Saturday's Bethune-Cookman vs. FIU game can be seen on WBFS Channel 33, but on one-hour delay. The broadcast of the 7 p.m. game will begin at 8 p.m. WBFS just got permission to show the game so the website schedule hasnt' been updated as of 2:45 p.m.
Around 11 a.m., I heard that an e-mail making its way around Parking & Transportation said the Epic Festival of music scheduled for the Fair Expo Center Saturday has been cancelled. And an 11:07 a.m. Tweet from the Epic Festival says Miami-Dade Fire Rescue shut Epic down. On another website, Epic tells ticket holders something stinks while telling them refunds will be coming.
The follow up to what I heard was that this should open up the normal tailgating areas at Tamiami Park for Saturday's FIU football season opener against Bethune-Cookman. More information should be coming later today.
By the way, FIU's going all out on the freebies Saturday to pull in a crowd for this nationally-televised game. It's what they did for the East Carolina and Marshall games last year to make sure the NCAA didn't slap them for light attendance.
They don't have to worry about the Bethune end. Bethune sold the most single game visitors tickets of FIU's six visiting schools in 2013. FIU's worried about getting the FIU crowd. To that end, FIU's throwing free tickets around town -- hey, if you can't sell 'em, distribute them -- talking free food for students and tuition giveaways. As "One Froggy Evening" demonstrated, if they said "free beer," FIU and Bethune would be playing to a packed and swaying house.
PARKING: Here's what you need to know. Back off, they only had a few months to get things squared away.
DEPTH CHART:Trust it at your peril.
In the first place, the offense is done as a classic I-formation or pro set with two wide receivers, a tight end, a fullback and a halfback/tailback. But FIU runs one-back, double tight end or one-back, three-wide (quarterback under center or not) more often than either the I or pro set.
Freshman Alex Gardner's listed third behind junior Lamarq Caldwell and redshirt junior Shane Coleman. Don't be surprised if that resembles Saturday's playing time about as much as I resemble Antonio Sabates (either one). Caldwell's No. 1 for now, Gardner's No. 2.
Redshirt juniors Dominique Rhymes and Richard Burrows are listed as the top two wide receivers. When I asked Turner about Burrows rise, he said Burrows has been the most consistent receiver in camp along with Rhymes. Turner said they'll run a lot of guys in there, but it's still interesting to see fifth-year senior Glenn Coleman third at one of the wideout spots and not see redshirt junior Clinton Taylor and Fred Porter among the top six. Freshmen Dennis Turner and Thomas Owens are there, though.
On defense, FIU hopes they've got more depth along the defensive line than last year. They've got more bodies available. At one tackle spot, they list Leonard Washington, Imarjaye Albury (sat out 2013, transfer) and Marques Cheeks (sat out, academics).
See my last post about the linebackers. Lots of talent, not a lot of age. One outside linebacker spot lists an "or" between sophomore De'Shawn Hazziez and freshman Anthony Wint. Saturday could find redshirt freshman-sophomore-freshman linebackers trying to peel the onion of Bethune's option attack. In the secondary, behind strong safety Demarkus Perkins, we find freshman Shemarke Spence.
I'm not sure why redshirt junior Richard Leonard is listed at the top of the punt returners, but isn't listed among the kickoff returners. The College Football Performance Awards put him on their national kickoff returner watch list, remembering Leonard's 29.2 yards per kickoff return in 2012. If you believe the depth chart, "watch list" will mean he'll be watching others do the job he does quite well.
If you believe the depth chart.
Perhaps redshirt sophomore punter Chris Ayers found health in the offseason. He never seemed right last year. Sophomore Austin Taylor's the kicker.
That's all for now. Take us home, Stevie...
Do you understand the meager compensation given some of our blue collar bretheren who wreck their backs doing things like setting up FIU Stadium (surrounding Ocean Bank Field) for the start of classes and the football season? Do you know how little disposable income the average college-affiliated football player has?
After pondering that bit of John L. Lewis, take in these tidbits from FIU football practice. Yes, I'm still banned, although FIU coach Ron Turner did answer a few questions from me on the Conference USA coaches conference call.
Don't be surprised if FIU says to heck with it and comes out with a linebacking corps of freshman Anthony Wint, sophomore Treyvon Williams and redshirt freshman Jordan Guest. Why not? Go with talent, give it some experience and see what you wind up with at the end of the season.
