August 17, 2015

60 Minutes (or so) on Sunday

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

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.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

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.

SWIMMING & DIVING

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 08, 2015

Stuff Like That and This

What FIU got out of Friday night's Dolphins scrimmage financially might stop at rent and concessions, probably not a bad little take considering how Friday night festive Dolfans seemed to be. Festive fans eat and drink.

The school also got to show off FIU Stadium to several fans who probably hadn't been in La Cage before. Some of my media peers making their first appearances, even as they frowned through the Calcutta crowded nature of their own workspace, opined that it's a nice, well-sized venue for a G5 football school.

La Cage improved its sound system, thus allowing officials to actually be heard this year.

ACADEMICS

Sand volleyball player Anna Budinska was awarded Outstanding Student Performance by faculty vote in the International Business Masters program this year. Budinska transferred to FIU from North Florida, where she was the 2013-14 Female Scholar Athlete of the Year.

FOOTBALL

The Giants signed safety Justin Halley as an rookie free agent Friday. Interesting symmetry as the Jets signed FIU's other starting safety from 2014, DeMarkus Perkins, for a minute this spring.

And UMass still doesn't have a start time for the Oct. 3 game. Television could be involved.

 

 

 

August 05, 2015

CUSA Men's Soccer Coaches Say...

...the same thing about FIU men's soccer that the conference's women's soccer coaches said about FIU women's soccer: sixth in the conference, one preseason all-conference player, a defender (junior Marvin Hezel).

Charlotte ranked as the favorite, getting six of the nine coaches first place votes. 

No Budwig -- No Bueno -- in 2015 (and other Day 1 stuff)

Junior offensive left guard Jordan Budwig started all 24 games his first two seasons at FIU and was voted First Team preseason Conference USA this year by the conference coaches. He's FIU's most dependable and experienced offensive lineman.

And his next snap will come in 2016. FIU coach Ron Turner said after Monday's practice Budwig would miss the season after offseason shoulder surgery on a shoulder he's had worked on before. Redshirt junior Michael Montero filled the Budwig spot during Monday's practice.

"We knew he would be at risk so it's time to get it fixed," Turner said. "We've got guys we believe can step in. We've got really good class who redshirted last year, so we think those guys can help."

Josh Deyour, 6-9, 310; Chris Miller, 6-4, 345; and Kai Absheer, 6-5, 305 all redshirted their freshman seasons last year.

Without Budwig, the one returning starter in the same position is junior left tackle Dieugot Joseph. Senior Aaron Nielsen's moved his workspace from right tackle to center. At right guard, junior Trenton Saunders is a possible starter, but he played only three games last season. Junior Edens Sineace, a possible Nielsen replacement, took the field in only eight games.

In my breakdown of the quarterbacks during the last post, I forgot senior transfer Trey Anderson from Pitt. If I had to guess the line of quarterback succession as of right now, it would be sophomore Alex McGough; redshirt freshman Bud Martin; freshman Christian Alexander; Anderson; freshman Maurice Alexander.

Punter Jose Laphitzondo's no longer on the roster. So, junior Chris Ayres and freshman Stone Wilson should swing legs for that job.

 

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 04, 2015

Preseason CUSA Women's Soccer, FCS Bowl, National Bowl stuff

Coming off a disappointing 2014 season that ended short of making the Conference USA tournament, FIU's ranked sixth of 14 schools in the CUSA coaches' preseason poll. Senior defender Marie Egan is FIU's lone preseason all-conference player.

Rice came in atop the poll.

RENTERS

FIU's got an easier time filling FIU Stadium dates than filling FIU Stadium for the school's football team.

The FCS Bowl, an all-star game for FCS teams and historically black colleges, and the National Bowl, an all-star game for Division II and Division III players, will be at La Cage Sunday, Dec. 7. Tickets go on sale Nov. 10.

 

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 247Sports.com and two stars by Rivals.com. 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 Rivals.com, 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 30, 2015

July 28, 2015

FIU Gets a QB Pledge for '16

Junior quarterback Jacob Huesman led the Braden River High School offense to 37.1 points per game in a 10-0 regular season in 2014. Huesman, a pro-style quarterback, gave his verbal pledge to FIU for 2016 Tuesday.

