August 28, 2015

Forcing Futbol Feet to the Fire


Friday -- Women's soccer vs. UCF, 7 p.m.

Friday -- Volleyball vs. North Florida, 7 p.m.

Saturday -- Volleyball vs. Alabama A&M, noon

Saturday -- Volleyball vs. South Florida, 6 p.m.

Thursday -- Men's soccer vs. Fairfield, 7 p.m.

While FIU women's soccer hosts formerly-ranked Central Florida in a measuring stick game tonight, men's soccer opens the season with a pair of measuring stick games that could easily turn into Big Mama yardstick spankings:

At No. 5 North Carolina in its season-opener tonight; at Wake Forest, which received Top 25 votes, Sunday.

Opening the season with Ali, then Frazier is the idea of head coach Scott Calabrese. The early damage it could do to the record he hopes gets countered by the later benefit in Conference USA, no ACC in soccer but home to two Top 25 teams (No. 17 Charlotte, No. 24 Old Dominion) and three others that received votes (UAB, Kentucky, New Mexico).

"When you play at Chapel Hill and you play at Wake Forest, they have an ability to expose things you do wrong and they'll punish you for it," Calabrese said. "We'll learn a lot about our team. UNC is a team that is usually in contention for a national championship. Playing them will set a standard for what it is to be in that position. The speed of play, how do we measure up to that?"

Last year's results reflected the reality of FIU men's soccer having a first-year coach being the third in four seasons of a program that's been buffeted by NCAA penalties and loss of national relevancy. Their 6-9-1 record included some fine performances but a 2-6 conference record left them outside the CUSA tournament.

Calabrese voiced similar hopes to those stated to me earlier in the day by volleyball's Rita Buck-Crockett.

(For that matter, all the fall sports -- men's soccer, women's soccer, volleyball, football -- spent their 2014 seasons malnourished on wins after losses during which they could smell victory cooking.

"You learn how to win games, not just play games as you mature," Calabrese said. "I think we have a group that's more mature and focused. Do we have an ability to turn good performances into results? Overall, I'd say this team that's starting to come together is more cohesive on and off the field. 

They lost three-time All-Region striker Quentin Albrecht, who led or tied for the team scoring lead each of his four years. Senior midfielder Daniel Gonzalez is the leading returning scorer (nine points). Gonzalez, preseason All-CUSA defender Marvin Hezel and midfielder Donald Tomlinson tie as the leading returning goal scorers (two each).

Making up Albrecht's production (eight goals, two assists last year), Calabrese said, "might be a midfielder scoring four or five, a striker getting six or seven goals, another player chipping in with three or four. I do think we have multiple players who can help us score goals."

The coaches picked FIU sixth. Calabrese figures if the Panthers get into the top four, that'll mean they're playing at a Top 25 level.

Friday, they'll see if they can play at a Top 5 level.


Thursday, starting at 5 p.m., there's a watch party at the Chili's in the Graham Center ("The GC") for FIU's season opener at UCF. You veterans without Friday classes can start your weekend. Those of you with Friday classes can start your weekend, too, it's just that you might pay for it one way or the other.

August 26, 2015

Getting It Together


Women's soccer -- Friday vs. No. 17 UCF, 7 p.m.

Volleyball -- Panther Challenge, Friday vs. North Florida, 7 p.m.

Volleyball -- Panther Challenge, Saturday vs. Alabama A&M, noon

Volleyball -- Panther Challenge, Saturday vs. South Florida, 6 p.m.

Now, you can walk the walk between FIU Arena and the soccer "stadium" without fear of getting conked by a wayward shot put or discus. North of the International Hurricane Research Center and south of the ROTC area, there's a field in front of a hammer throw cage and two discus/shot put circles.


Over in FIU Stadium, there's a dry land diving board -- I can't help but think it looks like a prop out of High-Diving Hare -- to help Swim & Dive keep cranking out its run of dominant divers.

The new softball locker room is running behind, but is running.

Meanwhile, eight football players got to play Santa Claus/UPS Guy/Jesse/Whatever Delivery Man Brings You Happiness by bringing season tickets to fans on campus while wearing jerseys to stand out among their fellow students (like they blend anyway). These pictures courtesy FIU Athletic Department.


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That's Provost Kenneth Furton.


The replacement for Compliance Director Hank Harrawood, the best thing to happen to that department in a while, is Jessica Reo. Reo also gets "Special Projects" attached her "Senior Associate Athletic Director for Compliance" title. Hey, mon, when a dollar needs to be stretched, it's all about how many jobs you can do. Reo worked in compliance at the other Division I/FBS school in town for seven years, but the spent the last seven years as director for student services in Central Florida's athletic department.


Need to grab some water. These crackers are making me thirsty.

