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.