He's rated at two stars by 247Sports.com and Rivals.com, not rated by Scout.com and ESPN.com.

 

July 24, 2015

FIU says "Wasn't me."

At 8:44 p.m. Friday night, a Tweet from the FIU Athletics account said the Heat wouldn't win (spit), disparaged Dwyane Wade and said Justise Winslow was no LeBron James.

At 8:52 p.m., I got a call from an FIU spokesman to say the account likely had been hacked and FIU held no such opinion of the Heat or any local team. FIU got that out on their account swiftly.

I'll bet on a hack. While South Florida's average syntax and grammar might put more dents in English than South Florida drivers put in a taxicab, the Tweet read too undereducated to come from anybody I've met in Athletics. 

CUSA's Leaving & Staying

Most league commissioners on the way out get judged by a deriviative of the Ronald Reagan 1980 Presidential campaign debate line: is your league better off now than it was when you took over?

By that standard, Conference USA commish Britt Banowsky, whose departure for the College Football Playoff Foundation was announced last week, failed over his 13 years as CUSA leader. There's no question stronger athletic programs with larger followings (Louisville, Memphis, Cincinnati, TCU, East Carolina, etc.) comprised the 2002 or 2003 versions of Conference USA as compared to the current model.

That's not the proper gauge of Banowsky, however. He's been a success because Conference USA still exists.

Conference realignment nearly ripped apart the league in 2005. When Virginia Tech and the college in Coral Gables moved from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference with Boston College right behind, the Big East rolled up on Conference USA like the IRS in a mood -- the Big East took five schools. Charlotte and Saint Louis, without football, headed for the Atlantic 10. TCU went to the Mountain West.

When I asked Banowsky about his most difficult period in office, he said, "We had Realignment I, which was new to everybody. We were all kind of waiting on the ACC to see what they were going to do and the Big East was waiting on the ACC. We were waiting on the Big East.

"People were new at the game of realignment. That was a little bit challenging because folks didn't know how to behave. Go back and read some of the stuff that went on at that time, it was obvious people didn't know how to behave,"  I was really proud of the way our group handled it. They kind of clung to some principles that were good values -- like honesty, openness and following the rules and respect. We fortunately got through that window."

Banowsky guided CUSA through a restocking that he had to repeat in 2012 as another realignment frenzy hit college sports. That's when the conference imported a big chunk of the Sun Belt to keep its personality of schools in or near major markets (for the most part). 

"The second round of realignment, we were better prepared to understand how it went," Banowsky said. "These universities are aspiring universities. Everyone wants to be the best they can possibly be. You want that. So, if they can find their way into a better situation -- if a school in South Florida can find their way into the ACC, you would want to see that opportunity realized. But it needs to happen in the right way.

"But the most interesting and challenging thing I worked on during my time was the management of post-Katrina with Tulane. The way our universities rallied around that and for Tulane, keeping that football program alive during a period the university was shut down and keeping all their sports programs alive."

One sports program nobody could keep alive then nobody could keep dead sits in Birmingham. Both Banowsky and UAB coach Bill Clark tried to find the silver linings in the Alabama Board of Trustees killing the program after refusing to let it prosper, then the public-fueled resurrection now set for the 2017 season.

The revival did save the conference the hassle of booting UAB for not having football and finding another football-playing school.

"I'm proud of our people for giving (UAB) the time or the space to figure it out and not put too much artificial pressure on them," Banowsky said. "It seems like they've just had the problem of getting everyone aligned in the same way around the football program. In some ways, it's a little bit of a wake up call for them. My hope and expectation is they'll be able to get more people pulling on the rope this time around or they realize now how valuable that asset was as they were about to lose it."

That's similar to what Clark said when I reminded him that, a year ago, he talked about getting UAB's facilities up to the level of a modern FBS school. Now, he sat at Media Day talking about rebuilding a whole program, which should start with a smaller, newer, better placed replacement for Legion Field, the only thing in Alabama more out of date than the Confederate battle flag.