August 24, 2015

Monday Hurts


Women's soccer -- Friday vs. UCF, 7 p.m.
Volleyball -- Friday, Panther Challenge vs. North Florida, 7 p.m.
Volleyball -- Saturday, Panther Challenge vs. Alabama A&M, noon
Volleyball -- Saturday, Panther Challenge vs. South Florida, 6 p.m.

It's Emancipation Day for parents and No Parking On The Dance Floor or Anywhere Else Day for FIU students: the first day of school.

Looking around after the football class at FIU Stadium, the Orange Crush injury jerseys draped the frames of redshirt freshman right tackle Kai Absheer, who had worked his way to the top of the depth chart; sophomore wide receiver Shawn Abrams, one of FIU's potential threats for bombs and red zone fades; and redshirt sophomore linebacker Jordan Guest.

FIU coach Ron Turner said Guest would be ready for the opener at Central Florida next Thursday. Of Absheer, he said if he wasn't ready for the opener, then by the next week at Indiana. Abrams, like Absheer, got a "we'll see..."

August 20, 2015

First Opening Kickoff Friday & Odds on Another Opening Kickoff


Friday -- Women's Soccer, vs. Dayton, 7 p.m.

The first team marching into its stadium (heh-heh) in this year's parade of FIU sports is, as usual, women's soccer. The team does so not draped in its customary attire of glossy official expectation but rather the plain, unfinished garments of apparent rebuilding.

So what? Recent years' glittery preseason clothes made of great expectations looked terribly out of place on the Panthers' heartbroken Miss Havishams the last few years. Since the 2011 Sun Belt Conference title, FIU lost the 2012 Sun Belt Conference championship game to a North Texas team to which they felt clearly better; lost key players in the front and the back early in 2013; then failed to make the 2014 Conference USA tournament despite what coach Thomas Chestnutt called, "The best team, the most talented team we've had."

In fact, for what little he cares for such projections, Chestnutt sees FIU being picked sixth by Conference USA coaches as something of a compliment. He figures if you finish 10th and lose two of the top scorers in school history, Chelsea Leiva and Ashleigh Shim, and still get picked sixth, "I guess the rest of the conference thinks highly of us."

Fifth-year senior defender Nikki Rios said, "I think we'll be a really big force to be reckoned with this year and I don't think anybody's expecting it. We didn't perform to our best abilities (in 2014) and we're predicted sixth this year. Everybody's saying, 'They've got a lot of new players, they've lost their experience, they're only going to go down from here.' That's not the case at all. We're just going to go up from here because we're so willing to win and win that ring this year. And it's (the Conference USA tournament) on our home turf this year."

Rios said she told teammates and coaches, "Marie, me and Scarlet Montoya are the three fifth-year seniors and we're not leaving without a ring on our finger."

Reminded she was a freshman on the 2011 Sun Belt Conference champions, Rios said, "Marie and I were hurt that year, so we don't really count it as our own."

"Marie," by the way, is defender Marie Egan, Second Team All-Conference USA in 2014 and the lone Panther voted to the preseason all-conference team.

"I don't think I've ever wanted to win this ring more," Egan said.

In addition to the intangible of want-to, the similarly amorphous quality of "chemistry" gets claimed by the Panthers.

"We did lose a lot of experienced players, but we did gain a lot of young new players who are willing to learn and work hard as soon as they came in," Rios said. "I think our chemistry is already building and it'll only get stronger."

Chestnutt said the 2014 team lacked accountability more than chemistry, but "You can have good character people, but they may not be able to hold each other accountable because there's chemistry lacking in the group."

FIU's 25-woman roster includes 10 freshmen plus junior goalkeeper Sophia Trujillo, a Gulliver graduate transferring back home from San Diego State. Chestnutt named defender Taylor Coffee (Pembroke Pines Flanagan); defender Jacqueline Manteas; midfielder Steffi Reischmann; and midfielder Jacqueline Byers among those freshmen who'll see the field often.

"Quite a few players in our new class will have a direct impact immediately," Chestnutt said. "If we're not having three freshmen contribute heavily, we're not doing a good enough job of recruiting."

They'll be the first ones at FIU to find out this year how well they've done recruiting and coaching.


The Las Vegas handicappers put FIU a 17-point underdog at UCF Sept. 3 with the over/under at 46.5.

Now, back to vacation. See you when classes start.


August 17, 2015

60 Minutes (or so) on Sunday


Friday: Women's Soccer vs. Dayton, 7 p.m.

Sunday's practice and scrimmage looked about how you'd expect -- Manwich early, meatier later. Afterwards, FIU coach Ron Turner pressed more flesh than Jeb Bush between current players' parents, high school coaches and recruits (you might have to go back to the high school playoffs to find the last time that much Central green was at FIU Stadium).  

Let's get the injury report out of the way before we get to whatever analysis you can make of a training camp scrimmage.