In answering why things should be different this year defensively against Bethune, Turner said the defense should execute the scheme better, but also said, "We'll have some freshmen and redshirt freshmen out there at times..."
Also, it could be a family affair on the corners with junior Jeremiah McKinnon moving ahead of senior Randy Harvey to play with cousin redshirt junior Richard Leonard. Bethune's ground-air split comes straight out of World War I, so the better tackler should start Saturday.
Another redshirt junior Richard, wide receiver Burrows, could very well start with redshirt junior Dominique Rhymes. When FIU's got two tight ends on the field, it'll be most often sophomore Jonnu Smith and redshirt Ya'keem Griner. That gives them the option of putting Smith in the slot, so they can run plays out of two-wide, double tight end or three-wide formations without switching personnel. That'll help if FIU tries to run an increased tempo, which I'd bet they will. When they want to go three-wide with Smith at tight end, expect DeAndre Jasper and T.J. Lowder to get the most looks as the third wideout with Burrows and Rhymes. That is, until freshman Dennis Turner shows something in a game. If he does, move him to the top of that list.
Not sure where fifth-year senior Glenn Coleman fits into everything.
Turner also said on the conference call that while junior E.J. Hilliard will start Saturday against Bethune, freshman Alex McGough could see playing time "in the second, third or fourth series" or in the second quarter.
Junior Lamarq Caldwell remains the top running back, but, sometimes, they'll do the smart thing of putting big, durable Caldwell at fullback and dynamic freshman Alex Gardner at tailback. That gives you a good blocking back along with two backs who can catch passes. When FIU wants to go heavy, look for redshirt freshman Jordan Gibbs, converted from linebacker to fullback, as the lead blocker for Caldwell.
Huh. Not surprising.
After seeing how some of FIU's 2015 commits looked Saturday against top high school competition, if FIU gets them to Signing Day next February, somebody needs to give running backs coach Kerry Dixon II a raise from $96,000.
Who's running the pool on how fast DP comments?
Mike Levine, who does some fill-in work for WQAM, most likely will handle the play-by-play duties on FIU's football broadcasts on 1210ESPN Deportes. The deal "isn't set in stone" yet according to his agent.
UPDATE: Friday afternoon, FIU officially announced the radio team of Levine and Pete Pelegrin for the broadcasts.
Levine has handled the regular radio play-by-play duties on weekly South Florida high school football games as well as University of Miami baseball games for three seasons. He's also been the substitute UM basketball play-by-play guy.
Pelegrin's the obvious choice for radio as nobody else with radio or television experience has his long-term perspective on the program.
Well, this is disappointing.
Whatever the display inside FIU Stadium on Showed Them The Money Field, all agree that FIU's tailgating masses do a Miami school proud. Strong volume, both numbers and bass, tremendous enthusiasm. I love to do a tailgate walk before a game to get the creative juices bouncing. Many a synapse has been fired in the athletic department trying to figure out how to get all that to transfer from out there to inside La Cage on a regular basis.
Now, the tailgating has been shaved down to the Lot 6 strip on the east side of the stadium, says the layout for the Aug. 30 season opener against Bethune-Cookman.
No Tamiami Park. Florida Gun Show Miami is at the Fuchs Pavilion Aug. 30 and 31. The Children's Trust Family Expo is all over the Youth Fair grounds Sept. 13, the day of the noon home game against Pitt. The following week, there's a Wellness and Lifestyle Expo from Friday through Sunday, which encompasses the Louisville game. There's another gun show Nov. 1, the day of the noon Rice game.
The visiting tailgate is east of the Blue Garage. Kind of breaks up the energy center around FIU Stadium. And I'm not sure the smell from the soul food from the Bethune-Cookman tailgaters can waft all the way to The Cage.
For more tailgate information, click here.
Junior quarterback E.J. Hilliard's been named the first game starter for FIU. Logical move.
The first athletic event of 2014-15 that counts features the women's footballers, Friday, 7 p.m., at FIU Soccer Field, with FIU hosting Arizona.
I planned to put on my 1992 Golden Panther Invitational shirt and write a full season advance for the blog and, possibly, print on the obvious dark horse pick for the Confernece USA title. Alas...
