Welcome to C-USA: Florida International

Florida International is one of the eight new members of Conference USA. Michael Prunka provides some insight on what to expect from the Golden Panthers this upcoming year.

Florida International University is in for a lot of change. Not only are they leaving the Sun Belt Conference in favor of Conference-USA, but Ron Turner will debut as the football team's new head coach this season.

A fresh start is exactly what the Golden Panthers' football program needs. With the exception of tying for first in the Sun Belt in 2010, Florida International hasn't been very competitive. That 2010 season was the only time FIU cracked the top-three in the conference since joining in 2005.

What they're known for

Before FIU had football, basketball was the marquee program. In the 1990s, the Golden Panthers picked up a Trans American Athletic Conference regular season championship (1993) and won the conference's tournament in 1995 to punch their tickets to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, they had to face the No. 1 seeded UCLA Bruins and were knocked out in the first round.

In 2009, FIU made national headlines when NBA-great Isiah Thomas became the program's head basketball coach. The move completely backfired. The Golden Panthers went 26-65 in Thomas' three seasons, leading to his dismissal in 2012.

To replace one of the NBA's best; FIU hired Richard Pitino, the son of one of the greatest college basketball coaches ever. Under Pitino, the Golden Panthers had a remarkable bounce back season, partly because of an impressive home record. They went 10-3 on their home court in route to an 18-14 season and fell just short of the NCAA Tournament in the Sunbelt championship game.

Pitino left for greener pastures in April and was named Tubby Smith's successor in Minnesota. The news got worse for FIU when the NCAA slapped a one-year postseason ban on the program due to its poor academics.

C-USA adds a new rivalry

Florida Atlantic, FIU's fiercest rival, is a new member of C-USA as well. Their rivalry culminates every year at the Shula Bowl—named after former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula.

The Golden Panthers currently hold the Don Shula Award—the trophy awarded to the winner of the annual game – but despite successfully defended the trophy for the last two years, FAU leads the series 8-3.

Shula has connections to both universities. FAU's first head coach, Howard Schnellenberger, was an assistant of Shula's in the 1970s. Don Strock—FIU's first head coach, who was fired after a winless 2006 season—played under Shula in the 70s and 80s.

Notable alumni

Not much has been said about the Golden Panthers' baseball program, but arguably produced its most successful athletics alum. Former MLB third baseman Mike Lowell was a three-time all-conference player at FIU and his No. 15 was retired soon after.

In the majors, Lowell won two World Series titles with the Florida Marlins and Boston Red Sox. During the Red Sox's 2007 championship run, Lowell was named World Series MVP – batting .400 with a home run, four RBI, six runs scored, and a stolen base in a four-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies.

In the NFL, T.Y. Hilton was a major contributor for the Indianapolis Colts as a rookie wide receiver. Drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft (92nd overall), Hilton collected 50 receptions for 861 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Golden Panthers had a pair of players drafted in this year's NFL draft too. Johnathan Cyprien was taken 33rd overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tourek Williams was selected in the sixth round by the Chargers.

Background

Located in Miami, Florida, FIU is host to over 36,000 undergraduates. The Golden Panthers and their 17 varsity teams officially joined Conference-USA July 1.

FIU's mascot is Roary the Panther.


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