NCF Nation: Florida International Panthers

3-point stance: FIU's stand-up coach

January, 31, 2012
1/31/12
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1. If the timing had been different, Mario Cristobal might have decided to leave Florida International, where he has been head coach for five seasons, and return to Rutgers. Cristobal had reasons to stay. He’s a south Florida guy. A team that went 0-12 in 2006, the year before he arrived, has gone to bowls the past two season. But in an age when coaches leave without saying goodbye, Cristobal didn’t abandon his team or the recruits that have agreed to sign with FIU on Wednesday. That makes him a stand-up guy.

2. Texas has gone 13-12 over the past two seasons, and persistent rumors regarding coach Mack Brown made athletic director DeLoss Dodds recommend a contract extension through the end of the decade to the university regents. Dodds all but rolled his eyes when he announced it, decrying the state of recruiting today. Maybe it’s a coincidence that Plano West defensive end Bryce Cottrell and Van (Texas) linebacker Dalton Santos switched from Oregon and Tennessee, respectively, to sign with Texas. Maybe not.

3. USC, on the heels of its 10-2 finish, is ranked 16th in the latest ESPN recruiting rankings. The Trojans might be higher were it not for the fact that they have only 14 commitments. That’s because USC is in the first of three years in which the school may sign only 15 players. As good as the Trojans were last fall, and as high as they have soared in the early rankings for next season, the NCAA-imposed recruiting penalty is going to take a toll. After struggling in 2010, the success of 2011 may be the eye of the storm.
The BYU quarterback competition among Jake Heaps, Riley Nelson and James Lark is still undecided.

Florida International players and coaches continue to deal with the aftermath of the death of running back Kendall Berry.

As spring practices continue, Jordan Wynn remains the future of the Utes' offense.

After Saturday’s scrimmage, Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson is starting to see improvement within his team.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham places his faith in 23-year-old quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson.

The quarterback race at Louisiana Tech continues to narrow as spring pushes on.

The Nevada first-team defense kept Colin Kaepernick’s offense out of the end zone during the spring game.

The quarterback race is still wide open at UAB as coach Neil Callaway looks for a replacement for Joe Webb.
Florida International coach Mario Cristobal issued a statement Friday thanking the FIU community for its support regarding the stabbing death of running back Kendall Berry.

Berry, a 22-year-old sophomore, was fatally stabbed Thursday evening in front of the FIU recreation center. No arrests have been made.

"Kendall had an infectious personality," Cristobal said in the statement. "He was loved and respected by everyone who had the privilege of knowing him. It was truly an honor to have known and coached Kendall. It's a shame to lose such a young life to an act of senseless violence."

The Golden Panthers were supposed to have their spring game Saturday and Berry, who missed part of last season with injury, was supposed to be one of the featured backs.

Spring football, which was supposed to have concluded Wednesday, has been suspended indefinitely.

Cristobal said a memorial is being planned and details would be released next week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

1. Offensive player of the year: Rusty Smith, QB, FAU -- Smith had a tough go last year, but said he's healthy and free of distractions this season. He has several weapons that could make the Owls one of the most dangerous offenses in the country.

2. Co-defensive players of the year: Brandon Lang, DE, Troy and Alex Carrington, DE, Arkansas State -- These players put up similar numbers as juniors last season and are in line to have similar success for their senior campaigns. Look for both players to be at the top of the conference in sacks and tackles for loss.

3. Newcomer of the year: Dudley LaPorte, TE, FIU -- It took awhile for LaPorte, a transfer from Santa Barbra City College, to find an FBS team, but he'll definitely help out an FIU offense that's looking for more playmakers. LaPorte was the nation's top junior college tight end last season.

4. Comeback player of the year: Jason Harmon, TE, Florida Atlantic -- Harmon was a first team all-conference selection in 2007 after amassing 63 catches for 825 yards and five touchdowns. But he suffered a knee injury during 2008 spring practice and missed all of last season.

