October 30, 2015

Miss and Out


Tennis -- Friday, Saturday, Sunday, FIU Invitational. Like Adrian Peterson -- All Day.

Men's Soccer -- vs. New Mexico, Saturday, 7 p.m.

Volleyball -- vs. UTSA, Sunday, 1 p.m.

Volleyball, tied for fourth in the conference with Rice, North Texas and Florida Atlantic (which FIU beat at FAU), has a 7-4 Conference USA record and is close to clinching a spot in the conference tournament.

Women's soccer, on the other hand, needs more help than Grandma trying to put up the Christmas tree the years after Grandpa passed on as the Conference USA soccer season ends Friday and Saturday. FIU sits 10th with 12 points, two points behind UTEP and Middle Tennessee State, which sit tied in seventh and eighth. Eight teams make next week's FIU-hosted Conference USA tournament that's caused FIU to put a new coat of paint on the Soccer Stadium stands (sort of like when that Between AARP and Social Security aunt stops by the Walgreen's makeup counter before hitting the Bowl Bar on Friday night). 

First, FIU (8-10, 4-5 in conference) needs to win against playing-for-pride Charlotte (6-11-1, 2-6-1) Friday night. A tie or a loss, dead, no tournament. That'll give FIU 15 points (3 points for a win, 1 or a tie, 0 for losing). Then, FIU needs ninth place Louisiana Tech needs to lose or tie against North Texas, which already clinched the regular season title. And Middle Tennessee State to beat UTEP in UTEP's season finale. That combination would do it right there. BUT...

If UTEP beats Middle Friday, then FIU needs to root for Old Dominion to keep Middle behind FIU (and, possibly, Old Dominion) in Sunday's season finale by beating Middle. Got that?

Tough position for FIU to be in after leaving for Western Kentucky and Marshall in a position to get into position. Two wins there and they would be within a lower rung team's loss of clinching a spot in the tournament. Instead, they lost 1-0 at Western in double overtime, 1-0 to Marshall, then, last Sunday, 2-0 to FAU on FIU's Seniors Day.

Takes a long time to get up the slide, not much time to come down. On the verge of following last year's stunning tournament miss with another miss, head coach Thomas Chestnutt. But unlike last year's team loaded with the kind of talented experience that begets conference title projections, this year's team came with the uncertainty of youth.

"Outside of a couple of results, I think we can be reasonably happy with our season," Chestnutt said. "We started out pretty well in the non-conference (portion), had a really tough non-conference schedule. I think we're in the top 40 in terms of opponents records. We've played some good quality teams and gotten some results. I think the last couple of games, we've lost our way in the offensive side of the game. We didn't create, didn't finish off situations we created.

"This team has in some ways has outpaced what we expected," he continued. "Not in terms of results, maybe, but in terms of their play. It's been pretty impressive. These things don't count, but, in terms of style of play, 500 passes a match -- we've never gotten close to that before. We've been there twice (this year) and we've been over 400 multiple times. The passing percentages are high -- well over 80 pct. That part of the game has gone really well.

"We knew we had no recognized goal scorer's coming into the season. So, we knew we'd have to make it by committee. That's worked to some degree. We've kind of fizzled out toward the end." 

While lauding the leadership growth in the seniors and the performance improvement of sophomore defender Gaby Bovo, junior goalie Sophia Trujillo and others, Chestnutt also acknowledged, "Missing the tournament isn't acceptable for this program."


October 28, 2015

Hump Day at The Cage

Newsy Nugget Wednesday out at Camp Mitch, specifically FIU Stadium.

The folks at the John Mackey Award, the award for the nation's best tight end, named after the baddest tight end of the 1960s and 1970s, named junior Jonnu Smith their National Tight End of the Week after 10 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns against Old Dominion. FIU coach Ron Turner said Smith's numbers jumped once defenses had to deal with sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens or sophomore running back Alex Gardner or senior tight end Ya"Keem Griner in addition to Smith. 

FIU coach Ron Turner insisted backup running back Anthon Samuel would be ready to go Saturday, though Samuel still wore a walking boot on his left foot. Running back Silas Spearman III continued to work as a safety with the defense. After practice, backup quarterback Trey Anderson runs patterns as a wide receiver in 7-on-7s while the freshmen Alexanders, Christian and Maurice, take reps at quarterback.

Meanwhile, inside The Stadium Club, Miami FC officially announced it would join the revived North American Soccer League and begin play in 2016 at FIU Stadium.

At a presser attended by FIU president Mark Rosenberg and athletic director Pete Garcia, Garcia announced Miami FC owner Ricardo Silva ponied up a $450,000 gift to FIU's athletic department. My first thought after "whoa!" was "I want to see that lease."

Which Garcia put in my nail-picked fingers less than two minutes after I asked.

Length: Three years with a two-year Miami FC option. That three years coincides with the possible debut of David Beckham's MLS team. Miami FC's folks say they think this can be a two-team county. Maybe they're right, if they market themselves as the cheaper, more family-friendly option to MLS (and more accessible to family-heavy suburbia). Or, maybe there's a part of them that's betting Miami politics does what Miami politics does and the MLS team never achieves birth. If they're wrong and things don't look good, they don't have to exercise the option.

Rent: $10,000 per game, FIU's standard rate, plus $2,500 if visiting teams want to use the field for practice. Miami FC will pay the operational costs for each game. Despite the preference of grass over artificial turf, the fake stuff stays down for soccer.

Tickets: FIU gets $2 per ticket. Miami FC hopes for 10,000 per game. Let's say they get 4,000, which I think would be a tremendous number. That's $8,000 per game for FIU.

Concessions: What FIU would normally get from the concessionaires goes to Miami FC.

Parking: Miami FC gets it.

Miami FC will set aside some internships for FIU students.

So, FIU's walking out of this with a $450,000 one time chunk, about $150,000 per year in rent for three years and $2 per ticket for three years. Could do worse.





October 27, 2015

Tuesday Afternoon Futures


Tennis -- Friday, Saturday, Sunday, FIU Invitational, all day

Football -- at FAU, Saturday, 3:30 (yeah, it's not "home" but it's an easy drive on a Saturday)

Men's soccer -- vs. New Mexico, 7 p.m. 

Volleyball -- Sunday vs. UTSA, 1 p.m.

Backup running back Anthon Samuel was the latest on crutches this week. Ron Turner said Samuel had an ankle sprain. Safety Niko Gonzalez didn't practice with what Turner termed "mild concussion symptoms."

FIU opened favored by 2 and is now up to 3 1/2. That seems an awfully small spread, perhaps an awfully generous application of Rivalry Effect.

As far as which bowl FIU would go to if it gets to six wins, a local source told me I was way off in assuming the Miami Beach Bowl would eschew FIU for a team from out of town that would fill hotels and attract eyeballs.

