gone to class. He's getting a medical (withdrawal). He was doing a little better for while, then he wasn't doing very well. I've never seen one take this long, but it was pretty severe.
Q: Do you anticipate any coaching staff changes?
A: I hope not. I feel good about the guys. There's some things we have to do better, but nothing major. The staff gets along really well. They work hard. I think they do a good job. On my part, no. Hopefully, there won't be too many other parts, but you know how that goes. People come in and double their salary, it's hard to argue. I'd anticipate a couple. There usually are. Hopefully, it's just a couple.
Q: Anybody on the roster you've told not to come back?
A: No. I feel good about the roster. I like the guys coming back. I like this team. Whether or not some guys decide, on their part, they want to move, I don't know. As far as what we have, no, I feel good about the guys we have.
The positive to look forward to is we've got a lot of good young players on this team. I mean, really good. And, I guess the positive is they got experience this year. (Laughs) More than they wanted, more than they bargained for, which, in the long run, is going to help them. We've got a very good recruiting class coming in. In fact, we've got more guys who want to come than we have scholarships. It's going very well.
Q: In recruiting, any positions you want to focus on?
A: Overall, you hit every position. As the season goes, it changes a bit. Defensive line and offensive line, we've got commitments in both those spots. We should be in good shape there. We are going to look at a junior college or possible senior graduate in the defensive line and possibly offensive tackle just to get a little more experience in there if we can find the right guy. Cornerback, we might do the same thing. See if there's a JC corner out there who can come in and help us. Continue to fill the depth at all positions. Take one quarterback, at least one running back, maybe two. Get some receivers. Got to get a tight end. Defensive line, got to get two or three linebackers, already got two committed. Probably one more linebacker. Just got to find where we're going to get the spots for him.
I sat down with FIU football coach Ron Turner for the Third Annual Football Season Q&A Eulogy Tuesday. If you're here, you probably already know that the Panthers began the season with an upset at Central Florida, ended it with losses to Marshall and Western Kentucky by a combined 115-7 and finished the season 5-7. If you didn't know that, you do now.
Turner's answers are presented here with commentary limited to the expository.
Q: One more win than last year. But the teams you beat this season had a total of eight FBS wins. Just with Middle Tennessee and UAB last year (five FBS wins each), you beat that in 2014. Overall, was this a moving forward year?
A: I think so. This was was just a very disappointing year and very frustrating year. Disappointing just because we had such high expectations coming in. I'm not disappointed in the players, I'm disappointed in the results just in the fact of I don't think we were able to do what we wanted to do. We weren't the same team halfway through the season that we were coming into it. Just because of the injury situation and the youth we had to play.
Everybody has injuries, I understand that. I've never been through anything like this. With five games to go, I’m watching the (practice) tape with the coaches and I said, ‘This feels like spring ball because we’re running new plays with new people doing them. The difference is we’ve got three days to get them ready to go.’
That part was really frustrating for me, personally, and us because of that. I knew coming in -- I don't know if you remember my comments -- but I said I think we have a chance to have a really good team and be really competitive in this conference if we stay healthy because we don't have a ton of depth. Obviously, we didn't. It hurt.
And it was certain positions. Offensive line got hit hard, starting with (junior guard) Jordan Budwig in the summer before camp even started. Two-year starter, preseason all-conference first team and Trenton Saunders getting hurt in the third or fourth game, missing eight and a half to nine games. All of sudden, we've got (redshirt freshmen) Kai Absheer and Chris Miller in there who are going to be really good players. They're going to be really good players, but they weren't ready to play this year. Then, they got hurt. One missed three and a half weeks, one missed four and a half. But that's four weeks of practice time they miss and all of a sudden, they're thrown back in. (Redshirt freshman) Daquane Wilkie started at right tackle (12 games) who is going to be a really good player as well, but he's not there yet. He shouldn't have been playing. That part of it got hit hard, especially at the guard position. Our tackles were fine.
And then the safety position, four guys, three of them basically for the season. Jordan Davis played one game, (missed) two because of academic suspension, then got hurt. Shemarke Spence (broken arm) didn't play any. Wilkenson Myrtil missed nine games. Niko (Gonzalez) missed four. Not only did he miss four, he had a shoulder, he couldn't work out, so then he comes back and he's...the development part of it. That really hurt. Then, obviously, our tight ends (Ya'Keem Griner and Jonnu Smith). Tight end, linebacker -- two of our starting three linebackers basically missed the season. Treyvon missed (eight). Davison (Colimon) missed 11/2.