The Home Depot team roster looked too good for comfort, but as of now only sophomore running back Napoleon Maxwell's a long term issue. Maxwell will have season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee and will redshirt this season. When I saw him limp off after practice the day he injured the knee, I thought it didn't look good, but figured only an outside chance it would be that bad. Light sprain, probably.

You hope the injury that put senior outside linebacker Davison Colimon's in orange isn't long term because it's his head. Colimon got a concussion Tuesday. Junior middle linebacker Treyvon Williams sat out with an ankle injury. Both could be back Tuesday when FIU resumes practice. Everybody speaks cautiously these days about concussions, as they should.

Also in orange was senior defensive end Denzell Perine. Unlike Colimon and Williams, Perine could do some of the non-contact running around, so he's in the Small-to-No Problem column.

Seeing all the Central heads reminded me to ask about incoming freshman cornerback Olin Cushion. Cushion had shoulder surgery in the spring. He'll be grayshirted this year and enroll in January. Same with Neptune Beach Fletcher offensive tackle Andrew Burgess, another 2015 signee.

On to the scrimmage.

The Skill Position Player of the Night: sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens made the best catch of warmups, a one-handed grab of a knee-high 10-to-15-yard throw while he kept stride. Both the first and second string offenses resembled the blah attacks of the last two seasons when quarterback Alex McGough fired a right sideline throw that cornerback Richard Leonard looked positioned to pick off. Somehow, the ball materialized on the other side of Leonard into Owens hands as he tapped in a 13-yard third down conversion. Leonard appeared to applaud the throw and/or the catch. It would've been worthy praise. Owens later caught a lovely 26-yard pass over the middle from redshirt freshman quarterback Bud Martin. Turner said the difference in Martin this year is decision-making.

Lineman of the Night: Any of the ones who didn't get flagged for false starts or offsides. A defensive end being offside, especially on a passing down, is expected once in a while. Defensive tackles? If the ball that's a foot from your face doesn't move, red light. The defensive tackles blew through that hint and a half the way South Florida drivers blow through Stop signs (do drivers these days think Stop signs are sponsored by Publix's BOGO bargains, thus are two for one?). A helpful offensive lineman would give the 5 yards back by flinching or fidgeting.

The first team offensive line had redshirt freshman Chris Miller at Jordan Budwig's left guard spot. Mike Montero took center. Aaron Nielsen got moved back to right tackle. Before that, however, redshirt freshman Kai Absheer worked at right tackle. Junior Edens Sineace did second team duty at right tackle.

Out in the middle of the field, FIU's three first team receivers were Owens and Clinton Taylor with sophomore Dennis Turner moving Taylor to the slot in three-receiver sets. On the goal line, they went with Clinton Taylor, freshman Anthony Jones and Owens. Jones flared right to catch Alex McGough's rollout 1-yard touchdown pass on third and goal after Silas Spearman's two shots from the 2 gained 1-yard, then no yards into defensive tackle Darrian Dyson's bulk. Alex Gardner opened the scrimmage at running back, then Anthon Samuel got some carries before Spearman, senior Lamarq Caldwell and freshman Collin Olsen took the rest of the scrimmage.

The next drive ended with a Men II Boyz How Not to Tackle lesson from senior tight end Akil Dan-Fodio, 6-4, 225, to freshman Jestin Green, 6-0, 175. Green tried to bring Dan-Fodio down by the shoulders as Dan-Fodio collected a Bud Martin pass. Dan-Fodio shrugged like a babysitting older brother and dumped Green over the sidelines, then rumbled into the end zone.

Colimon and Williams on the sideline meant the first unit linebackers were redshirt sophomore Vontarius West, graduated senior Jephete Matilus and sophomore Anthony Wint. Matilus came out of Delray Beach Atlantic as a linebacker, got switched to fullback while at Minnesota, now is a graduate with a year of eligibility left. At least one site ranked West as FIU's best recruit in 2013 when he came out of Bartow as a safety.

"We felt we had depth at safety. We felt (West) had the body type and athleticism to help inside," Turner said. "He was a very aggressive safety and seemed pretty instinctive. Smart kid. We figured, let's take a look at him. He looked pretty good. He's a fast linebacker maybe not quite as fast as a safety that you'd want. Not that he couldn't play safety. He could. He's a very athletic linebacker. He's shown some instincts, reading things, deciphering plays."

You can see why Turner's high on freshman cornerback Emmanuel Lubin who was paired with redshirt freshman Mark Bruno out of Pembroke Pines Flanagan as the second cornerback pair behind Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon. Lubin made some nice breaks on the ball and did something disruptive when he arrived on the scene. You could also see that he's a freshman. The scrimmage ended when freshman Maurice Alexander gave a shoulder fake, Lubin bought it like french fries and freshman Mark Hutchinson raced past Lubin to catch a 37-yard bomb. 