The bowl's owned by the American Athletic Conference, the source said. Thus, it's not money driven as in current and future tourist money, but money driven by ticket sales. FIU would be a gift in that regard. So might the AAC's South Florida, which has four wins and a remaining schedule that includes Navy and disintegrated UCF. Also, the source reminded me, FIU athletic director Pete Garcia is on the Miami Beach Bowl committee.

Obviously, staying local would let FIU use its own facilities, saving thousands of dollars. Last year, both teams stayed in South Beach, but BYU practiced at FIU while Memphis practiced at Miami Beach's Flamingo Park. 


The Nov. 13 doubleheader will be streamed live on FIU Athletics' YouTube page as a demonstration of the streamcast's improved production qualities, sort of like the free week of NFL Sunday Ticket or NHL Center Ice you get at the start of each season.


October 26, 2015

McGough Gets First CUSA Player of the Week Honor

One of the key statistics now being discussed more by fans and media these days and long a favorite of those inside football is yards per attempt. You get around 8.0 yards per attempt, it's a very good day.

Sophomore quarterback Alex McGough hit an even 10.0 yards per attempt Saturday when he hit on 31 of 39 passes for 390 yards in the 41-12 drubbing of Old Dominion.

The completion percentage (79.4), yards and three touchdowns were enough by themselves for McGough to be awarded Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week Monday.


October 25, 2015

A few thoughts on FIU 41, Old Dominion 12

Before we get started with Saturday night, let us say the biggest, season-turning football game in town Sunday at 1 p.m. is at FIU.

I didn't say American football.

Women's soccer went into last weekend with a chance to clinch a berth in the Conference USA tournament FIU will host in just over a week. A pair of 1-0 losses to Western Kentucky and Marshall leave the 8-9 Panthers at 4-4 in conference play and in danger of missing the tournament again. There's 10 teams still in realistic contention for eight spots.

FIU needs a result, as the soccer folks like to say, today against FAU on Senior Day. That's where I'd be if I wasn't part of The Herald's army at the other 1 p.m. game in town, the site of the first college-affiliated football rout in town Saturday.

As for the second...some electronic dap to football coach Ron Turner.

Football coaches can be downright dogmatic about following game plans and flat out scared kittens when faced with the possibility of risk. They tend to shy from the instinctive move, partially because there's rarely an easy explanation of it. Taking chances and following instincts guarantees you'll be second guessed if the concept fails. They don't like to be second-guessed and when, faced with the second guess, they want a Serena Williams second serve return -- a swift, powerful answer that gives them the point. 

There's no way FIU went into Saturday's game against Old Dominion planning to run the ball only 33 times with three of those being sacks. There's no way the Panthers didn't anticipate having more than 94 yards rushing (119 yards Real Rushing, subtracting sacks). This is a team with a defense treated like a possum on I-95 by most of its opponents this year, a defense FIU moved out of the way for 256 yards on the ground last year.

Turner said they went into the game seeking balance. But, early on, sophomore quarterback Alex McGough's Accuracy Pills kicked in (even aside from the interminable bubble screens), while FIU's running game apparently got stuck in traffic near an quinceanera hall. So, Turner put the offense on McGough's shoulders even more than normal and he responded with 31 of 39 (with a few drops) for 390 yards and three touchdowns. 

Should it be disconcerting that FIU, for the second straight week, twice failed badly in red zone short yardage situations and had to work way too hard to get the last yards on two drives that ended with 1-yard touchdowns? Unquestionably. Against a team better than Old Dominion (say, Middle Tennessee State) that can cost you the game.

On both those failures and the touchdown that put FIU up 14-0, Turner eschewed the field goal out of instinct:

 "It was a feel thing. The reason we went for it on both those fourth downs in the red zone -- and I told the defense this -- is I had a lot of confidence we could stop them. The first one, I said 'If we stop them here, we get great field position. They've got to punt it to Richard. We'll have great field position. We'll take it in and score.' We didn't make it, they punted to Richard and we went down and scored. It was faith I had in our offense to make it, No. 1, and then our defense to get us a stop and give us good field position." 

Let's be clear, I disagreed with both decisions, though the first worked exactly as Turner hoped. On the second drive of the game, after you've already scored a touchdown on the first, especially if you're up 7-0, I believe in taking the points as a psychological punch to your opponent. They don't know yet that they can stop you from scoring on any given drive. Also, coaches tend to get more nervous than a Bob in a biker bar down 10-0.

My thoughts on the second decision, with FIU up 27-12, were stated on Twitter Saturday night: stupid. Take the points, go up three scores with 4:55 left in the third, force Old Dominion away from the run. Don't stay within two big plays of a team that's blown up on you already for touchdown runs of 57 and 75 yards. When the Monarchs moved the ball Saturday, it wasn't in nibbles and bites. It was in chomps.

(I'm not saying Turner is stupid. I'm saying that was a stupid decision. Among the top three sentences my daughter has heard from me in her 10 years is "Sometimes, smart people do stupid things.")

Alex McGough's 1-yard quarterback sneak, the 14-0 touchdown, was into the end zone in front of the press box. Most of us in the press box and a few people on the field heard a whistle before the snap. Weird.

Turner could rely on a big Richard Leonard return. That's what Leonard's done the last few weeks -- 24.3 yards per punt return the last three games, 49.2 on kickoff returns. The creases not there before still aren't there -- they're gaps, evident early.

"We had some young guys in there," Turner said. "They're starting to understand more angles and where to be. They're giving him an opportunity. You give him an opportunity, the first guy's not going to tackle him. He gets by the first guy, they're doing a good job of giving him seams."

Big ups to the defensive line. They got rolled by Middle. Saturday, they stuffed Old Dominion bowling ball Ray Lawry on a do-it-or-don't play at the end of the first half from the 1. Different game if he scores there, then Pascal opens the second half with his 75 yard run to put the Monarchs in front.

Defensive tackle Leonard Washington would've taken the fumble all the way back 74 yards if one more teammate escorting him had thrown a block instead of started celebrating the Big Man Touchdown early. The last time he had a football in his hand on the field, Washington said, he took a fumble back all the way for New Orleans Carr High.

Like anybody else with a heart, I love to see the big guys grab the ball and run for glory.

October 24, 2015

Gameday VIII: ...As Often And As Much as FIU Wants...

It's been almost 31 years since the Miami Dolphins packed the team charter for a Super Bowl. That year's Ultimate Game, the 19th such event, sold easily as a potential classic with more points than a Big East basketball game -- the 14-2 Dolphins with NFL record resetting second-year quarterback Dan Marino vs. the 15-1 San Francisco 49ers with a pretty good offense themselves.