5. Freshman of the year Josh Jarboe, WR, Troy -- Jarboe is still working his way up the depth chart, but teammates say he's putting in the work, coming along and should be a factor in the offense. If Jarboe lives up to the hype, he could be one of the most dangerous players in the league.

6. Most exciting player: T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU -- Hilton opened eyes last year as a freshman with the first 1,000-yard receiving season in FIU history. He also was one of the top kick returners in the country.

7. Coach of the year: Larry Blakeney, Troy -- The Trojans could make Sun Belt history by winning their fourth consecutive conference title. Only North Texas can claim a similar feat. The Trojans return several of their key playmakers on both offense and defense.

8. Game of the year: Florida Atlantic at Troy, Nov. 21 --
This game should decide the Sun Belt title since both teams are poised to be tops in the conference. In the past two seasons, the winner has gone on to win the conference title.

9. Surprise team of the year: North Texas -- Coach Todd Dodge has yet to live up to the reputation he made in the high school ranks, but with his son Riley leading the team at quarterback, the Mean Green might be poised for a big season. All the team needs is some defense.

10. Team that will disappoint: Arkansas State -- Quarterback Corey Leonard has accomplished a lot during his time with the Red Wolves, but he's the lone heralded senior quarterback without a conference title. The Red Wolves have the players to vie for a conference championship, but they'll fall short against FAU and Troy.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
 AP Photo/Nati Harnik
 Gene Chizik is looking to keep his team focused to play UNLV.

After an ugly performance at Iowa last week, don't expect Iowa State coach Gene Chizik to opt for a little free time on the Strip in Las Vegas before the Cyclones' game Saturday at UNLV.

Chizik has chosen to remove his team far away from the glitter of Vegas, instead opting for a remote location where the Cyclones will prepare as they always do.

Just guessing, but it might be worth a little out-of-the-box thinking, considering that Chizik is 0-12 in road games during his career. But he said his way should keep his team away from diversions as they prepare for the Rebels, who stunned Arizona State in overtime last week.

"We're going out there with the mindset that we're going to remove ourselves from the distractions," Chizik said. "We want to isolate ourselves, make it as much as we can business as usual and not make it any different than if we were playing at home."

Iowa State currently has the third-longest road streak in college football, trailing only the 16-game losing streaks of Florida International and UAB.

The Cyclones have traditionally struggled away from home more than any other Big 12 team. Former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney started his tenure at the school with a 15-game losing streak that eventually went to 0-30-1 before the Cyclones stunned Iowa in 1998.

Despite those road struggles, about 10,000 Iowa State fans are expected to flock to Las Vegas with the Cyclones. And one hotel is trying to cash in on their arrival.

The Des Moines Register said the Hooters Casino is planning a $10 buffet before the game more in line with the traditional culinary values of the Midwest.

No carving stations, sushi bars or dessert stations for these Iowa State fans. Instead, the casino plans to offer all-you-can-eat troughs of pork tenderloins, loose-meat sandwiches and other Midwestern favorites, washed down by free beer.

As Racheal Ray would say, Yummo!

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There's obviously not a great game selection this week, but the Big Ten features plenty of intriguing storylines on Saturday. And no, not all of them have to do with Beanie Wells' big toe.

Here are 10 things to keep an eye on:

1. Penn State's response to turmoil: The Nittany Lions thought they were past off-field melodrama, but the suspensions of starting defenders Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma and reserve tight end Andrew Quarless cast a shadow over Happy Valley. Will this team cave to the distractions or take care of business against a decent Oregon State team? The D-line will be shorthanded against Beavers quarterback Lyle Moevao.

2. Boom and Zoom: With Beanie Wells out, the spotlight turns to Ohio State's young running backs Dan "Boom" Herron and Brandon "Zoom" Saine, who along with Maurice Wells will carry the rushing load against Ohio. The Buckeyes need every weapon they can muster for USC, and the performances of the three backs against Ohio could loom large for next week.