Our two best playmakers on offense. One missed seven games and the other one, Jonnu, missed four. That made it frustrating. All the stuff we planned to do on both sides of the ball, we had to limit what we did, minimize what we did and try to play to their strengths.
Q: (Graduate senior transfer) Jephete Matilus came in and clearly did the best he could. But, realistically, his actual game experience was almost at a freshman level. What kind of dropoff was that from (junior middle linebacker) Treyvon Williams?
A: Jephete came in and gave us everything he had. I'm glad he was here. I don't know what we'd have done without him. He stepped in and did as well as he could in a tough situation. He didn't have a lot of game experience. A lot of our guys, even though they might've been juniors or seniors, in some cases, they didn't have much experience. (Offensive lineman) Edens Sineace, first year starter, he played left tackle. Then, we had to put him at guard and all that stuff.
But, getting back to (Jephete)...first time in the system. Didn't go through Spring Ball. Limited playing time -- most of his playing time was on special teams at Minnesota. And he's thrown in as a starter for eight games. Give him credit, he did as sell as he could do. But, it hurts your depth. Now, if something happens to him, you're going down (indicates with his hand moving to a lower level).
"That's the thing -- we had too many guys playing too many plays because of the injury situation. Playing more plays than they should and, by the end of the year, you're worn down. It affects your practice time. By the end of the year, we couldn't practice as much as we wanted. We couldn't wear pads as much as we wanted, even (just) shoulder pads. We had to cut the time down in practice because we had nobody. Guys were just so worn down, we had to try to get them fresh on game day.
No bye didn't help. (FIU's open week is this week.) Not that we would've gotten a lot of guys back because most of them were season-ending (injuries), but at least we could've rested some people and healed up a bit.
Q: How does that happen? Where does that fall through the cracks?
A: That's the conference scheduling. I called immediately when I saw it. Called (Senior Associate Commissioner) Alfred White immeidately and said, "Alfred, we don't have a bye." He said, "Yeah, you have one the last week." I said, "We're playing 12 straight weeks. So, we have no bye." There's two teams that didn't. Somebody else had a bye the first week and they played 12 straight. (North Texas, which started 0-7 and is now 1-10).
If you stay healthy and you get on a roll, you don't mind, you go. But even then you have to be smart, you have to be careful how you practice and everything else.
Q: What did you have to change in the offense and defense to accommodate your situation?
A: Everything, honestly. Offensively, when you lose guards and you've got young guys in there, you limit your protections, you limit some of the run schemes you do. We had a lot of stuff we wanted to do that we did in training camp and spring ball and we just said, "It's too much. We can't do it. With all the adjustments you have to make and different fronts that you see, it's just too much for these guys." So, we really had to simplify what we're doing.
When Griner went out, that had an effect. We're such a two-tight end-oriented offense. We were that 70 percent of the time when those two guys were healthy, especially on first or second down. If we weren't that, we were one tight end. We always had at least one. We even had a three-tight end package that we did earlier in the year, that we worked hard on in training camp. That went out the window quickly.
When Jonnu went down and we've got Akil Dan-Fodio...he did a tremendous job for us. He did the best he could. But, he was out of his element. He's more a F motion guy, put him in the slot, block backside, that sort of stuff. All of a sudden, he's at the point of attack trying to block and that's not his strength. So we had to limit what we could call -- "we like this, but we don't have the tight end to do this. It's not his strength." It's unfair to ask people to do something they're not capable of doing. It really affected what we had in the game plan and, on game day, what we called.
Same thing defensively. With our safety situation, our linebacker situation. We've got Jephete in there, like you said, new in the system. Davison (Colimon) out, who had great experience. We could make a lot of adjustments and do some things with him. He was our best blitzer probably. Missed the whole year, basically (hurt in the first game).
Then, it has a trickle down effect to special teams. All of a sudden, you've got guys playing and somebody else has to take their place on special teams. You've got to watch their reps. It's the culmination of everything. It takes its toll.
