Florida International U

FIU Panthers aim for bowl eligibility as they face FAU in Shula Bowl

Saturday’s winner will get the Don Shula Award.
Saturday’s winner will get the Don Shula Award. dneal@miamiherald.com

The Don Shula Award sat on a table in the FIU Stadium walkway to the home locker room on Tuesday. Each FIU player leaving the field after practice had to pass the trophy that goes to the winner of the annual Shula Bowl against FAU.

This reminder of Saturday’s potential spoils for FIU could have included little replicas of Marlins Park, Tropicana Field and Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium in the Bahamas.

“The rivalry, obviously, that’s a big deal, but we’re just trying to come out with this ‘W’ both for the bowl eligibility and the rivalry,” FIU senior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon said.

A win Saturday puts FIU on the slide to eligibility and a ticket to one of the bowl games played in the aforementioned stadiums. Which would be, respectively, the Dec. 21 Miami Beach Bowl; the Dec. 26 St. Petersburg Bowl, which was the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl when FIU played Marshall there in 2011; and the Dec. 24 Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl.

All three games require easy travel or no travel for FIU and its fans, a prime consideration when putting together bowl matchups these days, even up to the College Football Playoff. Each had its head man at FIU’s rout of Old Dominion last Saturday.

FIU led 17-10, but FAU was driving for the tying score when Jordan Davis caused a fumble that Richard Leonard zoomed 100 yards to the momentum turning touchdown. FIU won 38-10. Video by David J. Neal / Miami Herald Staff

Conference USA has seven bowl spots to fill and seven teams with a realistic shot at bowl eligibility.

Two, 7-1 Marshall and 6-2 Western Kentucky, already have the required six wins. Louisiana Tech and Southern Mississippi, with 5-3 records, each need one more win. Rice (4-3) needs two more. Middle Tennessee is 3-5 but closes with 1-6 FAU, 0-7 North Texas and 1-6 UTSA.

With a couple of upsets, FAU could kneecap the bowl eligibility of two teams and open up some bowl spots.

A loss to the Owls means FIU would need to win either at Marshall or against video-game scoring Western Kentucky if it doesn’t want to be spectators in December.

Technically, beating the Owls would give 4-4 FIU only the fifth of the necessary six wins. But this is where the slide (as in the old board game Sorry) comes into play.

Next week FIU hosts Charlotte. Charlotte is a third-year program with one FBS win (Georgia State), one win against Presbyterian and a five-game losing streak that will almost certainly be six after Saturday’s game against Marshall.

There’s no such thing as an automatic win for Group of Five teams with .500 records. But the line of bettors backing Charlotte won’t exactly resemble the line at Sushi-Samba on Saturday night.

In fact, the only FBS opponent to score less than 20 points on Charlotte was FAU in a 17-7 win that saw both teams drenched in rain and turnovers.

Freshman defensive back Ocie Rose, who flipped from FIU to FAU on signing day last February, returned an interception 60 yards for the final score in that game, then picked off another pass to seal the win.

That’s the kind of thing FIU fifth-year senior cornerback Richard Leonard tends to do to FAU. If FIU wins Saturday, he’ll be the first Panthers player to play in four Shula Bowls without a loss — Leonard played in 2011, 2012 and 2014 and was academically ineligible in 2013, FAU’s lone win in the past four meetings.

“I just want to go out with a bang this year,” Leonard said.

FIU sophomore linebacker Anthony Wint said: “It’s an in-state opponent. Most guys you know on the team, so it’s added emotion. But it’s another game we need to win. We’ve got to get to that fifth win. It’s next opponent up.”

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

Saturday: FIU at FAU

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.; FAU Stadium.

TV/radio: COZI; WNMA 1210.

Favorite: FIU by 2 1/2.

Records: FIU 4-4 (2-2 C-USA); FAU 1-6 (1-3 C-USA).

Series: FAU leads 9-4.

FIU injuries: Questionable — RB Anthon Samuel (ankle); DE Fermin Silva (leg); DB Jordan Davis (knee); WR Juwan Caesar (knee); DB Niko Gonzalez (stinger); LB Treyvon Williams (knee); DB Wilkenson Myrtil (concussion); TE Ya’Keem Griner (foot). Out — LB Davison Colimon (pectoral); S Shermarke Spence (arm); RB Napoleon Maxwell (ACL); OL Jordan Budwig (shoulder).

FAU injuries: Doubtful — OT Byers Hickmon (concussion). Out — LB Robert Relf (shoulder); WR Derek Moise (knee).

PROBABLE FIU STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

12

Alex McGough

So.

DE

11

Denzell Perrine

Sr.

RB

1

Alex Gardner

So.

DT

74

Lars Koht

Sr.

WR

14

Dennis Turner

So.

DT

93

Imarjaye Albury

Jr.

WR

81

Thomas Owens

So.

DE

55

M. Wakefield

Sr.

TE

80

Ya’Keem Griner

Sr.

LB

53

Anthony Wint

So.

TE

87

Jonnu Smith

Jr.

LB

34

Jephete Matilus

Sr.

LT

78

Dieugot Joseph

Jr.

LB

29

Vontarius West

So.

LG

69

Chris Miller

Fr.

CB

3

Richard Leonard

Sr.

C

64

Michael Montero

Jr.

CB

7

J. McKinnon

Sr.

RG

79

Kai Absheer

Fr.

S

33

Niko Gonzalez

So.

RT

65

Daquane Wilkie

Fr.

S

31

Tyree Johnson

Fr.

PK

43

Austin Taylor

Jr.

P

6

Stone Wilson

Fr.

PROBABLE FAU STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

32

Jaquez Johnson

Sr.

LE

94

Hunter Snyder

Fr.

RB

9

Greg Howell

So.

LT

11

Trevon Coley

Sr.

WR

88

Jenson Stoshak

Sr.

RT

90

Shalom Ogbonda

Jr.

WR

1

Henry Bussey

So.

RE

9

Trey Hendrickson

Jr.

WR

81

Kalib Woods

So.

LB

34

Freedom Whitfield

Sr.

TE

80

Nate Terry

So.

LB

50

Nate Ozdemir

So.

LT

58

Reggie Bain

So.

LB

28

Azeez Al-Shaair

Fr.

LG

73

M. Marsaille

Sr.

CB

23

Raekwon Williams

So.

C

66

Dillon DeBoer

Jr.

CB

7

Cre’von LeBlanc

Sr.

RG

53

Jakobi Smith

So.

FS

18

Jalen Young

Fr.

RT

76

Kelly Parfitt

Jr.

SS

29

Sharrod Neasman

Sr.

PK

17

Greg Joseph

Jr.

P

67

Dalton Schomp

Jr.

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