3. Steven Threet era might begin: The Michigan redshirt freshman seemed to gain confidence toward the end of a season-opening loss to Utah and should get the starting nod against Miami (Ohio). Both Threet and Nick Sheridan are far from finished products, but Threet could take an important step in his evolution with an efficient performance against the RedHawks.

4. Tyrell Sutton faces Duke: The Northwestern senior sat out last season's embarrassing home loss to the Blue Devils, a game that kept the Wildcats out of a bowl. He'll be ready to roll on a potentially sloppy track in Durham, N.C., as Northwestern aims for redemption and a 2-0 start.

5. Star-studded crowd in Champaign: It should be a banner day for Illinois, which unveils the renovated Memorial Stadium and plays before a collection of living legends, including Dick Butkus. Eastern Illinois shouldn't present too much trouble, but the Illini are searching for a stronger defensive effort after last week's poor tackling display against Missouri.

6. Doyt Perry Stadium rocks as Gophers arrive: Bowling Green hosts its first-ever Big Ten opponent at Doyt Perry, and Minnesota will try to spoil the fun. The Gophers barely survived at home against a rebuilding Northern Illinois team last week and will need a much stronger effort, particularly on defense, to overcome Tyler Sheehan and the Falcons on the road.

7. Flipping quarters at Iowa: Is this the week Hawkeyes junior Jake Christensen cements himself as the starting quarterback? He'll have the chance to do so against Florida International, but improved sophomore Ricky Stanzi remains very much in the mix. It's important to see some separation soon, and Christensen still needs to improve his consistency and decision-making.

8. Beckum returns for Badgers: Wisconsin gets All-American tight end Travis Beckum back against Marshall, a potential tune-up for next week's trip to Fresno State. It's important for Beckum and new starting quarterback Allan Evridge to establish a good in-game rhythm, particularly in the red zone, where Wisconsin had two turnovers last week. Evridge can't rely solely on the run game, and he knows Beckum will be his greatest asset.

9. Penn State's Clark ready to run: We should get a much better read on Nittany Lions starting quarterback Daryll Clark this week against Oregon State. After facing no pocket pressure last week, Clark expects to showcase his running skills often against a Beavers defense that allowed 210 yards in a season-opening loss to Stanford. Clark will get help from Evan Royster and Stephfon Green as Penn State tries to run over the Beavers.

10. Purdue's offense takes flight: The Boilermakers finally make their debut and feature several offensive players in different roles. Senior Kory Sheets becomes Purdue's featured running back -- a spot he always coveted -- following a season-ending knee injury to Jaycen Taylor. Quarterback Curtis Painter gets to sample several wide receivers in more prominent roles (Brandon Whittington, Keith Smith, Desmond Tardy) against Northern Colorado.

Big Ten picks for Week 2

September, 4, 2008
9/04/08
11:11
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

My editors don't know it yet, but this will be my last blog post for ESPN.com. I'm taking the fiancée, moving to Vegas and setting up shop. C'mon, did you see last week's picks? Sure, there were only three or four true toss-up games, one of which I got woefully wrong. But a 9-1 record with five near-perfect score predictions tells me I'm in the wrong line of work. In all seriousness, I highly doubt I'll have another week like that all season, so please don't mortgage your house on what you read below. However, this should be another Saturday to pad the season record before things get much tougher in Week 3.

Here we go:

Ohio State 45, Ohio 7 -- No Beanie, no problem for the Buckeyes, who have the chance to showcase their creativity on offense before the USC game. Running backs Dan "Boom" Herron, Mo Wells and Brandon Saine have big games as the Buckeyes roll. Ohio has some speed threats in wideout Taylor Price and return man Donte Harden, but the Buckeyes defense stands tall again.