Beyond that simplistic comparison, I saw game San Franciso almost couldn't lose. For all Marino's greatness, the Dolphins were one-dimensional. They couldn't run. They'd be going up against a defense that won the NFC title game in a shutout; a defense whose secondary, perhaps the best ever, was the true propulsion in the 49ers rise from doormat to dynasty three years earlier; a defense with two or three devastating pass rushers.

Meanwhile, every part of the 49ers presented multiple threats. Joe Montana operated the West Coast offense expertly, led the NFC in passing and could run (he'd rush for 59 yards in the Super Bowl). Both running backs, 1,200-yard man Wendell Tyler and Roger Craig, could catch out of the backfield. And they'd get to see a Dolphins defense that had just given up 28 points to a 9-7 Pittsburgh team quarterbacked by Mark Malone.

Conclusion: the 49ers would score as much as they needed to win and might score as much as they wanted. I announced "I'm giving Miami and 4 points" in Calculus class. By the fourth quarter of the 38-16 Dolphins loss, I was making "you going to have my money tomorrow?" phone calls.

Relevance to Old Dominion vs. FIU Saturday: That's exactly the feeling I have about this game after more than a cursory look. This is FIU's rout to lose.

If I'm wrong, I'll be here in the postgame blog eating my crow with salt and Bob Evans sausage. But that'll mean Old Dominion will have performed to a level it hasn't this season and FIU will have contracted an ineptitude virus causing football incontinence all over Ocean Bank Field.

Don't be fooled by Old Dominion being, as Monarchs coach Bobby Wilder pointed out last week, 5-5 in their 10 Conference USA games over the last two seasons. Or by David Washington switching back to quarterback from wide receiver, then going 25 of 43 for 365 yards and four touchdowns against Charlotte "a good football team with good players," according to Wilder.

This is why those of us who hear and must transcribe such claptrap took a few minutes to mourn when Steve Spurrier walked away. Whether or not we covered him, we thanked God/Adonai/Allah/Jah for a coach who had little use for false modesty, fake puffery of opponents or speaking to the media (and, by extension, the public) as if a little research couldn't puncture the balloon launched by all that hot air. Spurrier's words weren't the New New Testament, but they weren't the coaching equivalent of teenage girls calling each other's new outfits "cute."

I can't tell you how many times I heard "very good" to describe UTEP's players and team the week before FIU hosted the Miners. "Very good" is a team in the Top 25 or at least a contender for a conference title. It's not a banged up, handicap parking space-eligible team with one FBS win (in OT against an annually pathetic program) and losses by 31, 49 and 19 points.

Charlotte's players probably give great effort. Clearly, they've made great strides to be any kind of competitive in only Season No. 3 after restarting the football program. But that's not "a good football team with good players." Good football teams with good players don't give up 73 points as Charlotte did to Middle Tennessee State. Charlotte's wins are against Georgia State and Presbyterian, which sounds more like a local high school and probably has less talent than two or three local high schools down here.

And trying to link last year's fast finishing Old Dominion team to this year's should get you a job selling stuff on 3 a.m. infomercials. Last year's team had enough offense to play everybody on the schedule close, save Marshall, and pull a few upsets. This year's team got steamrolled by Appalachian State 49-0, NC State 38-14 and gave up 309 yards rushing to Charlotte.

You're going to tell me some team only in their junior year as a program, first year in FBS, can punk Old Dominion for 309 yards rushing (323 on 67 carries of Real Rushing, minus the sacks) at Old Dominion, but FIU can't pound the rock on ODU at La Cage? That the Panthers can't run the ball on the Monarchs the way they did on UTEP, then hit the Monarchs over the top, just as they did UTEP?

Also, career backup Washington lights up Charlotte, so I'm supposed to believe he'll do that to an experienced group that's got a tad more talent than Charlotte?

Translation: FIU will score as many points as it needs and might score when it wants. 

FIU 48, Old Dominion 27.

But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.


A nice five-set takedown at FAU Friday night puts FIU (13-8, 6-3) a step closer to solidifying a spot in the Conference USA tournament. The Owls hadn't lost a conference match at home this season before Friday.


October 21, 2015

Cubs Win! Cubs Win! (so predicts Ron Turner)

Football coach Ron Turner, who did two turns as Chicago Bears offensive coordinator and one stretch as University of Illinois head coach, insisted after Tuesday's practice that the Chicago Cubs would win the National League Championship Series. Turner insisted I put it on the blog as he left to go Tweet it out.

So there's the big news out of Wednesday's football practice. That and quarterback Alex McGough being allowed to talk to Pete Pelegrin for some FIU in-house produced content. It's McGough's first chat with the media, aside from home postgame sessions, since the season started.

A relaxed mood predominated. Some of the players got into an argument over which recruiting class was the best. Certainly, it depends on whether you're talking production or star rating.


Just as the men's soccer program joined Conference USA during FIU's Sun Belt era because the Fun Belt didn't sanction men's soccer, beach volleyball (nee sand volleyball) is now part of the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association with Florida State; LSU; South Carolina; Tulane; FAU; UAB; and Georgia State.

October 20, 2015

Men's Futbol Outside & Inside

Men's soccer preceded the rest of the athletic program in joining Conference USA, which is sort of a conference for programs without a conference (nod to Men in Black's Casablanca exchange). And it preceded the rest of the program in failing to make its CUSA tournament, which it last did in 2007.

Or, rather, 2015. This weekend's results, including beating No. 9 Old Dominion Saturday, clinched a place in the Conference USA tournament for the men's soccer team.

It also moved FIU up in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll to just outside the Top 25. FIU's sits first among Also Receiving Votes with 32 points, seven points behind No. 25 Monmouth.

Old Dominion stayed ranked, falling only to No. 14. That keeps CUSA with four teams in the Top 25: No. 12 SMU, Old Dominion, No. 16 Kentucky, No. 22 South Carolina.

Sweeping CUSA Swimmer & Diver of the Week

Told ya'.

Sophomore Kyna Periera's weekend, as perfect individually (8-0) as FIU's collectively (3-0 in Dual-A-Palooza), included Conference USA season-best times in the 1,000 freestyle (10:06.76) and 200 free (1:50.38). The 1,000 free time was 23 hundredths of a second off Periera's school record, set last January. For all this, she was named Conference USA Swimmer of the Week.

Sophomore diver Rebecca Quesnel won the 3 meter, 1 meter and finished second in platform. So she collected another CUSA Diver of the Week Award, her seventh.


Tuesday Foot Break (or Sprain) and Other Hits


According to head football coach in charge Ron Turner, senior tight end Ya'Keem Griner is "day-to-day" with a foot injury. I saw Griner getting off the field on crutches and in the boot. I never like seeing the boot.

The boot tends to be bad. Foot injuries tend to be very bad. That's too bad as Griner's having a career year with 21 receptions for 225 yards and two touchdowns.