Speaking of sold, backup Trey Anderson scored on a nice bootleg run around left end on which the defense was so suckered, only one block needed to be thrown for Anderson in about 20 yards.

As far as punting, Chris Ayers got off a returnable 56-yarder, a returnable 42-yarder and, from 43 yards away, dropped a punt that Deonte Wilson downed at the 2. Freshman Stone Wilson put a 46-yarder out of bounds and booted a 56-yarder rugby style.


August 15, 2015

Saturday in La Cage

Sophomore running back Napoleon Maxwell, part of FIU's very good trio of running backs, has a left knee injury that had him in the Home Depot orange injury jersey and on crutches Saturday.

“We should have a final answer for the next day or two whether it’s going to be surgery or whether or not it’s going to be a sprain and we’ll get him back,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “We’re concerned about it.”

Maxwell didn't get hit or get his cleats caught in the turf, Turner said. He just took a bad step.

Turner's high on freshman defensive back Emmanuel Lubin, who certainly has the lineage -- out of North Miami Beach, which produced Lubin's brother, Philadelphia cornerback E.J. Biggers; stepbrother, Dolphins safety Louis Delmas; and, of course, FIU's all-time tackler, Jacksonville safety Johnathan Cyprien.
Turner uses the word "smooth" to describe Lubin as an athlete. There's two safety jobs open. Nothing says a freshman can't get one of them.

Just did my game-by-game analysis for our football special sections. It came out 6-6, which means FIU's most likely records are 5-7 or 7-5.
In 2011, I picked FIU to go 9-3, 6-2 in the Sun Belt, and they came in 8-4, 5-3. I underestimated the 2013 disaster at 3-9, 2-6 in Conference USA instead of the 1-11, 1-7 Irwin Allen movie that it was. Last year's fortune telling came out at 3-9, 2-6 and FIU came out 4-8, 3-5. (We won't discuss 2012).

August 12, 2015

Wednesday Droppings

Pick your Lotto numbers well.

I asked Ron Turner who looked good among the receivers after a week of training camp. He named fifth-year senior Clinton Taylor, who works out of the slot; sophomore Dennis Turner ("he's picked it up"); looks-taller-than-6-1 sophomore Thomas Owens ("he's picked up where he was in the spring"); and Shawn Abrams.   

Freshman Anthony Jones and junior college transfer Julian Williams "are progressing really well," according to Turner.

If I had to guess, on Sept. 3, UCF will see Taylor and Owens as the wideouts in the double-tight end set to open the game.

In talking to redshirt junior defensive lineman Imarjaye Albury for tomorrow's story on the cost of attendance stipend, I asked him what he would do differently if he had to go through his recruiting again.

"I would've taken all my visits, looked at all the schools that offered me a scholarship," Albury said. "I would've held every conversation with every coach. I would've looked at every aspect of a school, not just its name, how it is publicity-wise and TV-wise."

Today, as I went through my old Sports Illustrated's, I ran across the 1986 College and Pro Football Preview Issue. I read a story I somehow hadn't read before -- I used to truly go cover to cover with those SI previews -- written by just departed Pitt player Robert Schilken on life as a college football backup. Schilken, who played four years then entered Pitt's med school, wrote something similar to what Albury said to me about an hour later -- consider everything when you choose a school, not just football.

Football can go sideways on you.


The unofficial opening of the sports season -- FIU hosts the Hurricanes at 7 p.m. Thursday for a little preseason skirmish.

The women footballers also open the official athletic season a week from Friday against Dayton at FIU Soccer Stadium (ahem).


August 11, 2015

Radio Static

FIU football will be back on 1210 ESPNDeportes for all 12 games this season. So when your cable goes on the fritz, there will be an alternative besides Twitter.

When the school didn't include the broadcast team in the announcement, it indicates a change in that department. Most likely, play-by-play man Mike Levine won't have Pete Pelegrin's encyclopedic knowledge of FIU football history at his disposal this season as color analyst.


At last report, FIU Swimming & Diving coach Randy Horner was seventh in The Herald's Best South Florida Coach poll. Former FIU baseball coach Danny Price, now at Miami-Dade College, is fifth.




August 05, 2015

29 Days

That's not the sequel to a Sandra Bullock flick about addiction. That's how many days until the college-affiliated football addiction for FIU fans gets satiated with the season opener against Central Florida.

Until then, there's training camp, more "training" than "camp." And FIU enters this phase with fewer questions than most teams coming off a 4-8 season.

Quarterback? Barring a positive drug test or arrest, neither of which seems likely, that'll be sophomore Alex McGough. Redshirt freshman Bud Martin will try to break up the Alexander monopoly on the quarterback position led by McGough and supplemented by the freshman Alexanders, Christian Alexander and Maurice Alexander.