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As often stated here, only serious bettors tend to get down on FIU games, so the linesmakers tend to be pretty facile in their analysis of said contests. So, there's usually value to be had.
The website 5dimes.com, to which I was alerted by 940WINZ sports radio host Andy Slater, has posted the first line I've seen on FIU's season opener Aug. 30 against Bethune-Cookman. The site rates the Wildcats 4.5-point favorites over the Panthers in the Cat Fight at The Cage.
Last year, FIU opened as the favorite, but Bethune went off as the favorite at kickoff and covered in a 34-13 win. The over/under in that game was 47, by the way.
Also on that site are money line odds on the Conference USA title game. Marshall's the favorite at -450, meaning you'd have to bet $450 on Marshall to win $100. FIU's the longest shot with a +15000 money line, meaning if you laid down $100 on the Panthers, you get $15,000 if they win the Conference USA title.
MySportsBook's money line has Marshall at -500 with FIU and UTEP at +11,000. As I said in Monday's column, I don't see FIU as the worst team in the East Division, much less in the entire conference. I don't see them as conference champs, either, but at those numbers, well, you probably wasted money on worse things this week so plunk a few bucks down.
LVH Superbook and Gaming Today also puts Man O' War odds on Marshall, too, 1-6, the biggest favorite among the conferences listed. FIU and UTEP are the longest shots at 100-1. BetUSA.com puts Marshall at 1-5 with FIU and UTEP at 110-1.
...to the FIU fans who contacted me and with whom I met with over the last three days for the video and quick interviews I needed for our preseason football section. While the Panther fan base might be the Luxembourg of the college football world, there's rarely a lacking for patriotism among those I meet.
What I was asked to do for the section is done. I'd still like to get some quick hit thoughts on this season from other FIU fans on video.
Right now, I'm going to watch some video, as in recorded NFL preseason games with Greg Hickman and Isame Faciane (if I didn't oops up the settings).
The theme across our preseason football sections this year is "Fan Favorites." I need to find a few FIU fans to photograph and talk about their favorite current FIU player.
Iff you're so inclined, shoot me an e-mail at dneal@MiamiHerald.com or contact me via Twitter (@DavidJNeal) so we can arrange an in-person meeting at which I can take a head shot of you.
In answer to Chia's question in the last Comments section...
Word on the street is this is an Invitation Only thing. I'll post video of it here if anybody shoots it and posts it elsewhere or offers it up.
After two years being broadcast via Internet over smartphones, FIU football rejoins almost everybody else in FBS with an over-the-air radio deal for this season with 1210AM ESPNDeportes Miami, the station and school announced today.
In addition to the game broadcast, there will be the usual pre and post-game analysis. Expect Pete Pelegrin to remain as play-by-play guy. Here's hoping Pelegrin gets color help, especially on the road. Filling the air for a three or four-hour college football game solo is like blowing up a giant balloon without a helium tank.
OK, it's a Spanish language station (yes, the game broadcasts will be in English, for you smart alecky gringos), but it's still a sports station. Better that than the last station that carried FIU, which sold the slot before FIU games to some show discussing law and lawyers. I wish that had been in Spanish. It would've sounded more exciting. I don't have the instinctive hatred of lawyers some do -- I'm married to a fantastic, Harvard-trained corporate lawyer -- but you could've put a microphone in a Port-O-Let and gotten something that fired you up for a football game more than that.
Followers of this blog know I love to watch the setting and movement of odds, spreads and over/unders. No line's up yet on the Aug. 30 season opener vs. Bethune-Cookman. But I've searched up some win over/unders.
Covers.com has FIU's win over/under at two. Sportbet.com goes 2.5 wins. Chris Andrews of Againstthenumber.com gives FIU one of the lowest power ratings in the country, but still the most improved team in the country and a sleeper that's a good bet. He puts their win over/under at 5.5.
For what it's worth, I've done my game-by-game for The Herald's football preview section. It comes out 3-9, but not the three that everyone anticipates.
Tymell Murphy, FIU's best player over the last two seasons, will get a shot in the NBA Developmental League this year. Good for him. Where Murphy plays is to be determined.
Anyway, told ya so -- for the next three years, it'll be Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium, the athletic department announced today.
I don't know yet how much money Ocean Bank will pump into FIU, but expect it to be generous -- there's enormous cross-pollination between the bank and the school.