Wisconsin 40, Marshall 13 -- Quarterback Allan Evridge and the Badgers should iron out the kinks in the red zone against the Thundering Herd. Evridge will find a healthy Travis Beckum for the first of many touchdown passes this season. Like Akron, Marshall could present some first-half trouble with with Dariuses (Marshall and Passmore), but ultimately the Badgers will be too strong.

Illinois 52, Eastern Illinois 3 -- There are several factors working against the Panthers. Illinois unveils its renovated stadium and welcomes back the program's greatest living players to Champaign. The team wears Dick Butkus-era throwback jerseys. And the Illini are ticked off after the Missouri loss. The Illinois defense forces at least three turnovers and Juice Williams continues to surge.

Michigan State 42, Eastern Michigan 14 -- Expect a big day for Spartans senior Javon Ringer, both at running back and kickoff returner. Quarterback Brian Hoyer finds his rhythm and another wide receiver follows Mark Dell's performance with a big game. Eagles quarterback Andy Schmitt and tailback Terrence Blevins test a still-iffy Spartans defense, but Michigan State pulls away in the third quarter.

Michigan 27, Miami (Ohio) 6 -- The Wolverines offense won't look quite as bad with Steven Threet most likely at the helm, and a running back -- don't know which one -- steps up big against Miami. Linebacker Obi Ezeh and the Michigan defense builds off the second-half performance against Utah and shuts down a turnover-prone RedHawks offense.

Iowa 44, Florida International 10 -- I won't make the same mistake twice after doubting the Hawkeyes' offense last week. Iowa's run game continues to prosper behind Shonn Greene, and junior quarterback Jake Christensen finally cements himself as the clear-cut starter with a strong performance. Aside from return man T.Y. Hilton, FIU doesn't have much to scare the Hawkeyes.

Purdue 41, Northern Colorado 0 -- Given what's coming up next, the Boilers need a strong start and get one from quarterback Curtis Painter and running back Kory Sheets. At least three receivers catch touchdown passes as coach Joe Tiller samples what he has besides Greg Orton. Purdue's improved secondary will shut down a Northern Colorado team that averaged just 11.3 points a game last fall and is picked last in its league.

Penn State 38, Oregon State 30 -- The Beavers secondary looks strong, but will it matter if the front seven can't stop the run? If Stanford racked up 210 yards against Oregon State, just think what Penn State will do with Evan Royster, Stephfon Green and mobile quarterback Daryll Clark, who will be on the move much more this week. Quarterback Lyle Moevao presents some problems for Penn State's secondary, but the Lions pull through at home.

Indiana 45, Murray State 10 -- Quarterback Kellen Lewis breaks another long run or two, but the Hoosiers get more help from their running backs against a Murray State team that was tied with Lambuth early in the second half of last week's victory. Hoosiers defensive end Greg Middleton picks up two or three sacks as the walk down easy street continues.

Northwestern 30, Duke 21 -- Several factors could hurt Northwestern: the weather, an improved Duke team, mobile quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and the emotions after last season's embarrassing loss in Evanston. Here's another factor: running back Tyrell Sutton, who missed last year's game with an ankle injury. Sutton will be the best player on the field Saturday night and help Northwestern escape with a win.

Bowling Green 38, Minnesota 34 -- There's still too many problems on the Gophers defense, and Falcons quarterback Tyler Sheehan will capitalize in a big way. I could see a mini-letdown for Bowling Green after the Pitt win, but the Falcons are hosting their first Big Ten opponent since 1966 and should prevail. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber ha
s another big game, but it's not enough.

Bye: None

Season record: 9-1

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some intriguing tidbits around the Big 12 heading into Saturday's games.

1. Texas A&M K Richie Bean misfired on two easy field goals of 32 yards and 25 yards in a loss to Arkansas State, but had even bigger worries. His family had just rebuilt their home in the New Orleans area in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Gustav was on a direct path during the game. Bean's recent slump has reopened the kicking competition before this week's game with New Mexico with freshman Randy Bullock, who A&M coach Mike Sherman said he would have used late in the first game after Bean's earlier misses.