Running back? Senior Anthon Samuel, sophomore Alex Gardner and sophomore Napoleon Maxwell stand above the running back pack.

Tight end? Junior Jonnu Smith (duh) and Ya'Keem Griner or senior Akil Dan-Fodio.

Offensive line: "We've got three starters back we feel good about," FIU coach Ron Turner said. Those would be left tackle Dieugot Joseph, left guard Jordan Budwig (24 for 24 on starts)

"Some other guys have to step up. Whether it's (junior) Edens Sineace, (junior) Trenton Saunders, whoever. I think they will. They did some good things in the spring." Senior Aaron Nielsen will be moved from right tackle, where Turner thought he was out of position, to center. 

Defensive line: Seniors Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine on the ends. Redshirt junior Imarjaye Albury and either senior Lars Koht or senior Darrian Dyson as the tackles.

Linebackers: Senior Davison Colimon and sophomore Anthony Wint flanking junior Treyvon Williams.

Safties: Redshirt junior Jordan Davis and sophomore Shemarke Spence, who got time at safety later in the 2014 season. Expect redshirt juinor Deonte Wilson to challenge both.

Cornerbacks: Fifth-year senior Richard Leonard on one side, senior Jeremiah McKinnon covering the Leonard-Free Zone. 

Kicker: Junior Austin Taylor's the incumbent, but kickers define "fungible."

Punter: Senior Jose Laphitzondo and see "Kicker."

Notice I left wide receiver off this list. That's where the battles for position and playing time truly lay. And they begin today.

August 01, 2015

Football Practice Schedule (You Can't Come Yet)

Along with the football summer training camp practice schedule, FIU announced practices would be closed. I'm sure they'll be open via invitation at some point.

Wednesday: 9:05-11:30 a.m.

Thursday-Aug. 10; Aug. 12-17; Aug. 19-22; Aug. 24: 8:05-11:30 a.m.

Aug. 14, 16, 19, 21: Second practice at 7:15-8:30 p.m.

Aug. 11, 18, 23: No practice

FIU got more pledges Friday when Tallahasee Leon safety Damien Crumitie gave his word to Camp Mitch, as did Matt Kramer, Lakeland High defensive end. Crumitie is rated at three stars by and two stars by Kramer's unrated by both services.

July 31, 2015

Big Possibility Pencils in FIU

Look what happens when Ron Turner puts Tim Harris, Jr. on staff at FIU as running backs coach.

Arkansas wanted Central linebacker Donavan Thompson, rated at three stars by, like he was a Waffle House. Offer on the table and everything. But if you play football in that part of town, you know Harris, former coach at Booker T. Washington. So, you give a little more of your ear to the man when he talks to you about FIU. It also doesn't hurt when three very good teammates -- defensive lineman Fermin Silva, cornerback Olin Cushion, wide receiver/running back/offensive nitro Anthony Jones -- head for FIU with the idea of building an annual bowl team.

So, for now, Thompson gave the Heisman pose to Arkansas and the other Power Five schools said to be in pursuit and declared his sort-of commitment to FIU Thursday, as detailed here by David Furones. As Thompson described it, it's more like he and FIU are talking than going steady. As we know, nobody's fully yours until somebody puts a ring on the finger or name on the LOI.

Norland defensive back Bryon Brown pledged FIU earlier in the day. Brown's not rated by any of the recruiting sites yet. 



July 22, 2015

Quick Hits From CUSA Media Day

FIU cornerback Richard Leonard's working on being faster. And eight Conference USA special teams coaches and offensive coordinators just lost their appetites. Or their lunches.

Leonard's fourth gear already exceeds most players' sixth. But he wants to boost his zoom to any return crease he reaches -- beep! beep! --  six points. All the players at media day talk about getting their team a conference title. There's a sense that runs a little deeper with guys like Leonard, a fifth-year senior, or Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty ("I know I'm not getting a seventh year."), who know this is it for their college careers and maybe their football careers period. That's your CUSA preseason Defensive and Offensive Player of the YEar, coincidentally.

FIU coach Ron Turner feels he's got 100 guys with a team first mentality. Two years ago, he definitely didn't believe that. He thought pockets of selfishness remained last year. That, more than being in the third year with mostly his recruits, makes him optimistic about what this year could be for FIU.

And, yes, he's happy about that $6,000 Cost of Attendance stipend (see last post) for what it allows FIU's athletes to do with the thin slices of life away from class/sport as well as for the possible recruiting advantage.

FAU (vs. FIU, Oct. 31)

Recruiting geeks love the last two classes brought in by FAU coach Charlie Partridge. We'll start finding out if that class can justify that love soon. Partridge said, "Right now, we've got 50 guys we've recruited over the last two years. You're going to see a good portion of them on the field." That's why I picked them under FIU in the East Division.


