The 14th season of FIU football opens in Orlando Thursday evening against Central Florida. The Panthers and Knights meet for the fourth time in series history. I expect the 2015 season opener to resemble the 2011 series opener between these two teams.
The 2011 game at FIU Stadium was a defensive slugfest that left each offense scraping for every yard it got. FIU won 17-10 that night helped in part by Isame Faciane's 51-yard fumble return (photo below) for a touchdown just before halftime and a UCF fumble in the third quarter that led to Darriet Perry's touchdown run to give FIU a lead it would not relinquish. UCF tallied 300 total yards, FIU had 238 total yards. Similar offensive outputs might be the case Thursday.
Once again the two teams bring very good defenses to the matchup with the Knights possibly having a slight edge on offense. UCF's offensive strength like FIU might be its running backs. Will Stanback, Dontravious Wilson and Taj McGowan carry the ball for UCF with Stanback being the workhorse at 230 pounds. If you recall last season FIU had some trouble with bigger backs (see: Conner, James as an example).
The Knights have a young promising quarterback in Justin Holman and an inexperienced receiving corps. Where have you heard that before? FIU has talented running backs in Anthon Samuel and Alex Gardner, a young promising quarterback in Alex McGough and an inexperienced receiving corps, outside of Jonnu Smith. You can see how this game could be another pitchers' duel in football terms.
UCF will likely deliver a heavy dose of Stanback and run company and test the inexperienced FIU safeties in the pass game. If the Panthers can control the Knights running game and force the UCF offense to rely on the receivers then FIU could win its fourth season opener in its 14 seasons of football. FIU is 3-10 in season openers with wins against St. Peter's (2002 - 1st ever FIU game), at Youngstown State (2004 - 1st ever FIU road win) and North Texas (2011). The City of Neon Lights had more folks renounce their UCF fandom earlier this week. You can figure out the rest from the previous sentence.
Of course for FIU to drive south on the Florida Turnpike happy late Thursday night it will need to score on what was the No. 5 defense in the country last season and No. 6 against the run. Most of those defenders are back like FIU's D situation. Add to it that FIU will be trotting out basically a new offensive line and the sledding could be tough for Samuel and Gardner. Which may put the game in the hands of the FIU passing game, especially with UCF fielding a new secondary. It could be inexperience (FIU receivers) versus inexperience (UCF secondary) to decide this one.
Should this game play out as a tight one then look to FIU's Richard Leonard or UCF's Jordan Akins to possibly decide it returning a kick for a score or giving his respective team some seriously good field position with a big return.
Weather should not be a factor. A temperature of 86 degrees and partly sunny skies are expected at kickoff. There are some showers forecast for the early afternoon in Orlando, but the game forecast looks good with just a 15 percent chance of rain. And now Tricia Takanawa for the traffic report.