2. Kansas fans are concerned after the Jayhawks rushed for 128 yards and averaged a pedestrian 3.6 yards per carry in a blowout victory over Florida International. One of the biggest reasons was the absence of T Jeremiah Hatch, who didn't play for undisclosed reasons. Coach Mark Mangino said that Hatch is practicing with the team and could be available for Saturday's game against Louisiana Tech. His return would immediately boost Kansas' ground game.

3. Baylor QB Robert Griffin has another reason to get excited about his first college start against Northwestern State. His older sister, Dejon, a junior who competes in the hammer, discus and shot put for the Demons' track team, says she'll support her little brother over her own school at Saturday's game in Waco.

4. Texas coach Mack Brown will consult with DE Henry Melton and LB Sergio Kindle before he decides how many games DT Lamarr Houston will be suspended for after his weekend arrest. He was charged with driving while intoxicated. Melton and Kindle both were suspended three games last season after they were arrested for similar charges last summer.

Houston's absence Saturday night from the Longhorns' pass rush against UTEP adds a little more pressure for Texas redshirt freshmen S Blake Gideon and S Earl Thomas, who will be starting their first road games at the raucous Sun Bowl.

5. Kansas State coach Ron Prince has repeatedly said that QB Josh Freeman was his most improved player since the spring. Freeman played like it in the Wildcats' season-opening 45-6 victory over North Texas, accounting for five touchdowns. But the most noticeable change for Freeman in his third season as a starter appears to be his patience at hitting second and third receivers. He also looked more comfortable as a running threat, which wasn't always the case in his previous two seasons as a starter.

6. Colorado coaches worried about finding a defensive playmaker to replace Jordon Dizon. If the Buffaloes' first game is any indication, they don't have any worries. Rangy LB Brad Jones was all over the field with seven tackles and a sack in their victory over Colorado State. But most impressive was his play on Colorado State TE Kory Sperry, who was neutralized with only two catches after blistering the Buffaloes for eight catches and three TD grabs last season.

A look at Week 2

September, 2, 2008
9/02/08
11:43
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten whiffed on several opportunities to boost its national reputation in Week 1. Now it's time to make sure things don't get worse. The Week 2 slate is underwhelming, to say the least, but still extremely important for Big Ten teams to take care of business.

Here's a look:

Ohio at Ohio State (ESPN2, noon ET)

Beanie Wells' foot injury has overshadowed any intrigue about the game, and the spotlight likely will be on the sideline rather than the field Saturday. If Wells doesn't play -- a strong possibility -- it will be interesting to see how Ohio State's coaches readjust. Do Dan Herron, Maurice Wells and Brandon Saine split carries? How will freshman sensation Terrelle Pryor be used differently? Ohio has some good team speed and should provide somewhat of a challenge for a Buckeyes defense that smothered Youngstown State last week. The Bobcats haven't faced the state's flagship team since 1999, so they'll be up for this one.

Marshall at Wisconsin (noon ET)

The Badgers hope to get healthier and more precise before a huge road matchup against Fresno State in Week 3. Though the running game surged and the offense put up 38 points against Akron, Wisconsin had two turnovers inside the Zips' 10-yard line. Quarterback Allan Evridge must build off his first start in three years against a Marshall defense that struggled last season. Badgers star tight end Travis Beckum practiced earlier this week and might play against the Thundering Herd.

Eastern Illinois at Illinois (noon ET)

Illlinois will unveil its renovated stadium, wear throwback jerseys and welcome back dozens of program greats, including iconic linebacker Dick Butkus. It should be an interesting day on the field as well as the Illini try to atone for a season-opening loss to Missouri against Eastern Illinois. The Panthers feature two former Illinois players, defensive tackle D'Angelo McCray and defensive end Jeff Sobol, and come off a 31-12 loss to Central Michigan.