By the way, you want to watch Conference USA coaches shiver, have them imagine Jeff Brohm as FAU's head coach with his offensive system, able to recruit South Florida and North Broward Prep's Doughty somehow still at FAU as his quarterback. Doughty threw for 4,830 yards, 49 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions and completed 67.9 percent of this passes. "I really want to expand my game and show I can do a variety of different things. I'm not just a pocket passer and a good system quarterback."

MARSHALL (vs. FIU Nov. 14)

Similar to Leonard and his speed, opposing defenses tended to find Marshall running truck Devon Johnson already big enough. Johnson left 1,767 yards of defenders in ice baths and training rooms last season and averaged 8.6 yards per carry.

Johnson said he's up five pounds to 245 and thinks he's both quicker and faster -- "I think I can break those long runs without getting caught on the 2-yard line."

No accident that the one game Johnson missed via injury turned into Marshall's only loss last year, the 67-66 overtime pinball game with Western Kentucky. He said missing that game bothers him to this day and "my main goal is to be healthy for my team."

LOUISIANA TECH (vs. FIU, Sept. 26)

One reason La Tech's the West Division favorite: quarterback Jeff Driskel, a one-and-done transfer from the University of Florida, to go with a tough defense and running back Kenneth Dixon. 

"I think I came into a really good situation," Driskel said. "The guys have always cared about each other, always been a close knit unit. I think I came in and didn't mess anything up. I came in, shut my mouth for a while and showed the guys I was there to work hard. I earned their respect. Everything's been often. No complaints."

Not having to surf the swarming media waves of SEC Media Days left Driskel loose enough to ask a veteran columnist to take a selfie with him (the columnist, an earthbound, AARP-eligible guy who has never taken a selfie in his life, declined).

"Coming out of high school, when you're being recruited heavily, you look at the stuff that has flash," Driskel said. "You look at the facilities, you look at how much money a school has, what they can provide for you. The second time around, when I announced I was going to transfer, I didn't look for that. I looked for, first of all, a place I could play because I've got only one year. I looked for a situation where I thought I could put up some big numbers. Cody Sokol did that last year (3,436 passing yards, 30 touchdowns) and there's a lot of guys coming back on offense. Also, I looked for a place full of good people -- a place where guys worked hard and enjoyed working hard together." 

CHARLOTTE (at FIU, Nov. 7)

Charlotte put up a 5-6 2014 record against a schedule of 11 FCS opponents. Now, they've got 11 FBS opponents on their 12-game schedule. A bit of a jump. Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said, "It'll be a jolt to them, I'm sure, in the beginning of the year. But we feel like we've prepared. It's not something that got dropped on us. We knew it." 

When I asked Lambert if he would've preferred an easing in to FBS, he said, "In the recruiting process, it's all about the brand that's behind your brand. Conference USA is a really realy good brand. So it enabled us to get in on some kids recruiting-wise the last two years that we might not have been able to get in on. We didn't have a team full of guys we'd recruited to an FCS team. Guys knew where we were and what we were doing."

OLD DOMINION (at FIU, Oct. 24)

Lambert says he expects Charlotte to be stronger on offense next year. I wonder how similar the collegiate East Coast 49ers will be to Old Dominion, shootout specialists during a 6-6, 4-4 in Conference USA, 2014 season. ODU put up 51 in regulation on Western Kentucky and lost 66-51. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke ran that offense the panache of a veteran joystick jockey playing Madden.

Redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley, a two-to-three-star recruit, now handles the Heinicke job.

"When we first started football, we had a brand new quarterback, Thomas DeMarco, and we played to his strengths and went 9-2 in his first year," Monarchs head coach Bobby Wilder said. "Taylor's first year, 2011, we changed the offense to fit around his strengths, we went 10-3 and the second round of the (FCS) playoffs. Shuler, the same thing, we're going to change the offense to fit his strengths.

"The good thing is we've got the conference rookie of the year back at running back (Ray Lawry). We return four starters in the o-line and we got an injured player back, Troy Butler, who was a starter for us two years ago. We've got eight wide receivers back who have started or played and been successful. So, there's a lot around Shuler. It's not as if he's stepping in and the cupboard is bare. He's stepping into a full cupboard."



July 21, 2015

Hypothesizing the Future

Some Conference USA schools released their entire basketball schedules Monday. Some released their conference basketball schedules Monday. Some released nothing Monday.

FIU's in group No. 3, but we're not mad. We just had to do a little research and deduction.

Conference USA uses the travel partner system. For example, FIU and FAU are travel partners. When FIU plays at Southern Mississippi on a Thursday, for example, FAU plays at Louisiana Tech. They'll swap opponents for the Saturday games. The week you play your travel partner, you have only one conference game instead of two. The C-USA partners, aside from FIU and FAU, are Rice-North Texas, Texas-San Antonio-UTEP, Southern Miss-La. Tech, Middle Tennessee State-Alabama-Birmingham, Western Kentucky-Marshall and Charlotte-Old Dominion.