Everybody has injuries. But I've never seen anything like this. Going into the last game, we had 27 guys that were either starters or were going to play a lot miss games. Sixteen of them missed four games or more. Several of them were season-ending. If you total those games up, it was 138 games by guys who are going to play a lot. Budwig, 12. Shemarke Spence, 12. Davison Colimon, whatever the number. I don't know anybody that can lose four guards, four safeties, two linebackers and two tight ends and go play. Nobody. I don't care what school. I don't care if you're Alabama, to lose that many and not have a huge dropoff.
For us to be playing game No. 12, to get win No. 6, to me, it's a credit to those guys. I told them that (Tuesday). I was disappointed in the season, in teh results, in the finish, but not disapointed in you guys. Alex McGough was in here. We talked for 45 minutes. He didn't play very well the last two games as he admitted. He goes, "To be honest with you, the frustration built up and I was trying to do too much."
I told him, "you know what Alex, I found myself trying to do some things we weren't capable of doing. Trying to make some calls we probably weren't capable of doing because I'm trying to make a play." I'd love to have some of those calls back. With our normal team in there? Yes, it would've been great. I said it minimized what we did, but there were times I tried to do it anyway. And, it didn't work because we weren't capable of doing it. It's not fair to the players to ask them to do something they can't.
Eventually, I think it took its toll on everybody. But I never heard one guy complain about it. I was sitting here talking to (redshirt junior defensive tackle) Imarjaye Albury today and I was telling him about some of the injuries. He said, "Wow, I didn't realize that." I said, "You didn't realize our top four guards were out, top two out for the year, basically?" He said, "No. I knew Jonnu (was out)." I said, "You didn't realize our top four safeties were out? Three of them for the entire season?" He said, "No, not really."
(Freshman safety) Tyree Johnson goes in and, again, he's going to be a really good player. But he shouldn't have been playing. But those guys didn't know. I guess that's why they didn't complain about it!
Q: Why did the run defense just fall apart?
A: As the season went on, I think we got worn down. We didn't have our main linebackers in there. I think it took its toll. We didn't have our top safeties in there. In our defense, safeties are huge in run support.
Like most people, you play quarters coverage, they're the run support guys. The corners play outside, we had two good corners. It affected how we played. We couldn't get the safeties down involved as much as we wanted because they just weren't ready for it. So we couldn't press the corners and challenge out there as much as we wanted. Our safeties were inexperienced. When they did feel for the run, it wasn't always exactly where they should be. And they were young. They weren't as physical. No fault to them, they gave everything they had. So, we had to watch what our calls were and couldn't get them as involved as we wanted to.
And I think we got worn down. Too many reps, guys playing too many plays. And the last two weeks, we played the two best teams in the conference (Marshall and Western Kentucky). Very physical offensive lines that were senior dominated. Last week, that was the most physical line in the conference. We played two really good teams.
Q: What happened to (sophomore wide receiver) Thomas Owens the second half of the year?
A: Teams started to press him more, play him a little differently, get a safety over the top at times. Protection-wise, we got against better teams, we had to get the ball out quicker. I think Alex got frustrated, a combination of things. We just weren't able to get the plays to him. We tried. We tried going to him and making plays. We just struggled sometimes beating press man coverage. That takes a little longer to get open. His strength is not his speed, his strength is being physical, going up and battling for the ball and yards after the catch. He's a strong runner afterwards.
You catch a touchdown pass in six straight games, they're going to realize that, too. They're going to put a safety over the top and do some things that make you look to the other side. Especially when Jonnu went down. Once Jonnu and Griner went down, we didn't have that inside threat. When Jonnu wasn't as productive earlier in the year and people were saying, "Why isn't he as productive as he was last year?" I said, "Well, they're playing him. They're doing things to take him away." All of a sudden, T.O. starts making plays and Griner starts making plays and we're running the ball, it opens up Jonnu. Well, when Jonnu's not in there and Griner's not in there, they can do things to take away T.O."
Westminster Christian wide receiver Elbre "Tony" Gaiter IV, son of former Killian All-Dade player and Hurricanes player Tony Gaiter, has committed to FIU, according to 247sports.com and Scout.com. The former didn't have him rated. The latter had him rated at three stars. Gaiter caught 28 passes for 479 yards (17.1 per catch) and nine touchdowns this season. He ran seven times for 78 yards and three touchdowns.