At least junior linebacker Treyvon Williams appeared to be off his crutches, but not in pads.

The guy throwing to Griner, sophomore quarterback Alex McGough, can claim to be having a pretty good season.

Granted FIU's passing game dines mostly at the Woolworth Five & Dime lunch counter (yards per completion 11th out of 13 Conference USA teams), but McGough's thrown 14 touchdowns and 1,659 yards, but with only three interceptions. And one of the interceptions was a desperation fourth down, game situation heave against Indiana. He's gotten lucky on some near-picks, but every quarterback does. You can tell a quarterback's maturing when he reduces his interceptions and near-interceptions via forced throws. 

Here's a fun discussion. McGough has a sophomore No. 1 running back in Alex Gardner and a sophomore No. 1 wide receiver in Thomas Owens, both of whom are good players at the G5 level. They're better at what they do than most of their competition. But give McGough the advantages over opponents at those positions that Florida State's Everett Golson can call upon or the Hurricanes' Brad Kaaya enjoys and what do McGough's numbers look like? How much better would FIU be -- if at all -- with Golson or Kaaya?

I'd love to do a story on McGough's season. That would require talking to McGough in something other than a postgame situation. Each media request, even by the radio broadcast team, to talk to McGough during the week once the season started has been Dikembe Mutumbo'd by Turner. I guess that's about protection or keeping the young man's head from getting too big or something.

That makes about as much sense as finally joining the rest of Division I/FBS college sports and hiring a dedicated video coordinator, then leaving him at home on two football road trips because there's not enough space on the plane. FIU did that to video coordinator Brian Duval again last weekend.

Then again, maybe actual professional videos focused on sporting events aren't what moves needles around FIU.   


October 18, 2015

A few thoughts on Middle Tennessee 42, FIU 34 (and teams that won)

FIU men's soccer (8-4, 3-2) upset No. 9 Old Dominion tonight, which might move them back into the Top 25. It's also a Conference USA men's soccer win. Considering all the ranked teams, previously ranked teams and almost ranked teams in the conference, that's almost the Willy Wonka gold ticket of Conference USA sports. That's harder to get than a straight answer on why the new softball locker rooms that weren't to be impacted by the money spent on Miss Universe aren't done (or, even started).

Pool problems up at the BBC forced Swim & Dive to summon FAU and the University of Miami down to Gulliver Prep to take their butt-kickings in Saturday's portion of Dual-A-Palooza. The final counts were 138-62 over FAU and 122-83 over the Hurricanes. Bet on sophomore Kyna Periera to be CUSA Swimmer of the Week and possibly to appear in the first College Football Playoff rankings after finishing in nothing but first in the eight events she swam over the two days.

Meanwhile, up here in Murfreesboro, FIU and Middle Tennessee State football did some strange things with each other. Not freaky amateur webcam strange. Buut "Do what?" strange.

I'm too tired and full of Arby's to organize my thoughts and I've got to get up to cover Man Campbell's coaching debut tomorrow. So, I think I'm going to do that Old Man-Don't Give a Ham thing where I just throw down my thoughts randomly as they come. I'll try to keep them in chronological order.

*FIU's second drive shows why you hustle out every play. When Richard Leonard picked off Middle quarterback Brent Stockstill's first throw, everybody watching thought "touchdown." Leonard had picked off a cross field 10-yard pass -- the first and last Middle would ask Stockstill to throw Saturday -- with a clear track to the end zone. Stockstill got on his horse and knocked out Leonard at the 1. FIU got nowhere with two line plunges, then ran a terribly thrown fade to Ya'Keem Griner, one of Alex McGough's few truly bad passes. The throw hit the defender in the back. Griner never had a chance to make a play. Anyway, FIU field goal instead of what seemed a sure touchdown. And you just knew this was going to be the kind of game where both sides would need every point they could muster.

*You won't score every time you reach the 2-yard-line with downs in your pocket. But you can't go two for four as FIU did Saturday.

I heard the late Jim Mandich (a good football player, better person) say one day in that distinctive voice, "A coach of mine once told me in ev-er-y game there will come a time when you have to gain 1 yard." FIU didn't get that yard. Or 2. I know Middle puts a pair of 6-1, 318-pound wide loads, fifth-year senior Patrick McNeil and redshirt junior Shaquille Huff, in the defensive tackle slots and dares you to move them. Maybe you can't. What you really can't do is fail twice and settle for field goals. That's eight points left on the table. What was the final score again?

*Wide receiver Shawn Abrams was on the trip. I couldn't help but think as FIU failed on that first drive then later on first and goal from the 2, uh, how about putting the 6-4 guy with the shelf grabber reach in and throwing him a fade? FIU tried it last week and McGough threw a terrible pass that almost got picked. But that's no reason not to try it this week.

*Speaking of guys whose usage seemed questionable, Ron Turner talked in the preseason about getting freshman Anthony Jones the ball. And, a couple of times a game, you see FIU put Jones in to run a jet sweep or bubble screen to try to get him the ball in space. Then, unless the game's already decided, he gets called back to the sidelines and stored the way Barney Fife stored the one bullet he was allowed to have. Old Person pop culture reference but appropriate because FIU uses Jones in a series of one shots. Saturday, he had three carries, two of them when FIU trailed 35-19 and the offensive line was getting less movement than public records requests get in Rick Scott's office. "Special player" doesn't mean you use him only in special situations. Jones needs to be used more. Throw him the bubble screen on third and long and have the tight end or bigger wide receiver block instead of throwing it to the wide receiver or tight end and hope they can break tackles.

*Or just not drop the ball. McGough threw the ball well Saturday. For 51 passes, there weren't many bad throws or bad decisions. Unfortunately, his receivers fought the ball and the ball won often enough to be a problem. McGough had a lovely, perfect deep ball dropped for the second consecutive week among the many (six? seven?) drops Saturday.

*Thomas Owens makes nice adjustments when McGough's in trouble.

*And what's up with the timeout before the two-point conversion? FIU trailed 35-19 in the fourth quarter, so you know you're going for two if you get into the end zone. You have (or should have) a set of two-point conversion plays. You've had three quarters to see what's working and what's not. And you waste one of three valuable time stoppers to discuss?

I'm of the John Madden school on timeouts -- timeouts are too valuable to waste just on a little uncertainty or avoiding a delay of game penalty.

*Turner said after the game that Middle had "the best secondary in the conference, by far" and "they've got as good a defense as we'll see in this conference." Middle did allow only 4.3 yards per play, an averaged helped by FIU's troubles getting the ball over once inside the 5-yard line. Otherwise, I'm calling Coachspeak -- the Panthers moved the ball pretty well most of the day and, despite leaving at least nine points on the field, scored 34 points with two turnovers' help. That's the week after Western put up 58 on Middle.