What happened to Alfonso Field, named after David Alfonso, who ponied up money to the FIU Foundation in 2011 for five years of Alfonso Field? He hasn't returned our calls. But here's a truism -- money-starved schools don't tend to end five-year deals with major donors after three years unless the money flow gets constipation. And that might have nothing to do with the school.
The next athletic department structure to get a revenue-bringing name will be Formerly Sunblazer Arena or What Once Was U.S. Century Bank Arena.
Football practice is still closed to the media. Though I can't give you the full meal served of past years because I wasn't there, here's a few pizza roll appetizers of info I heard about from today at La Cage...
Sophomore middle linebacker Treyvon Williams took first team snaps late in practice. Also, junior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon took snaps at first team corner in a defense against a three-wide set. McKinnon's switched from No. 31 to No. 7, the number of NFL-bound FIU defensive backs Anthony Gaitor and Johnathan Cyprien. Sophomore De'Shawn Hazziez, a walk-on last year who played in 11 games, might be moving up the depth chart also.
On offense, quarterback EJ Hilliard continued with the first team. Joining Hilliard on some of the snaps were speedy redshirt junior running back Shane Coleman and freshman wide receiver Dennis Turner, probably the best big play guy in the 2014 recruiting class. What was it I wrote in the training camp preview about looking for explosiveness?
The preseason Conference USA coaches poll puts FIU at No. 7 in the nine-team league and New Mexico as the overwhelming favorite (seven of nine first place votes). Senior forward Quentin Albrecht, Second Team All-C-USA last season, was voted to the preseason all-conference team.
Fall's best hope for bringing FIU a conference title, women's soccer, was picked to finish fourth in Conference USA. Charlotte, from the soccer power state of North Carolina, is the favorite followed by North Texas and Rice.
Last year's leading FIU scorer, senior Ashleigh Shim, was picked for the preseason all-conference team after being Second Team All-C-USA in 2013. The women open the FIU athletic season Aug. 22 at home against Arizona.
Just received an e-mail that all football training camp practices will be closed to the media. No mention of post-practice media sessions. I'm sure they'll come up with something.
This mostly curtails the usual detailed daily training camp reports here on the blog. It cuts the daily rail tidbits that run in the print Herald, as well as the occasional training camp feature. On the other hand, I get more time to work on preseason section stuff, take my daughter to summer camp in the mornings and cram in a few more Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes before the summer ends.
The signage outside La Cage still calls the fake grass inside "Alfonso Field." Alas, that will be changing.
FIU needs the money that comes from slapping a name on the field. You've got the NCAA saying Division I schools can stuff their athletes like Sunday at Big Mama's, and Conference USA claiming all scholarships will be full scholarships as of the 2015-16 school year. Time to go find a different source of Other People's Cash.
Might FIU go with a corporate entity? Banks and energy companies seem popular to woo for naming, with their gushers of cash. South Florida comes a little light on energy industries. Ocean Bank loves the College of Business Administration and already have the Ocean Bank Auditorium in the College of Business. Might Ocean Bank love them some Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium?
Lime named the basketball court. Might they want some fake grass under their logo?
What a Vikings beat reporter sees from former FIU defensive tackle and cook Isame Faciane in training camp so far...
Tania Tare put up on Instagram a picture of her just-arrived 2013 graduation ring and Sun Belt Conference championship rings.
The media horde -- Herald photographer Walt Michot and I -- were shown out at 9:30. I was told the people still in the stands were "invited." They were player family members so of course they were invited.
While we were there, I saw nothing surprising.
Afterwards, no players were made available to The Herald. Coach Ron Turner declined to speak with The Herald at that time. I was told to call him later. He and I did speak later Monday evening.
So, what was to be a sports front story likely will be a brief in the print Herald tomorrow. Oh, well, more time to work on preseason section stuff...
Football training camp begins today with FIU searching for playmakers instead of being a collegiate version of ESPN’s Playmakers as the Panthers were a year ago.
Pick any two Road Runner cartoons and you’d see more explosive plays than FIU provided a year ago. Only 14 turnovers gained by the defense or special teams, 112th in the nation, and four of those came against Southern Mississippi, the nation’s most generous team with turnovers. Only 11 quarterback sacks, also 112th. Only one touchdown of any kind from a play longer than 20 yards. Only 41 plays of any kind longer than 20 yards, 3.41 per game. And those last two sentences count kick and punt returns.