Let's take care of two things that aren't happening...
1. FIU dropping football or dropping to FCS. Anybody suggesting this should happen based on the results of the last few seasons or attendance reveals himself or herself to be a whiny baby who needs the Entitlement Pacifier taken away. FIU's had some truly awful years, a couple of good years and a bunch of losing seasons that run together. Your actual in-house attendance fluctuates congruently before applying other factors (noon start, lousy weather, etc.). Welcome to life as an FBS college football program that's not a traditional power.
In case you haven't noticed, schools don't tend to move from FB0 to FCS. You went 5-7 by beating some weak sisters. Again, welcome to life as an FBS college football program that's not a traditional power.
2. FIU coach Ron Turner's not going anywhere. Look at athletic director Pete Garcia's situation. He doesn't have a new contract yet (but does have an attendance bonus of $8,393 coming from FIU's 15,381 average, 117th in the nation). Firing Turner after three seasons says "That guy I fired in December 2012? Big mistake." And that might as well be asking FIU to move on to a new athletic director.
Has a 5-7 season ever had a more depressing end than Saturday without involving an ambulance? Lightning delays alternating with rain. Barely enough people to fill the Graham Center food court, much less La Cage. Western Kentucky scored on the second play from scrimmage and what turned out to be the last play from scrimmage (and a whole lot of plays in between).
There really isn't much to say when a team ends its season getting outscored 115-7 over its last two games. I'm not going to say the team quit. That's too harsh an insult. I will say they seemed to become disheartened and locked into bad patterns (and I'm not even talking about the 4-yard bubble screens).
Injuries hurt the defense, especially the safety positions. The loss of middle linebacker Treyvon Williams, one of the defense's two batteries along with outside linebacker Anthony Wint, unplugged the defense. But so did flat play by some from whom more was expected and a soft concept.
When you like to run a lot of double tight end sets and two of the most productive tight ends in the country go down for the last four games, it hurts. Period. That's not a position of depth at many Power 5 conference teams, much less G5 teams. The inexperienced, banged up offensive line never got together. Also damaging was cautious play calling and inscrutable personnel deployment.
I'll have more later and expect to talk to Turner this week at length about the season.
Been a busy week at Casa David (which is also a fantastic Italian restaurant in Amsterdam). As I'm just getting around to this now, I'm just letting fly with a bunch of thoughts about today's FIU football regular season finale.
*If they call one of those bubble screens with one blocker and one receiver against three defenders in the first five plays, sophomore quarterback Alex McGough should audible to a deep ball. And throw it, no matter if the receiver's open or not. And when asked about it, tell the coaches, "Same result, less beating, more exciting and chance of success."
*Play Juwan Caesar. What the heck, this could be his last college game and he's a big possession receiver body for those predictable chain-moving slants FIU will use when trying to keep the ball away from Western's point-a-minute offense. No reason for Caesar to not be out there.
*Give freshman Anthony Jones the ball before you're 30 points down in the third quarter and give running back Alex Gardner a breather. The last time we went through such a "why isn't he playing/getting the ball more?" with a prized recruit, Willis Wright got stapled to the sideline. Word was he didn't know the offense enough. Yeah, well, same thing I thought then -- if you have to draw it in the sand, on your shirt like a street football quarterback or flat out call the play then tell him what to do, do that. And get the man the ball.
*Gamble on defense. Stop playing church bingo and enter the casino. Hey, House, bring the house. Send The Company. Get the cornerbacks up and chucking. Don't sit back and get cut up like Jim.
Western Kentucky 45, FIU 34
But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.
OK, you knew it could happen, maybe even felt it probably would happen, hoped it wouldn't happen, but it did. Marshall took FIU to Fiftyburger and got a Shutout Shake with it.
Playing on the road against a team that's better than they are anyway and on a day heavy with feeling, the Panthers gave up big plays early and got nothing steady going offensively. Then, they got crushed.
Obviously, the soccer team can't make up for 52-0 when it faces Marshall in the Conference USA Championship Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., although FIU will be heavily favored. The Panthers smoked The Herd 5-1 earlier this season.