*The Blue Raiders always seem to find running backs. Injuries to their top two running backs meant Jeremiah Bryson started. Bryson was arrested and accused of instigating a fight between his baby mama and his current woman; providing transportation to the brawl for the current female; and participating in that brawl. Oh, and being a deadbeat dad. Down two running backs, Middle coach Rick Stockstill graciously decided to withhold any punitive measures on Bryson.

Bryson went out with a shoulder injury, leaving freshman Desmond Anderson out of Spartanburg Broome High School to carry the load. He went Ed Podolak on FIU, running for 144 and adding 102 yards on kickoff returns. Anderson ran hard, but many plays he didn't make serious contact with anybody until he was 5 to 7 yards downfield.

FIU got shoved aside in the front seven, particularly the defensive left side. And, for the first time since last year's loss to Marshall, FIU went sackless. Yes, most of Stockstill's completions were off quick throws that that get the ball out too fast for even an unblocked rusher. Still, he got protected like a teenage daughter when he really needed time for downfield throws.

*FIU's gotten their return game going the last two weeks. Middle came in allowing 20.96 yards per kickoff return. Saturday, the Panthers averaged 31.7 yards per runback and that includes two short returns by Clinton Taylor off squibs.

*Did Middle safety Quay Watt talk about some official's mama or something? He took three major penalties. The first, a late hit call on Jonnu Smith as Smith strode up the sideline, was even worse than the one at UMass called on Jephete Matilus. Showing the inconsistency, Smith had just left the field of play by maybe a half stride before Watt hit him. But a few drives later, an FIU player gots tackled halfway into the bench...no call. Nice consistency.

Watt also got rung up on a pass interference when Jonnu Smith turned and ran into him as a McGough deep pass sailed over their heads. Now, when it came to the pass interference/holding in the end zone, Watt clearly did all that.

On to next week.  


October 17, 2015

Gameday VII: Stuck in the Middle with Blue; Saturday Swim Dual-a-Palooza moved


Today's last two FIU meets in Dual-A-Palooza, FIU vs. FAU at 10 a.m. and FIU vs. Hurricanes at 3 p.m., have been moved from the Biscayne Bay campus to Gulliver Prep, 6575 Kendall Drive, in the lovely suburb of Pinecrest.

Pool malfunction, says an FIU source. Will it be fixed by the next home meet, Nov. 6 and 7 vs. Illinois? "Hope so."

Anyway, when I talked to FIU swim & dive coach Randy Horner last week, he downplayed the significance of Friday's meet against Conference USA's second best swim team, Rice. Some of the events aren't regulation NCAA events, it's early in the season, etc.

Bet Horner still puts that 133-90 win against Rice, however, with the other feelgood wins on the shelf. On the FIU whole, that almost balances out women's soccer losing 1-0 in double overtime to Western Kentucky and volleyball losing in 3-2 (21-25, 25-21, 11-25, 25-17, 15-8) to Southern Mississippi.

Now, then...

Middle’s first two Conference USA seasons, the Blue Raiders averaged 240.1 rushing yards per conference game. Bunches of running backs coming into the game to steadily move the ball in 4 to 8-yard cracks. Now, with head coach Rick Stockstill's son, Brent, at quarterback, they throw it for over 300 yards per game, 307.2 to be exact over their first six games. The run game's getting only 3.5 yards per crack, 3.9 under my Real Rushing stat, which discounts quarterback sacks.

That's why Middle's thrown 10 more passes than they've run, 21 more subtracting sacks and kneeldowns. That's also why FIU's most worried about wide receivers Ed'Marques Batties, a fifth-year senior, and redshirt freshman Richie James, each of whom has 49 receptions. Expect a bubble screen bath from Middle and the usual Lawrence Welk Show of bubbles and 5-yard Stop-and-Pops from FIU, too. Safe passes, get elusive or strong players in space and see what happens.

If FIU uses 6-5 senior wide receiver Juwan Caesar, it would make sense to use his big body not only as a chain mover, but a people mover. Run the edges to his side, run bubble screens with him making the 3-or-30 block (the block that determines whether the play goes 3 yards or 30 yards). When FIU’s run bubbles using sophomore wide receiver Dennis Turner or sophomore Thomas Owens as the blocker, you can see the play’s potential right before the block gets shed and the receiver upended. 

Middle’s defensive backs didn’t look good against Western. Yeah, I know, Western could make the Seahawks secondary look confused and pregnant. But tackling’s tackling. Or, rather, not tackling is not tackling, in the case of Middle. That's a problem when if you have to deal with El Dorados with acceleration like tight end Jonnu Smith, Ya'Keem Griner, Caesar and Thomas Owens.


As far as the defense Middle runs, FIU coach Ron Turner said, "Very similar to ours -- 4-3, quarters coverage, like a lot of people. They're fairly basic on first and second down, as most people are. But they've got a very good third down package that schematically presents a problem."

Middle's picked off 10 passes this season already. Could be some jumpy defensive backs, especially if they start to think they can time FIU's Stop-and-Pops. With some patience and time, quarterback Alex McGough could find himself with some receivers running relaxed through the secondary like a cigarette ad couple strolling by a country pond.


For what it's worth, this game’s at 11 a.m. Murfreesboro time. Middle looked sleepy for its 11 a.m. start against Western Kentucky last week. FIU had UTEP down for an afternoon nap by noon. Temperatures should be a little nippy for FIU, low 60s, but good football weather.

Both teams, on both sides of the ball, do their job in the red zone partially because both defend the run better than the pass. Both teams also have shown vulnerability to the big play. And I think we'll get several of those. As noted in today's advance story, things tend to get weird when FIU and Middle get together.

Middle's at home. Alabama, Vandy, Illinois and Western in-conference might make the Blue Boy Group a little more competition tempered than FIU. 

Middle Tennessee State 30, FIU 24.

But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.


October 14, 2015

CUSA Sexy Seven, Bowl Possibilities, Big XY Soccer Weekend


Swimming & Diving -- Friday vs. Rice, 4 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. FAU, 10 a.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. University of Miami, 4 p.m.

Men's Soccer -- Saturday vs. Old Dominion, 7 p.m.

Actually, let me open with women's soccer, which can clinch a spot in the Conference USA tournament this weekend. Wins at Western Kentucky and Marshall -- or a win at Western, a tie at Marshall, FAU ties or beats Western Sunday, Louisiana Tech doesn't win both weekend games (got that?) -- put the Panthers into the tournament they'll host Nov. 4-8.

Think that's not a big deal? Ask the nearest FIU softball player, forced to sit in the timeout of offseason while the 2015 Conference USA tournament teams played in her sandbox. Or the remaining women's soccer players from last year's very talented, very underachieving team that somehow didn't make the conference tournament. Or volleyball. Or men's soccer. Or women's basketball.

