Florida International U

FIU, Davis thrilled with bowl destination

Head coach Butch Davis of the FIU Panthers gestures after the game against the UTSA Roadrunners at Riccardo Silva Stadium on Nov. 4, 2017 in Miami, Florida.
Head coach Butch Davis of the FIU Panthers gestures after the game against the UTSA Roadrunners at Riccardo Silva Stadium on Nov. 4, 2017 in Miami, Florida. Getty Images

FIU’s third ever bowl game and its first since 2011 will be a homecoming for starting quarterback Alex McGough and several other Panthers.

The Panthers (8-4) announced on Sunday that they will play Temple (6-6) on December 21 in the Gasparilla Bowl at 43,000-seat Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. The game, which starts at 8 p.m., will be televised by ESPN.

FIU played in St. Petersburg and lost to Marshall in 2011 when this was known as the Beef O’Brady Bowl. But if FIU beat Temple, it would break the program record for single-season wins.

Either way, Butch Davis said he’s thrilled to go bowling in his first year coaching FIU.

“We’re excited to play in Florida,” Davis said. “St. Petersburg is a great city. It’s close to home, and that’ll give our supporters the chance to make the trip.”

Davis met with his players Sunday morning — before the bowl invitations were extended. Once FIU found out its bowl destination, Davis’ staff sent out a mass text to the players.

And even though Davis couldn’t see all his players’ reactions, he said: “Trust me, they’re excited.”

And, why not? FIU has won only one bowl game in its history, beating Toledo in 2010’s Little Caesar Bowl in Detroit.

In Temple, FIU will play a team from the American Athletic Conference that won three of its final four games to become bowl eligible. Temple’s only loss during that span came against undefeated league champ Central Florida, 45-19.

UCF also beat FIU in the season opener 61-17. Another common opponent is UMass, a team Temple beat 29-21.

Temple, also like FIU, has a coach in his first year with the program. He’s Geoff Collins, who was previously the defensive coordinator at Florida and Mississippi State.

The Owls also lost to Notre Dame, South Florida, Houston, Connecticut and Army (in overtime).

Of FIU’s four losses, two of them were against league champs: Florida Atlantic (Conference USA) and UCF. The Panthers also had a couple of hiccups against 6-6 Middle Tennessee on the road and 5-7 Old Dominion at home.

As for the homecoming, McGough is from Tampa Gaither, and before he knew FIU’s bowl game would be in St. Petersburg, he said: “It will be a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience for me since it’s my last year.”

THIS AND THAT

▪ FIU will take several days off from practice. The coaches will be busy recruiting as well as breaking down Temple tape, and the players will be focusing on academics and getting treatment. The Panthers will have a light workout on Friday, and there will be some practices at home before leaving for St. Petersburg on December 18.

▪ Other FIU players from the Tampa/St. Petersburg area include linebacker Fred Russ and cornerback Isaiah Brown, both from Tampa Bay Tech; and three players from Admiral Farragut, running back Napoleon Maxell, cornerback Brad Muhammad and kickoff specialist Sean Young. Center Shane McGough, Alex’s younger brother, is also from Tampa Gaither.

▪ Panthers starting center Neal Mars is out for about six months due to surgery. Wide receiver Thomas Owens, who was leading the league in receiving yards before he missed the past two games, is doubtful to be ready in time to play Temple. But wide receiver Julian Williams returned from injury for the UMass game.

▪ FIU senior linebackers Anthony Wint and Treyvon Williams were carried off the field after the win over UMass, which was the final home contest of their careers.

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