There won't be an official FIU watch party for that. There was for Saturday's game, at Carolina Ale House in Doral. I arrived early in the first quarter with Marshall up 7-0.
I've been in Miami long enough to know: heavy rain=light crowd, even indoors. There were 17 people there. That's 17 more than I saw or recognized from Athletics. Nor did I see the advertised giveaways of two basketball courtside tickets or two suite tickets for next week's regular season finale. And I heard that the circle of televisions on the game weren't on the game until after kickoff.
What's was up with that? The advertisements for the Watch Party didn't say canceled in case of rain.
I know it's late. Long day, short night, Saturday morning walk to the Publix Sabor, Bob Evans on sale, walk back...
Some quick asides/observations before I get to the pack of Panthers dealing with the Thundering Herd...
1. Soccer observers tend to find the FIU men a good watch -- smart defensively, open and skilled offensively. No. 11 Kentucky's more like a futbol Floyd Mayweather: all about defense, good enough offense, regularly getting the soccer version of a unanimous decision. So, don't think there's much crying over FIU taking down the Conference USA tournament's No. 1 seed in the semifinal. Besides, especially if FIU wins Sunday, this means one more CUSA team in the NCAA tournament beyond those in line for at-large bids anyway.
2. Compared to the last few seasons, the women's basketball team looked like each player powerbombed an entire colada, David J-style, before the season opener. The obviousness of the difference in energy and alert proficiency from a largely similar roster drew a broad-based conclusion from several in the house: they just didn't play for the last coaching staff. I don't know why. But that was obvious.
3. Watching the FIU men's exhibition that counted against Trinity Baptist, this team needs every non-conference game it can get. Think of them as like The SImpsons house Lego set -- Adrian Diaz as the large frame piece and a lot of accessories whose proper places need to be found.
Now to Huntington and FIU vs. Marshall.
At first glance, we've seen this movie before (and I'm not talking about We Are Marshall). This is Monday Night Football coming to Indianapolis for the first time ever and on Halloween, 1988 (Colts 55, Denver 24). Or Buffalo, in the midst of their four Super Bowl run, walking into Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium noise tunnel with MNF for the first time in years (1991, Kansas City 31, Buffalo 6). Or, perhaps most appropriately considering the connection between a community tragedy and the football team, MNF as the Superdome reopens a year after Hurricane Katrina (New Orleans 23, Atlanta 3).
That game's instructive for how FIU can leave today with a win and bowl eligibility.
*DON'T GET OVERWHELMED EARLY -- Atlanta opened that game going three-and-out. Then, Steve Gleason blocked the punt and the Saints recovered for a touchdown, a play that's memorialized by a statue in front of The Superdome. That's when everybody watching knew "The Falcons are probably going to get their Atlanta kicked tonight."
Minutes later, Louisiana son and LSU product Devery Henderson scored on a reverse. You knew the Falcons were done. The Saints knew it. The broadcast team knew it. The crowd knew it. The Falcons probably knew it. Both my grandmothers knew it including the one who'd been dead for five years. And it was only 14-3 in the first quarter!
FIU can't give up big, momentum-building plays early. There's already going to be enough juice in that place with the traditions that go with the yearly anniversary of the 1970 plane crash that changed life on and off the Marshall campus. Add to that being the 45th anniversary and a Senior Day.
There's a time to go all in and there's a time to check up. The first quarter's time for the latter. On offense, FIU's often-infuriating dinking and dunking can suck the life out of a visiting place if they get a few first downs. Defensively, unless there's a stupidly obvious tell, don't gamble for a big play, just play sound defense. Let some electricity drain.
*RIDE THE WAVE -- How often do the Panthers get to play, home or road, in a truly rockin' house? Or be around some truly moving ceremonies? FIU should feed off all that energy, too. And might be able to sustain it more than Marshall.
*TAKE THE POINTS -- Again, don't give a chance for momentum building. Unless the Panthers simply can't stop the Herd offense, on fourth down in field goal range, FIU should take the points. Rolling the dice worked against Old Dominion and Charlotte. This isn't Old Dominion or Charlotte across the line.