"The great thing about the facilities is we're not saying it as an athletic department. Our whole town's saying it," Clark said. "I had a guy call me last night, "Coach, I've never seen Birmingham like this." This isn't me saying it. This is our community. I'm an Alabama guy, hadn't been in Birmingham my whole life. But when you know our school is the No. 1 job engine in the state, all of a sudden, you've got these people saying, "We want our community to be the best."

"That's what we were hoping would happen. So, maybe it took something like this...to wake some of these folks up and say "We've got to get involved." I think that's what we're hearing right now."

What he's also hearing, he thinks, is the effect of social media. I'd throw in the ubiquitous, voluminous sports media always ready to feed the daily ravenous news beast with a bite of the latest news prey. UAB turned into a national story. Fox Sports' Tim Brando jumped on this story like it was hot buttered corn and he'll stay on it for this week's Football Saturday show.

That's brought calls from Left Coast recruits and we're not talking as much Tempe as Tampa.

"We've got kind of a national footprint now that we obviously didn't have before," Clark said.

Barnowsky sees the transition to his replacement happening before the end of football season. He's also seen some pretty cool stuff from the conference he's kept together.

"I've seen teams make it to the Final Four," he said. "I saw that kid from Kansas hit a three-point shot to knock out Memphis. I saw Dwyane Wade put a team on his shoulders and take it to the Final Four out of this league. Saw Case Keenum put up unbelivable numbers on some great Houston teams."

What most of us media types at Media Day want to see is who'll replace Banowsky, who often ended his loquacious interviews with "promote the conference."

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.

WESTERN KENTUCKY (at FIU Nov. 21)

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."

 

 

Cost (of Attendance)/Benefit Ratio

The Cost of Attendance stipend topped the lengthy list of things I wanted to ask FIU athletic director Pete Garcia about when I saw him in the expensive halls of the Boca Resort, where Conference USA Media Day really kicks in Wednesday. Coincidentally, COA ranked No. 1 on the list of things Garcia wanted to discuss.

According to Garcia:

*FIU's maximum stipend per athlete, which is worked out via some formula in the financial aid office, worked out to around $6,000. Garcia believes that's one of the highest in the nation. That means FIU can offer an athlete that much cash above and beyond any scholarship for use on other expenses having to do with being a college student. Garcia believes that's one of the highest in the nation and could be a serious boon in recruiting.

*COA stipends might go to a few FIU athletes this year. Most schools aren't starting this year. But it's in 2016-17 that FIU goes Oprah: "YOU get $6,000 and YOU get $6,000 and YOU get $6,000..." Garcia claims FIU will give stipends for most sports and there will be gender equity. 

*How will FIU come up with all extra cash? Several places, Garcia says. He said he's been building a cash stash by saving money over the past several years. Garcia said his relationship-building visits to Brazil -- OK, one visit counted as vacation -- were followed last week by a contingent from Brazilian soccer club Flamengo visited FIU last week. A couple of Flamengo games in January or February can pull in $300,000. The Van Wagner deal is supposed to bring in an extra $900,000 or so per year.

Be back tomorrow morning from Conference USA Media Day.

 

 

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."

MEN

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

WOMEN

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

FOOTBALL

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 20, 2015

What's a Van Wagner?

To sum up FIU's seven-year deal with Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment, announced today:

*VW takes over the selling of advertising and signage in FIU's facilities. They're also responsible for tickets packages and suite sales.

*The contests and games at the stadium/arena for fans attending the game? That's them.

*If rights to an FIU game aren't already assigned by Conference USA's deals with various partners, VW can shop them around to local radio or TV stations.

FIU expects the deal to bring in $9.1 million over the seven years.

ALSO...

This offseason, the athletic department finally hired a dedicated video person, which should improve the production qualities of the PantherVision broadcasts as well as any in-house produced video materials. 

July 18, 2015

Another FIU Football Pledge

Hunter Orem lined up in the slot as a wide receiver, in the shotgun as a quarterback and on defense as a free safety last year for Lakeland Lake Gibson. Which is why you can find him listed among the recruiting hawks as a "pro-style quarterback," "dual-threat quarterback" or "athlete."

Whatever he is or will be, the 6-2, 203-pound Orem declared his commitment to FIU Saturday via Twitter. Take a look.

He's not rated by 247Sports, ESPN.com or Rivals.com.


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