For any football team, those facts drop a team off in One Win Country. For a college football team in this state, even one going through raze-rubble-raise as FIU did last year, it’s an abomination.
That also shows how much FIU missed cornerback/kick returner Richard Leonard and wide receiver Glenn Coleman last year. In 2012, Leonard had a 100-yard punt return touchdown and a 49-yard punt return touchdown. Coleman averaged over 20 yards per catch in two different games.
Without long plays, turnovers and sacks, FIU needed far more precision than a team of its maturity could muster. Everybody needs cheap points. Nobody needs them more than FIU.
Quarterback: Which happens first? Junior E.J. Hilliard gets the ball out of his hands faster with good decisions or freshman Alex McGough adjusts to the speed of the college game? Because that’ll determine if Hilliard stays at the top of the chart longer than “You Light Up My Life” or if McGough goes from freshman boy to The Man and brings the “End of the Road” to Hilliard.
Hopefully, the quarterback situation won’t split the team the way some of the departed tell me Jake Medlock vs. Hilliard did last year.
Bud Martin, Akil Dan-Fodio, Luke Medlock will take snaps in practice and have their moments. But if anybody besides McGough or Hilliard sees significant playing time this year, only EA Sports will let FIU score in the double digits.
Sort of digression: FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said at the announcement of Ron Turner’s hiring, “He is no doubt, in my opinion and a lot of people’s opinion, the best quarterbacks coach in the country….”
So why is Cam Turner, zero previous years as quarterbacks coach, the Turner that's been listed as FIU’s quarterbacks coach the last two seasons? Especially when Ron Turner seemed to be the one coaching the quarterbacks last year.
Running back: When a coach says it’ll be “running back by committee” and not “we’ll see who steps up and takes the job,” he’s not sold on any of his current runners and knows the unknown that are freshmen.
They needed Lamarq Caldwell’s big body to take the battering from waves of tacklers crashing through a leaky line. Still, FIU overused him. Now is when redshirt junior Shane Coleman runs himself into playing time or just runs through practices toward a degree (hopefully). You can tell by the carries he was given during spring practices the coaches want him to own a role.
A pair of nifty sophomores need to show they can come off knee injuries, Alphonso Randolph’s suffered last fall and Silas Spearman’s suffered in the spring scrimmage. That Bowling Green transfer Anthon Samuel, out with a concussion in the spring, will be a walk-on says what they’re expecting from him.
The door’s open for freshmen Alex Gardner, a three-star rated running back out of Jacksonville Raines, and Napoleon Maxwell out of St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut. After all, FIU got only one run longer than 20 yards from its running backs last year, Spearman’s 32-yarder against Southern Mississippi.
Wide receivers/tight ends: The 2012 offense exploded when FIU started getting the ball to big, fast Coleman and Willis Wright. Their academic failure left FIU with T.J. Lowder (Johnny Quick speed, inconsistent hands), Dominique Rhymes (height, speed, inconsistent hands), Clinton Taylor (speed, inconsistent hands), DeAndre Jasper (speed, inconsistent hands) and Fred Porter (height, hands, gets-there speed).
FIU pass catchers got open for a lot of big plays last year. The catching and running (without fumbling) part of big plays proved a problem. And that’s why the wideouts produced only 16 receptions over 20 yards.
If Coleman’s all that he was, FIU’s offense gets a needed jolt from jump street. All 6-5 of Michigan State transfer Juwan Ceasar should give whoever’s throwing the ball a big, long target downfield. He came out of Coral Park High as a three-to-four-star recruit. So did James Louis, who hasn’t seen the field after transferring to FIU in 2011, but Louis isn’t 6-5.
FIU’s sliver of light in last year’s offensive nuclear winter, leading receiver sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith, could be the best tight end in Conference USA. Cory White got a sixth year from the NCAA. Junior Ya’keem Griner also will get his share of plays unless Turner goes away from the two-tight end offense he loves.
Offensive line: Everybody’s back in the same place – left tackle David Delsoin, left guard Jordan Budwig, center Donald Senat, right guard Jordan White and right tackle Aaron Nielsen.