Also, the men and women tend to have mirror schedules.

Based on the schedules already released, here's what we know of FIU's schedules with hypothetical games based on the travel partner system noted by "Probably."


Jan. 2 or 3 -- FAU (probably)

Jan. 7 -- at Western Kentucky

Jan. 9 -- at Marshall

Jan. 14 -- vs. La. Tech

Jan. 16 -- vs. Southern Miss (probably)

Jan. 21 -- at UTSA

Jan. 23 –- at UTEP

Jan. 28 – at Charlotte (probably)

Jan. 30 – at Old Dominion (probably)

Feb. 4 -- at UAB (probably)

Feb. 6 -- at Middle Tennessee

Feb. 11 -– vs. UTEP

Feb. 13 -– vs. UTSA

Feb. 18 – at North Texas

Feb. 20 – at Rice

Feb. 27 -- FAU (probably)

Mar. 3 -- vs. UAB (probably)

Mar. 5 -- vs. Middle


Jan. 2 or 3 -- FAU (probably)

Jan. 7 – vs. Western

Jan. 9 -- vs. Marshall (probably)

Jan. 14 – at La Tech

Jan. 16 -- at Southern Miss (probably)

Jan. 21 -- vs. UTEP (probably)

Jan. 23 -- vs. UTSA (probably)

Jan. 28 –- at Charlotte

Jan. 30 –- at Old Dominion (probably)

Feb. 4 -- vs. UAB (probably)

Feb. 6 – vs. Middle

Feb. 11 -- at UTEP (probably)

Feb. 13 -- at UTSA (probably)

Feb. 18 – vs. North Texas (probably)

Feb. 20 – vs. Rice

Feb. 27 -- FAU (probalby)

Mar. 3 -- at UAB (probably)

Mar. 5 – at Middle


Needing to clear the DVR of David recordings, I finally watched Booker T. Washington's 34-28 overtime win against Bingham (Utah) High in the Burger King State Champions Bowl Series. It wasn't the first time I saw FIU soon-to-be freshman Maurice Alexander. It was the first time I thought "He can come in there and take that quarterback job, if those guys already there don't watch it."

Maybe not this year, although only a fool would rule that out when the competition's a sophomore who started 11 games and looked like a freshman with ability (Alex McGough), a redshirt freshman (Bud Martin) and another true freshman who fits the tall, strapping quarterback suit (Christian Alexander). But Maurice Alexander (no relation) will challenge for that No. 1 job.

The "whatever it takes" quality he showed against Bingham impressed me and probably is why, FIU coach Ron Turner noted from a camp, players gravitate to him as a leader. On one play, Alexander threw a hitch left to running back Mike Walton. Walton reversed his field to get around the right side. Alexander didn't just get in the way of a defensive lineman -- he threw a block with a six-pack of gusto. Later, he broke the same lineman's tackle on a read option keep to slip into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

Alexander ran for two touchdowns and threw for three, including two achingly beautiful touch passes to the numbers. Quarterbacking a team that rarely trails at all and only once before in the fourth quarter, he marched the Tornadoes the length of the field in 1:51 for the tying touchdown with 18 seconds left. He got away with his only mistake, not just getting the first down on a scramble, but trying to dip wide for the sidelines or bigger yardage. He got away with it because on third and 1, he threaded the needle with a throw down the middle. A miscommunication with a receiver that almost turned into a game-killing interception, but you can't tell if that goes on Alexander's account or the receiver's.

Alexander will wear No. 13, probably until Richard Leonard finishes with No. 3. Don't be surprised if, by that point, Alexander's No. 1 on the depth chart.

I'm not saying it will happen. I'm just saying don't be stunned if it does happen.


July 15, 2015

Smith On Another Watch List.

The Wuerffel Trophy goes to the top community servant among the nation's top notch college-affiliated football players.

Proving he's as much an all-around good guy as Tom Slick, FIU's best offensive player, junior tight end Jonnu Smith, is on the Wuerffel Trophy watch list. Smith's also on the Mackey Award (best tight end) watch list for the second consecutive year.

CUSA Media Prediction for CUSA Football

This year, instead of asking the coaches do the preseason picks poll (and, probably often as not, winding up with a sports information director's preseason poll), Conference USA asked beat writers covering CUSA schools to do some handicapping.

This sayeth the media mass, which included one black man's opinion (I could be wrong): Louisiana Tech in the West, Western Kentucky in the East. FIU? Fifth in the east.

