Marshall opponents, Game 11: Florida International
NOTE: This is the 22nd in a series of previews of Marshall and West Virginia football opponents.
Checking them out
The last time these two teams exchanged pleasantries (and unpleasantries), both appeared on an upward trajectory. Since that 2011 bowl game, both teams took a step back. Check that - in FIU's case, it was a tumble.
The Panthers went 3-9 last year, but nobody expected FIU athletic director Pete Garcia to show Mario Cristobal the door. Cristobal, easily the most successful coach in the program's 11-year history, had been the front-runner for the Pitt job during the bowl run-up and was seen as a rising star. He was fired by FIU in December and landed in Alabama as offensive line coach.
He was replaced at FIU by Ron Turner, the former Illinois coach who was tutoring QB Josh Freeman with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Pundits found it equally surprising that Turner returned to the college ranks after nine seasons in the pros.
Turner will have a speedy team - the school is in Miami, you know - but he won't have much experience. To make matters a little worse, Kedrick Rhodes was dismissed from the team, needing just 39 yards from the school's all-time rushing record.
Jake Medlock (2,127 passing yards, 13 TDs) is back at QB. Wide receiver Willis Wright (19 catches for 525 and five TDs in the last six games) is the big-play threat. Question is, who will block, and how well? The returning O-linemen have nine career starts among them.
The top defenders are tackle Greg Hickman (nine tackles for loss, two sacks) and corners Sam Miller (62 tackles, four for loss) and Richard Leonard. Tackles Isame Faciane and Jerrico Lee, plus defensive end Giovani Francois, are needed to beef up the front.
Leonard is the return threat, scoring twice on kicks last year. The spring roster listed one punter and one kicker, both redshirt freshmen.
Don't worry about Cristobal, who's making $475,000 at Alabama - a $37,000 cut from his FIU gig. ... FIU lost consecutive games in the final minute last year to Middle Tennessee and Troy. The next week, Western Kentucky took advantage of a botched punt snap to win 14-6. FIU finished the season with an overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe. ... Since FIU and Marshall played in the 2011 bowl game, the "Golden" has been dropped from the nickname (shades of Central Florida, circa 2005).
Date Opponent Last year
Aug. 31 at Maryland DNP
Sept. 7 Central Florida L 20-33
Sept. 14 Bethune-Cookman DNP
Sept. 21 at Louisville L 21-28
Oct. 5 at Southern Miss* DNP
Oct. 12 UAB* DNP
Oct. 26 Louisiana Tech* DNP
Nov. 2 East Carolina* DNP
Nov. 9 at Middle Tennessee* L 30-34
Nov. 16 at Texas-El Paso* DNP
Nov. 23 Marshall* DNP
Nov. 29 (Fri.) at Florida Atlantic* W 34-24
* Conference USA games