The running game should benefit the most from the line slogging through 12 games together last season. Even subtracting the 52 sacks allowed, FIU averaged only 3.25 yards per carry. That hurt on first down. Be it player youth or coach stodginess, Ron Turner didn’t exactly feel comfortable doing much risky on first down last year. So, over and over again, it was here you go, Lamarq, good luck!
FIU’s inability to gain yards on first down led to the nation’s worst third down conversion percentage, 22.5 percent. That led to the defense being on the field too often. That led to the defense began breaking down with about four games left.
And that leads us to this year’s defense.
Defensive line: Imarjaye Albury, Marques Cheeks, Darrian Dyson each came out of high school with three-star ratings in 2012. And Leonard Washington, Dyson’s teammate at New Orleans Edna Karr, actually had a better 2011 than Dyson.
Training camp will be about finding who of the above will or won’t evolve into being proper replacements for defensive tackles Isame Faciane and Greg Hickman. On the ends, redshirt junior Wonderful Monds II should press seniors Denzell Perine and Giovanni Francois for playing time.
Linebackers: How long and how big?
How long will junior Luis Rosado hold off sophomore Treyvon Williams at middle linebacker? Rosado’s taller, older, more experienced, but Williams just keeps showing up in the middle of plays. Rosado needs a good enough camp to keep coaches from believing it’s worth keeping Williams’ advantages in time and upside on the bench.
Now that the NCAA says schools can feed Division I athletes unlimited meals to student-athletes – the rule went into effect Friday – maybe junior Patrick Jean puts more meat on those 6-3 bones. Unless FIU’s not up to feeding its student-athletes, that is, which would be a shame. A bigger Jean, with his range and Davison Colimon’s speed would give FIU linebackers that can create fumbles, sacks, interceptions.
Secondary: Leonard looked fantastic in the spring. So did his cousin, junior Jeremiah McKinnon.
McKinnon’s always around the ball on defense and special teams. On special teams, he makes the tackle. On defense, he makes the tackle after his positioning somehow wouldn’t result in a breakup or interception. Signs of change should come in training camp.
McKinnon might give Randy Harvey a run for the cornerback spot opposite Leonard. At times, teams ignored Sam Miller’s side of the field and picked on Harvey last year. They’ll be even less apt to try Leonard, so whoever’s over there will stay busy. Sophomore Wilkenson Myrtil also stood out in the spring. If guys like Myrtil, Leonard and McKinnon have game-turning speed. FIU picked off only seven passes last year and returned them only 48 yards.
Three of those interceptions came from fifth-year senior safety Justin Halley. Halley’s shoulder injury kept him out of spring practice. August will give him time to get sharp. Homicidal hitter Demarkus Perkins occupies the other safety spot. He’ll do well not to hurt somebody in training camp.
Special teams: No jobs are more open than kicker and punter, the most fungible positions on the team. After a bad day for the booters, I half expect to see the coaching staff pulling up at Panther Mover stops around Camp Mitch like contractors looking for day laborers. “Can any of you punt or kick a football? Want unlimited food or at least breakfast bars?”
Redshirt sophomore punter Chris Ayers lost his job midseason to quarterback Jake Medlock, who transferred to Valdosta State for his senior season. Now, Ayers will be challenged by freshman Luke Medlock, Jake’s younger brother and an All-State punter at Jacksonville Fletcher. And there’s also walk-on Jose Laphitzondo from Argentina.
The kicker contest will be between sophomores Austin Taylor, Serge Sroka, Karson Dietrich, Cody Hodgens and freshman Scott Wade. Taylor nailed a 52-yarder last season. But he was only eight of 12 overall and nobody kicked off well.
Among the returners, everybody’s practicing to be Leonard’s backup.
Training camp won’t be open to the public. When I told another college football writer that, a perplexed look preceded, “Are they kidding? With what they drew last year, they should be opening everything to everybody.”
I agree. We were watching a Miami Dolphins practice at that moment. An open practice with fans welcome to watch the team learn their new offense, practice various unique plays and try various personnel combinations. Day camps brought kids by for part of practice.
Meanwhile, FIU closes practice despite running a basic 4-3 defense and what an opposing Conference USA assistant told Athlon is “pretty basic, a pro-style offense. They will huddle and do what Ron Turner did somewhere in the NFL.”
Whatever. Here we go.
Word on the street and out of Camp Mitch is former FIU assistant and longtime club softball coaching ace Gator Rebhan will be named as FIU's new softball coach.
