The upside for FIU is the last two weeks leave the Panthers only 0-1 in Conference USA play and that one loss came to Louisiana Tech, from the West Division.
If the Panthers can get it together, they can still possibly force a winner-take-the East Division crown season-ending showdown with Western Kentucky.
And next week’s opponent, UTEP, also is 2-3 and 0-1 and coming off a disappointing loss to Texas-San Antonio.
The downside is FIU’s done precious little in losses to La Tech and UMass over the last two weeks that says it will do that.
If that seems harsh, consider what FIU coach Ron Turner said after Saturday’s 24-14 loss to UMass. Turner had just been asked what FIU needed to spark a turnaround.
“Discipline. Accountability. Some mental toughness. There was none of that today,” he snapped.
As for who he could look to for that, Turner didn’t name his usual role models, such as senior defensive end Michael Wakefield, senior cornerback Richard Leonard or junior tight end Jonnu Smith
Instead, he said, “Somebody, I don’t know who that is. I thought I knew, but I guess I don’t. Somebody, I hope.”
The somebody count rarely increases during a football season, and FIU’s attendance report already looks like it should come with Happy Thanksgiving wishes.
Among the four injured safeties, redshirt junior Jordan Davis (knee) and sophomore Niko Gonzalez (stinger) have the best chance of returning soon.
Next game will see the return of redshirt junior Deonte Wilson, kept home for an unspecified violation of team rules.
FIU clearly missed junior middle linebacker Treyvon Williams (knee) Saturday, and his replacement, graduate senior Jephete Matilus, started off slowly Saturday afternoon.
A relatively healthy defensive front will be without senior defensive tackle Darrian Dyson a second week for a violation of team rules. That did allow freshmen defensive linemen such as Milord Juste playing time.
Two consecutive weeks, FIU fell behind early, getting rolled on the ground by Louisiana Tech then strafed in the air at UMass.
While the defense eventually got itself together, the offense seemed to lose even the will to try explosiveness.
That wasn’t helped when sophomore wide receiver Dennis Turner left Saturday’s game in the fourth quarter after hitting his head on the turf. Before that, Smith seemed still hampered by the thigh contusion he sustained at La Tech.