Florida International U

FIU takes NC Central very seriously despite FCS status

Miami Herald Staff

North Carolina Central lost to Duke last week by a freeway speed limit (55). Last year’s Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship, NC Central’s second winning season in seven years, lifts it from perennial FCS assistant crew chief to crew chief.

FIU fans might count NC Central (1-1) as another FCS paid sub for the Panthers to whip in Saturday’s first 2015 game at FIU Stadium. FIU’s locker room should know better.

Because of one name that combines the surname of a pioneering African-American educator and the name of Florida’s first institution for higher learning for African-Americans. A name that should deflate any prematurely puffed chests around FIU’s 1-1 football team.

Bethune-Cookman.

“We take every team seriously, seeing as we lost two years in a row to an FCS school,” FIU junior middle linebacker Treyvon Williams said. “We can’t let it happen again. We’ve got to prepare like we have these last two weeks.”

Bethune-Cookman, along with NC Central one of the five teams that tied for the 2014 MEAC title, twice brought FIU large doses of fans, pregame barbeque and humility (and we’re not talking about just the band at halftime).

FIU lost last year’s season opener to Bethune-Cookman 15-14. That counted as progress over 2013’s 34-13 rout saw B-CU run for 311 yards, return an interception 92 yards for a touchdown and knock FIU quarterback Jake Medlock out of that game and the following week’s game.

Two years, two losses. Easily enough to innoculate the Panthers against hubris.

They could also remember they spent last week’s game preparation watching film of Indiana struggling to beat FCS team Southern Illinois. Or, they could notice that FCS power Jacksonville State took No. 6-ranked Auburn — yes, Auburn, as in “from the mighty SEC” — to overtime last week before losing.

“If that’s not enough, they can just put on the film [of NC Central],” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “Very fast. Very fast. They’ve got a lot of starters back from last year’s team. Speed is most concerning.”

Some facts about North Carolina Central:

▪ The Hall of Fame guard from the Dolphins’ Super Bowl winning teams of the 1970s, Larry Little, was NC Central’s head coach from 1993 to 1998.

▪ The school’s all-time leading rusher is Greg Pruitt Jr., son of Greg Pruitt, who finished in the Heisman Trophy voting’s top three in 1971 and 1972 while at Oklahoma before a 12-year NFL career as a thrilling all-purpose running back/kick returner (those under 35 years of age, think “Darren Sproles”).

▪ If both teams score Saturday, it will be a change from NC Central’s first two games, a 72-0 blasting of St. Augustine and a 55-0 drubbing by Duke.

▪ The Eagles brought back 15 starters from a team that went 7-5 overall and 6-2 in the MEAC under first-year coach Jerry Mack Four of those starters are on the offensive line and they like to spread around the running out of the spread. After two games, the 15 carries by each running back Idries Augustus and quarterback Malcolm Bell lead the team.

“They beat Central Florida. They played Indiana all the way down to the wire,” NC Central coach Jerry Mack said of FIU. “They’re a much improved team like we are. We have to go into the game, with the mind-set, we’re not playing the 2013, 2014 FIU. We’re playing the 2015 FIU, which makes a big difference.”

There’s no secret why an FBS school schedules an FCS school. It’s expected to be the easiest way to get one win closer to a bowl game. More wins, even if one looks like a contrived win, means more fans and more money flowing into the athletic department. Athletic department folks feel a little more secure in their jobs.

But a loss can leave all around the program hoisted by their own petard.

That’s why when Turner was asked what he thought FIU got from pounding FCS lightweight Wagner in 2014’s second game — a chance to play more players or experiment with different concepts? — his answer ended in two words.

“A win.”

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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