*BRING THE COMPANY LATER -- Around the second quarter, start giving Marshall freshman quarterback Chase Litton some pressure hell. He's near the end of the season, but he's still a freshman. Freshmen do funky things under pressure. Also, Litton won't be expecting it. FIU's been Publix vanilla ice cream defense this year. Time to go Ben & Jerry's Red Velvet Cake from the second quarter forward.
This isn't last year's Marshall juggernaut. They've won without coming off as impressively invincible. They lost last week to Middle Tennessee State because their kickers choked.
Still, FIU's been kind of a bully this season -- beating up the weaklings as they should, wilting against equals. The Panthers also are pretty banged up and, as I wrote earlier this week, that matters with a mid-major no matter how much everybody would like to say it shouldn't (with two weeks to heal, UTEP looked eight times better against FAU than it did against FIU).
Strip everything else away, those last two paragraphs remain.
Marshall 34, FIU 20
But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.
As former FIU head football coach Mario Cristobal gets looked at for that job at his alma mater 9 miles southeast of FIU you hear the claim that Cristobal left the FIU program in worse shape than the city of Detroit, on the field and off of it.
How the firing affected 2013 recruiting and how the stop-work order to football operations staff from on-high stripped players of their support system with finals nigh (and whether THAT should matter or not) already has been discussed here. Argue among yourselves.
One of the things pointed to by the No Cristobal crowd is the 2010-11 single-season APR of 897, well below NCAA standards at the time, to say nothing of the tougher standards today. And if you look up APR in the database, it'll still tell you the FIU football team's APR is 897. But if you look for APR via head coaches, it says FIU made a 919. What's the deal?
An NCAA spokesman told me the 919 is correct. The 897 is on the initial report, but that report never gets changed, no matter what new data comes to the NCAA. The number on the head Coach APR Portfolio gets updated, however.
For the record, FIU's single season APRs for Cristobal's full academic years were: 969, 951, 932, 919 and 954 out of a possible 1000.
You can "Next Man Up" it all you want. Few college teams pack the talent so there's not a "where's my Cialis?" performance dropoff from the injured guy to the next guy on the depth chart. Some schools wind up stacked at a certain position or do so by design while sacrificing at other positions. But from Alabama to Appalachian State, you take all-conference players away, you're taking a big step back at that position.
That's why my first question to Ron Turner each Tuesday concerns the medical report. Some guys' clearly won't be seeing the field again for a while, so I stop asking. But, then, sometimes, I don't update them here to let you know, essentially, they're still hurt.
Here's a broad injury update as FIU preps for Marshall.
Junior tight end Jonnu Smith -- FIU coach Ron Turner admitted Smith and his sprained knee are "in NFL terms, probably Doubtful" for the last two games of the season. Turner said Smith suffered the injury in the second quarter against Old Dominion. Smith's been working out separate from the team, never a good sign.
Senior tight end Ya'Keem Griner -- Out for the season, foot injury. Remember what I wrote about seeing "The Boot" in an Oct. 20 post? The Boot is bad. The Boot is evil. I'd rather see Rover than The Boot.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Vontarius West -- Turner said he'd be fine. Some FIU birds said West's practice participation was limited.
Fifth-year senior running back Anthon Samuel -- Questionable for this week with his bum ankle.
Junior linebacker Treyvon Williams -- No longer on crutches, but I wouldn't expect to see him either of the final two games. His replacement, senior Jephete Matilus, gives good effort and actually played well for a guy with probably less than 60 minutes worth of college game snaps playing time at linebacker. But take Williams and sophomore linebacker Anthony Wint away from this defense and it's just not the same.
Redshirt junior safety Jordan Davis -- Now on crutches. Knee injury. Done for the season.
Junior safety Wilkenson Myrtil -- Out for the season. Concussion.
SWIMMING & DIVING
Told you so. Though FIU's dual meet streak got broken by Illinois, don't blame sophomores Kyna Periera and Rebecca Quesnel.
Periera won the 200 freestyle, 500 free, 1,000 free and anchored the 200 medley and 400 free relays. Quesnel swept platform, 1-meter and 3-meter in the diving.
For this, as predicted, Periera was named Conference USA Swimmer of the Week for the second time this season. Quesnel shared her second Diver of the Week award of the year with Marshall's Megan Wolons. Quesnel won it six times as a freshman.