(Boy, it really was Big Enchilada In or Big Enchilada Out for FIU last year as far as last year's Conference USA tournaments/meets, huh?)


Conference USA's Sexy Seven. Not much movement at the top, but this weekend could make things interesting.

1. Western Kentucky (5-1, 3-0 in conference play): Is North Texas adding a third digit to the visitor's side of the scoreboard for Thursday's game? This weekend: If I have to tell you, you're not paying attention and I'm not coddling that.

2. Marshall (5-1, 2-0): Responded to the challenge by a good Southern Mississippi team by giving them what for, 31-10. This weekend: at FAU.

3. Louisiana Tech (4-2, 2-1): That three-point win over UTSA looked much harder than it should have been. This weekend: at Mississippi State.

4. Middle Tennessee State (2-4, 1-1): The Blue Raiders defense Floundered against Western. (Capitalization intentional. It reminded me of Flounder throwing up on Dean Wormer.). By the way, check out this story on Middle's No. 2 rusher Jeremiah Bryson. This weekend: vs. FIU.

5. FIU (3-3, 1-1): The only team that's kept La Tech under 30 leads the conference in red zone offense, red zone defense and rarely turns the ball over. This weekend: at Middle.

6. Rice (3-3, 2-1): See Louisiana Tech, sub "one-point" for "three-point" and "FAU" for "UTSA." This weekend: Bye.

7. Southern Miss (3-3, 1-1): Todd Monken said it's time for this team to make a move. This weekend: hosting UTSA.

Let's talk bowls and bowl possibilities for FIU.

Nobody's saying FIU can't go to Marshall and win. And, maybe FIU's got the big play defense to fence with the swashbucklers at Western just as Western's offense made it the Metallo to Marshall's Superman last year.

The most likely results, however, land FIU at six or seven wins, the swing game being Middle on Saturday. Breaking down the schedule, it looks like it'll be a perfect fit -- seven bowl-eligible brides for seven bowl brothers. So, which bowl's bed gets FIU? Going chronologically...

Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Dec. 19: This is where UTEP went last year. Rice is the closest. FIU going here makes no sense.

R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Dec. 19: Savvy sportswriters covering games at Southern Miss fly into New Orleans the night before and drive to Hattiesburg on game day. This is Southern Miss all the way.

Miami Beach Bowl, Dec. 21: I wish. But, no.

Last year's Miami Beach Bowl broadcast came back from commercial break to another establishing shot showing a December-chilled nation our sunny Miami home. A bowl suit and I pointed at the screen and laughed, "That's why this game exists!"

To an even greater degree than most bowls, the Miami Beach Bowl's about promoting tourism in our tourism-and-real estate-based ponzi scheme economy. Which means, if at all possible, the bowl wants two teams from out of town to bring their fans to Miami in December. They want two teams from out of town to bring their fan eyeballs to the broadcast, so those eyeballs' owners can see those establishing shots (mini-commercials) and say, "I'm tired of change of seasons."

Also, after last year's shootout-and-brawl between Memphis and BYU, they'll want a team that can help with at least the shootout part. Hello, Western Kentucky.

Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, Dec. 24: Got your passports? Might want to get them ready just in case. This tourism-based bowl would welcome a school a short plane hop away. I'm not sure FIU would welcome the expense compared to the other leading option... 

St. Petersburg Bowl, Dec. 26: The game called the Beef O'Brady's Bowl when FIU met Marshall in 2011 could invite FIU back. Of the seven previous incarnations of this bowl, five have featured a Florida school. Cheap for FIU, an easy gameday drive for fans the day after Christmas.

Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dec. 26: You fly into Shreveport when you go to La Tech and get on Interstate 20 East. The sign for I-20 West says "Dallas." Which is why La Tech went there last year and probably will again this year.

Arizona Bowl, Dec. 29: The first year of anything means all kinds of problems. There were problems in the Bahamas Bowl last year. The Miami Beach Bowl brawl doesn't happen if Memphis' doesn't have to run through the BYU bench to get to its fan section. Bet that'll be changed this year. Rice has more juice in the conference than Middle, so the Blue Raiders could wind up the guinea pig team.


October 13, 2015

Swimmer Gets CUSA Love; Tuesday Afternoon Football, Not Moody, No Blues


Swimming & Diving -- Friday vs. Rice, 4 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. FAU, 10 a.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. University of Miami, 4 p.m.

Men's Soccer -- Saturday vs. Old Dominion, 7 p.m.

Against North Florida last week, senior Jessica Chadwick won the 100 backstroke in 1:05.91, the 200 breaststorke in 2:22.63 and 200 individual medley in 2:07.85. That earned Chadwick her first Conference USA Swimmer of the Week award.


Not much to report other than the medical.

Of the three players who went down in the second half Saturday, freshman defensive end Fermin Silva looks the worst. He was on crutches Tuesday. FIU coach Ron Turner called him "questionable" for this week. Two redshirt freshmen, offensive lineman Chris Miller and defensive lineman Anthony Johnson, were in the Home Depot-colored injury jerseys, but in pads as were sophomore wide receiver Dennis Turner and senior tight end Ya'Keem Griner.

I wouldn't look for junior middle linebacker Treyvon Williams back any time soon. He still had his crutches. Redshirt junior safety Jordan Davis wasn't in pads. 

One of those sporting coincidences that FIU ran an old-fashioned option like you used to see out of an I-formation Saturday afternoon and Florida State did the same several hours later for the first time this season. FIU's wound up a 2-yard gain by quarterback Alex McGough. FSU's wound up a 72-yard touchdown by running back Dalvin Cook when Hurricanes defender Dion Bush blew his assignment to stay with the pitch man.

I thought it was the first time I saw FIU run that kind of option this season. 

"We've been running some of it off other action. We've had it in game plans before. totally their defense dictated that. And we didn't execute it very well -- Alex should've pitched it," Turner laughed. "It looked like we just put it in that week. We didn't."

Seeing those option runs caused a Fireman's Fund Flashback...


More FIU vs. UMass Football; Swim Stuff


Swimming & Diving -- Friday vs. Rice, 4 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. FAU, 10 a.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. University of Miami, 4 p.m.

Men's Soccer -- Saturday vs. Old Dominion, 7 p.m.

Buried in this report out of Massachusetts is the report of another UMass-FIU game, in 2016. It'll replace the previously scheduled UMass-UConn game.

In the postgame notebook off FIU's Oct. 3 loss to the Minutemen, the first of a two-game deal that'll see UMass come south in 2018, I wrote that UMass and FIU were signing up for two more games. FIU's got room on their 2017 and 2019 schedules. UMass comes to The Cage in 2018.