UPDATE: FIU announced this a half-hour after I posted the above.
Rebhan was an assistant under Jake Schumann, who left to be the associate head coach at Ole Miss after three years at FIU (and no raise from $59,000). He inherits arguably the most promising team in the athletic department. Almost everyone returns from a young team that went 33-20, 15-9 in Conference USA last season.
Single game tickets for the fall sports -- football, volleyball, both soccers -- go on sale at 5 p.m. at FIUSports.com.
If you're into spending mornings off watching football practice instead of splashing at a water park or helping the local economy by keeping a waterfront bar in business, here's the football practice schedule.
Tuesday-Aug. 9: 8:15-10:30
Aug. 11, 13, 15, 18, 20: 8:15-10:30 a.m. and 7:15-8:30 p.m.
Aug. 12, 14, 16, 19, 21-23: 8:15-10:30 a.m.
As far as the (potential) Class of 2015, FIU's killing it in Jacksonville. Jacksonville Trinity Christian's 6-3, 315-pound Deion Eakins became the fifth from the area to pledge FIU. Eakins is unrated by ESPN and 247sports.com and at two stars by Rivals.com and Scout.com.
Trinity ran for 266 yards per game last season on their way to a state title. According to an article in In The Game magazine, Easkins plays drums and is in the church band. If he comes to Camp Mitch, he'll combine with running back/singer Alex Gardner out of Jacksonville Raines to put FIU a lead guitar from a church trio.
St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut Academy sent running back Napoleon Maxwell to FIU this year. Jestin Green, a wide receiver and safety, says he's coming to FIU next year. Green's unrated by the four sites I usually site here.
The preseason Conference USA coaches poll put FIU ninth in the 13-team conference. Defending champion Texas-San Antonio was picked to repeat with Sun Belt immigrant Western Kentucky ranked second.
FIU put nobody on the preseason all-conference team, but Adrianna McLamb represents FIU on the conference's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee as its External Affairs Chair.
Monday's the first football practice. Aug. 22 is the first athletic event of the 2014-15 academic year, women's soccer hosting Arizona. Aug. 30, kickoff vs. Bethune-Cookman.
Who shrunk summer from back in the day, when it ran from Memorial Day to Jerry Lewis Telethon? Good golly, the week of no parking at Camp Mitch will be upon us soon.
Football coach Ron Turner said last week he was happy with recruiting for 2015 so far, especially coming off 1-11. He's certainly getting them out of Homestead, where he scored a committment from defensive back Ocie Rose. Rose transferred from Homestead to Booker T. Washington for his senior season, just as FIU commit Maurice Alexander did this year.
Ratings on Rose are all over the place. Rivals puts him at three stars. Scout.com puts him at two. ESPN.com and 247Sports.com don't have him rated themselves, but 247Sports has him at three stars on their composite rating. At 6-1, 185, Rose bloomed into a big safety who forced two fumbles last year in his 47 tackles.
Two-way interior lineman Richerd Desir-Jones, 6-4, 300, out of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas gave his pledge to FIU. He's rated at three stars by Rivals and Scout.com, unrated by ESPN.com and 247Sports.com.
Orange Park Fleming Island center Neal Mars, 6-4, 275, also wears an FIU pledge pin for 2015. He's unrated by the four recruiting sites.
For what it's worth...247Sports has FIU's 2015 class rated 94th nationally, ninth in Conference USA. Scout.com has FIU rated 90th nationally, seventh in C-USA. Rivals puts FIU 91st overall, sixth in conference. Lot of months, a lot of games, a lot of standardized tests and a lot of grades between now and Signing Day. Plenty of time to move in either direction.
First baseman Gunnar McNeill was picked as the Valley Baseball League's Staunton Braves MVP after leading the league in hitting (.402) and RBI (50) with a team-high six home runs. In the playoffs, he went four for eight with a double and two RBI. For FIU, McNeill also pitches. He made three apperances for Staunton, once as a starter and had a 9.00 ERA in six innings pitched.
We do like our academic achievement around here. So belated big ups to the women's basketball team for their 3.37 grade point average being Conference USA's best in women's hoop.
NFL TRAINING CAMPS
The AP's Mark Long on former FIU safety Johnathan Cyprien.
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.”
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."
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.
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.
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.