Florida International U

FIU has its sights set on a Conference USA football title with familiar foes on schedule

Butch says quarterbacks have made light years of improvement.

FIU head coach Butch says quarterbacks have made light years of improvement after FIU's spring scrimmage at Riccardo Silva Stadium on Friday, April 12, 2019.
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FIU head coach Butch says quarterbacks have made light years of improvement after FIU's spring scrimmage at Riccardo Silva Stadium on Friday, April 12, 2019.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of college football, dating to the Nov. 6, 1869, game between Princeton and Rutgers.

It also marks the 25th anniversary of Conference USA, a league that FIU hopes to win for the first time. Eight of the teams on FIU’s 2019 schedule were also on its 2018 calendar, and the Panthers finished 5-3 against those schools (losing to Miami, FAU and Marshall).

After setting a school record with nine wins last year, the Panthers return 16 starters — including league Newcomer of the Year James Morgan at quarterback — and should be ultracompetitive against everyone on its schedule with the likely exception of Miami.

Here’s a quick look at what the Panthers will face when the season begins in four months:

August 29 at Tulane: FIU travels to New Orleans for one of just four trips outside South Florida. FIU beat Tulane 23-10 last year in Miami.

Sept. 7 vs. Western Kentucky: In FIU’s league opener, the Panthers will play against WKU’s first-time head coach Tyson Helton. Three years ago, Helton finished a two-season run as WKU’s offensive coordinator, setting school records for points. Helton then left WKU for a two-year run as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator and one season as the passing-game director at Southern Cal, where his brother (Clay) is the head coach. Helton inherits 10 returning starters on the WKU offense.

Sept. 14 vs. New Hampshire: The Wildcats finished 4-7 last season and graduated the productive QB-WR duo of Trevor Knight and Neil O’Connor.

Sept. 20 at Louisiana Tech: The Panthers make their second trip to the Bayou state in less than one month, and this is a Friday night game. The Bulldogs return a pair of all-stars in wide receiver Adrian Hardy and defensive back Amik Robertson.

Oct. 5 vs. Massachusetts: This is a nonconference game and the start of a three-game homestand — the longest of FIU’s season. FIU routed UMass 63-24 last year.

Oct. 12 vs. Charlotte: Will Healy, who was National FCS Coach of the Year in 2017 at Austin Peay, takes over the 49ers, replacing Brad Lambert. Healy inherits first-team all-league defensive lineman Alex Highsmith, second-team running back Benny LeMay and standout offensive lineman Nate Davis.

Oct. 19 vs. Texas El Paso: UTEP returns just four defensive starters and no all-league first- or second-team performers on either side of the ball.

Oct. 26 at Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders lost to FIU 24-21 last year yet still won the division. The Blue Raiders need to replace 12 starters but return a couple of all-stars in linebacker Khalil Brooks and defensive back Reed Blankenship.

Nov. 2 vs. Old Dominion: The Monarchs, who beat Virginia Tech last year, return the fewest starters — nine — in the league. Just four of those starters are on offense. FIU went to Virginia and beat Old Dominion 28-20 last year.

Nov. 9 at Florida Atlantic: The Panthers make the short bus ride to Boca Raton, where the Owls return first-team all-league tight end Harrison Bryant but must replace superstar running back Devin Singletary. The Owls won the league title in 2017 but stumbled to a 5-7 record last year. Even so, the Owls embarrassed FIU 49-14 last year. FIU coach Butch Davis is 0-2 against FAU, getting outscored 101-38.

Nov. 23 vs. Miami: After a bye week, FIU will be major underdogs against the Hurricanes at Marlins Park.

Nov. 30 at Marshall: The Panthers travel to West Virginia, where the Thundering Herd return first-team all-league offensive lineman Levi Brown. FIU lost a home game to Marshall last year 28-25.

THIS AND THAT

FIU’s baseball team (17-22, 7-11 C-USA) lost two of three at Old Dominion this past weekend and plays at the Hurricanes on Wednesday.

FIU’s beach volleyball team, ranked ninth, lost 3-2 to fourth-ranked LSU on Sunday in Emerson, Georgia. FIU (17-11) awaits Sunday’s news of whether the Panthers will make the NCAA championships, which will be held May 3-5 in Muscle Shores, Alabama.

FIU’s women’s tennis team failed to repeat as Conference USA champs, losing 4-3 in the league quarterfinals to North Texas on Friday in Houston.

FIU’s softball team (22-22, 4-13) has lost three consecutive games. Perhaps the highlight of FIU’s season was a walk-off grand slam by Jessica Rivera to beat Marshall 5-1 on April 13.

FIU’s indoor volleyball team signed Miami Dade College transfer Fiorela Murillo, a 5-10 middle blocker and outside hitter. She helped MDC produce a 66-2 record the past two years, winning a national title in 2018 and finishing second this year.

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