I'm never one to kvetch about a trip to Nashville, one of the funnest cities in the nation. But this weekend's trip to Murfreesboro (translation: stay in Nashville, drive the 45 for the game) means missing the unusual series of dual meets between defending Conference USA champion FIU, Conference USA runner-up Rice, FAU and the Hurricanes.

Races won't always conform to NCAA norms as far as length. It's early in the season, too, so projecting February based on results here would be premature speculation. 

Also, FIU's somewhere between "rebuilding" and "reloading." They lost several seniors including Klara Andersson and FIU's greatest swimmer, Johanna Gustafsdottir (although you'll still see Johanna around FIU sports events as a sports marketing intern). Silvia Scalia, Gustafsdottir's heir apparent as FIU's top all-around swimmer, decided not to come back to FIU for reasons unknown. Karin Tomeckova, second to Scalia in the 100 backstroke at the Conference USA meet, is skipping this year at FIU to go for a spot on Slovakia's Olympic team.

That said, the program's in a much stronger position, both in the pool and in recruiting, than it was when last year's seniors were brought into the program. That showed in last year's depth.

FIU's ranked 16th among the mid-majors by CollegeSwimming.com, and the Hurricanes ranked 21st in all of Division I. Rice would like a piece of FIU after getting dusted in last year's Conference USA meet. The other two schools are natural rivals and FIU beat UM by a blink to complete an undefeated dual meet season last year.

Should be fun.

October 11, 2015

A few thoughts on FIU 52, UTEP 12

Told you UTEP would be chicken soup for FIU's soul.

Actually, UTEP was soup, salad, turkey marsala and Peruvian donuts for dessert all preceded by a calming caipirinha or two.

They were the perfect matchup for the Panthers -- a running team with a broken offense and a broken defense that plays a lot of press man-to-man. The Miners based their offense around running back Aaron Jones, which would've played into FIU's strength anyway. But with Jones lost for the season to injury, and UTEP so injured the handicap symbol should be their logo, the Miners just began putting whatever running back was healthy behind redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Metz. One UTEP observer thought the team packed it in after Jones injury. They beat atrocious New Mexico State in OT and FCS team Incarnate Word with a second half comeback.

And FIU did what it was supposed to do. It clubbed the baby seal. FIU scored so fast, a brotha couldn't make a press box-to-restroom run at the first quarter break without missing a TD. I haven't seen Miners treated like this since Harlan County, USA.

Five touchdowns in five possessions A senior cornerback, Jeremiah McKinnon, did some redshirt freshman hazing on Metz.

"I got the pass read from the offensive tackle," McKinnon said. "That's all I keyed. Then, I looked at the quarterback. He took me where I needed to go."

Perhaps the one play symbolizing the whole game to me was junior tight end Jonnu Smith's touchdown. Smith came free on the left side, gathered in a short pass, nearly ran up the back of teammate Akil Dan-Fodio, then careened through defensive backs like they were toy clown punching bags. The play ended with the 230-pound Smith crossing the goal line while shrugging UTEP's 5-10, 175 pound cornerback Da'Carlos Renfro to the ground. Smith lingered over Renfro and looked down at him as if to confirm the man-boy status described by the play.

Too big, too strong, too crisp on this day.

(One UTEP observer wondered if Smith should've been flagged for taunting. I don't like taunting rules or flags -- don't like the guy taunting you, do your job better than he does his -- but that could've drawn a flag by today's standards. This Conference USA crew, however, seemed to use old school standards on post play flags, especially as far as late hits. Come to think of it, the last three weeks have seen FIU guys take some extra emphasis shots common in the 1970s NFL, but usually flagged for 15 today. The CUSA crews haven't called a single late hit on an FIU opponent. Maybe they should before somebody gets hurt. And the Smith post touchdown moment was the only time I saw FIU close to a behavior flag all day. The last two weeks, I could see some of those flags coming from the press box.)

Alex Gardner had 45 yards rushing on the first touchdown drive. You run that way, it sets up a long shot to Anthony Jones next drive that Jones couldn't hold. So, the next play, Alex McGough tried the other side with Thomas Owens. Owens had Miners cornerback Kalon Beverly beat, established position on Beverly as the ball hung for a bit, made the catch, shed Beverly and stepped into the end zone. 

So logically did the rout unfold that I started looking for a running clock in the second quarter. Once FIU guys started being helped off at the same rate as UTEP guys, I started wondering why FIU still had the first stringers on the field. This was a day for roster management. Get some backups significant playing time as you want, keeping them hungry without unnecessarily burning some redshirts.

Also, it's nice to see backups have a moment like the 79-yard Trey Anderson-to-Shug Oyegunle touchdown pass. Those guys do the practice work, class, community service stuff during the week just like first stringers and first-off-the-bench guys. They deserve at least a soupcon of game glory. 

Special teams might have had the best day of all. That matchup graphed out as going toward UTEP, but the punt return units opened huge gaps for Richard Leonard (37 yards on his one return) and Clinton Taylor (18 on his). Punt return coverage held Jaquan White, averaging 20.0 yards per return, to 10.0. Kickoff return ace Autrey Golden, six career touchdowns, got held to 18.4 yards per return. Austin Taylor got two touchbacks in his seven kickoffs. Punter Stone Wilson moonlighted on kickoffs and got a touchback in his three.

Overall, FIU did what it should've done and what it needed to do. They're feeling good going into Middle Tennessee State next week while Middle's probably feeling a bit shaken after taking a strafing from Western Kentucky.

Soup was good food.


October 10, 2015

Gameday VI: Soup Can Be a Meal


Football -- Saturday vs. UTEP, noon

Women's soccer -- Sunday vs. Louisiana Tech, 1 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Friday vs. Rice, 4 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. FAU, 10 a.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. University of Miami, 4 p.m.

Before we get started on football, a raised glass to the simultaneous wins at Camp Mitch Friday night. Women's soccer took down Southern Mississippi, 1-0, to move to 7-7, but more importantly, 3-2 in Conference USA. Volleyball swept Charlotte 3-0 and now sit at 11-7, 5-2.

Men's soccer goes to UAB today as it continues the death march through Conference USA (or ACC 2). 


FIU football is sick. Disappointing losses at La Tech and UMass, marked by undue crankiness, left their temperature under .500. Look at the medical report that never seems to get shorter. Look at the standings that say a loss today puts them two games behind Marshall and the Middle Tennessee State-Western Kentucky winner in CUSA East with all three of those teams left on the schedule, two on the road. And it means FIU will have to win one of those three games just to get bowl eligible.

This is when some senior citizen female in your family gets in (pick one) her Lincoln Crown Vic/her beige Toyota Camry/the 27 bus to roll up to your house, shuffle quickly in and pour a bucket of chicken soup (or gumbo) down your throat. For ailing FIU, the schedule makers play the role of Big Mama. 