Eastern Michigan at Michigan State (noon ET)

Despite some positives from wide receiver Mark Dell and others, Michigan State is 0-1 and can't afford to backslide against Eastern Michigan. The Spartans defense needs a much stronger performance against an Eagles team that thumped Indiana State 52-0 and boasts a versatile quarterback in Andy Schmitt. Better discipline also is a priority for the Spartans after being penalized for 82 yards against Cal. Michigan State has scored 47 points or more in its last four meetings with Eastern Michigan.

Miami (Ohio) at Michigan (ESPN, noon ET)

It's only Week 2, but Michigan faces a must-win situation against a Miami (Ohio) program that has regressed in recent years. Don't be surprised if redshirt freshman Steven Threet replaces Nick Sheridan as the Wolverines' starting quarterback, though both men could play. Michigan has to get more from its running backs, particularly freshmen Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw, against a Miami defense that surrendered 269 rushing yards against Vanderbilt last week. The RedHawks also could go with two quarterbacks, though Daniel Raudabaugh will start.

Florida International at Iowa (noon ET)

It's important for the Hawkeyes to settle on a starting quarterback before games with Iowa State and Pitt, so the spotlight will be on Jake Christensen. The junior had some bright spots and some not-so bright ones against Maine in Week 1, but coach Kirk Ferentz seems to want him to step up and claim the spot for good. Iowa should have no problem with Florida International as long as it can stop T.Y. Hilton, who ranks second nationally in punt returns (44.5 ypr) and 23rd in kickoff returns (25 ypr).

Northern Colorado at Purdue (noon ET)

The Boilers open the season and can finally see what they have at wide receiver. There's little concern about Greg Orton, but expect coach Joe Tiller to use a sizable rotation of receivers to see who else can contribute. Kory Sheets plays his first game as Purdue's featured running back, though it'd be wise to get backup Dan Dierking a decent number of carries. Northern Colorado was picked last in the preseason Big Sky polls, so the Boilers shouldn't be tested too much before a big matchup against Oregon.

Oregon State at Penn State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)

What looks to be the day's best game by far lost a little luster after Oregon State dropped its opener against Stanford. Beavers quarterback Lyle Moevao provides a good test for a Penn State defense that's stacked up front but inexperienced at linebacker. Oregon State struggled to contain Stanford's run game and could be in trouble against Evan Royster and Stephfon Green, but if the Beavers flood the box and make Daryll Clark beat them with his arm, this could get very interesting.

Murray State at Indiana (7 p.m. ET)

Indiana and Iowa should co-author a book entitled, "Easing into the season." Like the Hawkeyes, it will be tough to get a great read on the Hoosiers until later this month. Star pass rusher Greg Middleton returns to the field for Indiana after serving a one-game suspension, and the defense looks to limit the pass after allowing 219 yards against Western Kentucky. Murray State allowed 73 points last year against Louisville in its only game against an FBS opponent.

Northwestern at Duke (7 p.m. ET)

If Northwestern wants to change its national perception, beating teams like Duke is a must. The Wildcats failed to do so last year, falling 20-14 at home following an unsightly series of penalties, turnovers and missed opportunities. Duke looks to be improving under new coach David Cutcliffe, but the difference Saturday could be Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton, the best player on either squad and a guy who missed last year's game with an ankle injury. Keep an eye on the weather as Hurricane Hannah should hit North Carolina on Friday night.

Minnesota at Bowling Green (ESPNU, 7:30 p.m. ET)

The Gophers deserved to celebrate a bit after a season-opening win against Northern Illinois, but if they want to prove they're really a better team, this is the perfect stage. Bowling Green comes off a Week 1 road upset of Pitt and stunned Minnesota last season with a two-point conversion in overtime to seal a 32-31 win. Falcons quarterback Tyler Sheehan will test
a still-unproven Gophers secondary, but Adam Weber should also be a handful for Bowling Green.

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