Don't blame me. I voted FIU fourth. Anyway, from Ruston to West Virginia, here's the preseason Conference USA poll:


1. Western Kentucky

2. Marshall

3. Middle Tennessee State

4. FAU

5. FIU

6. Old Dominion

7. Charlotte


1. La. Tech

2. Rice


4. Southern Miss

5. North Texas


July 14, 2015

CUSA Coaches Love Richard Leonard; Lombardi Watch List? Got Two

Conference USA coaches voted FIU fifth-year senior cornerback Richard Leonard the league's preseason Defensive Player of the Year. 

Some -- like me -- thought Leonard should've been the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year for 2014: five interceptions, two returned for touchdowns; four fumble recoveries, one returned for a touchdown; two forced fumbles; seven passes broken up; and stopping Alabama-Birmingham 4x4 truck Jordan Howard on a fourth-and-short with UAB driving in FIU's upset win.

Equating FIU's defense to a baseball lineup, the 5-9 cornerback essayed the Mark McGwire role with the big impact plays. The Rod Carew or Ted Williams, steady hitting play after play, day after day, game after game,  was defensive end Michael Wakefield. There's a reason in the FIU coaches' weekly selection of captains, only Wakefield got chosen for every game.

Wakefield and defensive end Denzell Perine each got named to the preseason Lombardi Award Watch List. The award goes to college-affiliated football's best down lineman or linebacker, if said linebacker lines up no more than 5 yards off the ball. The honor takes its name from Vince Lombardi, most famously the Green Bay Packers head coach during their 1960s glory days, but also in college one of the Seven Blocks of Granite, Fordham's offensive line in the 1930s.

Wakefield collected 8.0 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last year, while Perine had 9.5 and 6.5 respectively. Although my counterpart up on the Western Kentucky beat, Chad Bishop, ranks FIU's regular season closer as Western's least interesting game, I'm kind of intrigued by the matchup: Western's gunslinging offense triggered by CUSA preseason Offensive Player of the Year Brandon Doughty against FIU's pass rush and Leonard-led secondary.



July 13, 2015

Leonard on Thorpe Watch

Jim Thorpe did everything as one of football's first superstars.

In an era when college football was America's second most popular team sport behind major league baseball -- professional football tended to be as confined to Ohio and Western Pennsylvania as the worship of Woody Hayes and Joe Paterno later would be -- Thorpe played running back, defensive back, punted and kicked for Carlisle Indian Industrial School. He did all of it well enough to allow Carlisle to compete for national supremacy with the Michigans and Harvards that ruled the fields as they ruled the halls of real world power.

"Heisman" still meant the head coach at Georgia Tech, not a trophy or shorthand for a romantic stiff arm, so Thorpe couldn't win that individual honor. And the best running back often wins the Heisman. So, Thorpe's name goes on the award for the nation's best defensive back.

And FIU cornerback/kick returner/punt returner Richard Leonard is on the watch list for that award.

Leonard defensive 2014 season came thicker than a Snickers with impact plays: two interception returns for touchdowns, one fumble return for touchdown, nine total turnovers, most of which came with opponents in scoring position. It'll be interesting to see how teams deal with Leonard this season.

Seems appropriate in a couple of ways...




July 08, 2015

No. 87 on Mackey Award Watch List (duh)

FIU felt Jonnu Smith's 61 catches for 710 yards and eight touchdowns should've earned him a spot as a Mackey Award finalist, especially when considering the circumstances: a freshman quarterback starting 11 games and wide receivers who made only cameo appearances as downfield threats.

The Mackey Award folks disagreed (hmph), but put Smith on their preseason watch list for the second consecutive season, as announced Wednesday.

July 07, 2015


Some of you probably saw my Tweet last week on the Over/Under line for each college football team's wins according to Bovada. Here's how the betting site sees Conference USA.


Marshall 10

Western Kentucky 7.5

Middle Tennessee State 6.5

FIU 5.5

FAU 5.0

Old Dominion 4.5

Charlotte 2.5


Louisiana Teach 8.0

Rice 7.5


North Texas 4.5

Southern Mississippi 4.5

Texas-San Antonio 2.5

Tough call on FIU. I'd tend to go with the over.

No surprise on the players FIU will bring to the Conference USA Media Days in Boca Raton July 21-22: junior tight end Jonnu Smith and fifth-year senior cornerback/kick returner Richard Leonard.



July 04, 2015

FIU Flips the Byrd



Jacksonville Ed White High cornerback Jadarius Byrd committed to Marshall...then decommitted. He committed to Oregon State...then flipped on Friday.

Now, it's FIU's turn to see if they can keep Byrd under the Richard Pryor number of commitments as Byrd has pledged himself to the Panthers via Twitter.

If he comes, it's a good get for FIU, according to the rankings. and both have Byrd at three stars and as FIU's highest rated recruit. puts him at two. He made the Florida Times-Union's All-First Coast First Team and was described as "a shutdown corner and special teams ace" with four interceptions, a defensive touchdown and four special teams touchdowns.

Check out his highlights here.

Happy Fourth of July


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