They brought the Panthers UTEP, chicken soup for the FIU football team's soul.

What more could FIU want? FIU's got injuries. The Miners have more -- 10 guys out for the season. A team that wants to be ground bound lost starting tailback Aaron Jones. His backup, Darrin Laufasa, had but a single carry in the 25-6 loss to UTSA. Laufasa might be able to play. Starting linebacker Alvin Jones won't. Nor will his backup, Stephen Forester. Jones' importance is such that the UTEP folks tried to create a hastag for him (#JuggernautJones).  Cornerback Kelvin Fisher's out, too. If I missed your name, I'm sorry. Write-in and I'll include you when I talk about UTEP next year. 

Oh, and trying to run the offense amidst this carnage in his sixth college game and third start is redshirt freshman Ryan Metz. A redshirt freshman in his third start shouldn't look like Jameis Winston (without the crab legs) against FIU's defense.

(Quick digression: FIU announced its game captains this week. For the first time, they didn't include senior defensive end Michael Wakefield: graduate transfer senior linebacker Jephete Matilus, fifth-year senior Richard Leonard, sophomore quarterback Alex McGough, redshirt junior center Michael Montero.) 

FIU's pass coverage often looks discombobulated from the all the injuries and switching that needs to be done. UTEP acts like throwing the football's a sin. FIU stuffs the run. UTEP likes to run inside.

UTEP's 19th nationally in time of possession, yet 119th in team passing efficiency defense and 123rd in pass defense. Translation: the Miners give up the yardage on big plays.

So, FIU, pull those flys, streaks and deep posts out from under last year's tube socks and draws, blow off the dust and see what looks like it'll still play. Wide receivers Shawn Abrams and Juwan Caesar might play. Considering UTEP gives up 5.2 yards per rush, FIU should be able to establish a running game to set up downfield plays off play action, thus preventing the EZ Pass lane access UMass' pass rush got last week.

And FIU's favored by two touchdowns. 

So you see how this sets up, right? 


No, no, there looks like plenty of soup for everyone. Enough for soup to be a meal. The buffet should be open.

I say FIU eats 31-13.

But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.

Saddleback Junior College long-snapper Jared Nash has committed to FIU as a preferred walk-on.

October 08, 2015

Women's Hoop Dissed Even More Than Men by CUSA Coaches

The Conference USA women's basketball coaches preseason poll, released Thursday, made the men's 10th place projection look like sycophant flattery as far as FIU.

Great expectations? Low expectations? Try no expectations -- 13th out of 14, ahead of only North Texas.

That results from being in a total rebuilding situation after the first wholesale coaching staff change in over three decades and the best returning player (forward Kiandre'a Pound) off a 3-26, 0-18 in conference play team won't be returning until she's finished with the reproductive process next year.

Middle Tennessee State, 29-5 in conference play since joining CUSA, is the preseason favorite.

CUSA Top Six + One; Saturday Matinee Attractions


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

Volleyball -- Friday vs. Charlotte, 7 p.m.

Football -- Saturday vs. UTEP, noon

Women's soccer -- Sunday vs. Louisiana Tech, 1 p.m. (Soccer scarves for the first 50 Res Life students).

One big advantage of Conference USA over the Fun Belt -- CUSA's a tremendous bowl slut, hooking up with lower rung bowls, helping create new bowls and generally making sure there's a plethora of bowl beds for its teams to lay their heads come December. I think they're related to every bowl under Rose and above American Standard.

Seven primary bowl tie-ins this year (Heart of Dallaskeep most member team's fans tractable even after a conference title drops from the List of Possibilities. So, I'm expanding the weekly Top Six to the Select Seven.

1. Western Kentucky (4-1, 2-0 in Conference USA) -- Wilt Chamberlain, CUSA team version. Imagine how they'd be scoring if they hadn't lost 1,500-yard rusher Leon Allen. Home this week against Middle Tennessee State. Take the Over.

2. Louisiana Tech (3-2, 1-1) -- Running back Kenneth Dixon got tossed from last week's win against Louisiana-Lafayette, but he'll play at Texas-San Antonio.

3. Marshall (4-1, 1-0) -- Only two receivers over 11 yards per reception. That' means they need to get their chunk yardage from the big chunk of a running back, Devon Johnson. They do.

4. Middle Tennessee State (2-3, 1-0) -- After close losses to Illinois (who looks better than usual this year) and Vanderbilt, seeing visit to Western this weekend reminds me of the old Bernie Mac line "I ain't scared of you!" If Middle loses, next week's home game against FIU becomes an elimination game as far as the conference title.

 5. Southern Miss (3-2, 1-0) -- A strange team. Got taken to the brink by Texas State, then they took Nebraska to the brink (although this is lesser Nebraska to the point it's almost NCIS: Lincoln.). Friday night at Marshall should test junior quarterback Nate Mullens.

6. Rice (2-3, 1-1) -- Love each conference's smarty pants private school rising up to tweak the schools who never have to worry about players making it into school.

7. FIU (2-3, 0-1) -- After FIU's 7 personal fouls or unsportsmanike conduct penalties over the last two games, UTEP should be practicing "Yo, Mama" snaps for dropping on Panthers at the key moment to draw a retaliation penalty ("Man, yo' mama's so ugly, I told her to wait for your sister outside.").

There's not much that'll help the crowd for a noon game against UTEP after two losses. So, FIU's making a measured raffle-focused effort at the student attendance after getting enough tickets distributed for the home opener.

Students entering the game at Gate 5 or 6 before halftime will get a raffle ticket with the chance of winning $1,000 tuition. The winning numbers will be shown on the video throughout the game and you have to be in the house when your number comes up to win. Also, there's a jersey giveaway at the end of the third quarter on the Panther Beach Party Deck, right up there near the drive-in projection booth that houses each school's radio team.

(Quick aside: Old Dominion put some new suites on the end of a 75-year-old stadium. It works. UMass put a new football facility and press box on a 50-year-old stadium. Nice try.)

Also, you can start buying tickets to win this ball, autographed by the whole team and coaching staff.


The winning number will be announced during the second half of the Homecoming Game, Oct. 24, vs. Old Dominion.

October 07, 2015

CUSA Coaches Pooh Pooh FIU Men's Hoop...Except For Diaz

Conference USA coaches don't see FIU's men's basketball team having an offensive replacement for leading scorer Dennis Mavin or having the defense to translate to offense.

That's the message sent by FIU finishing 10th out of 14 CUSA teams in the league's preseason poll of coaches. Alabama-Birmingham is the preseason favorite.

The coaches put 6-10 center Adrian Diaz on the preseason All-CUSA Team. Though Diaz stood out as FIU's most dependable non-Mavin scorer, he made his conference rep on defense -- a conference-leading 99 blocked shots, sixth in the NCAA. 


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