This year's trip to South Florida should be a little better and more relaxing than last year's.
Don't get FIU and FAU confused. Yes they are both in the Sun Belt conference, yes they are both young programs that haven't existed for a full decade yet. Yes they are both located in talent-rich South Florida.
And the similarities end right about there. Howard Schnellenberger IS FAU football. I know there's a mix of young and old on USFNation.com and some of you young guns known very little about Coach Schnellenberger, but if you ask some of the older posters they will tell you that he's among the best coaches to ever walk the sidelines.
FAU football is his creation, it's his philosophy. Everything from the uniforms to the new stadium design to the schedule to the recruiting methods to the athletic facility are all from his 74-year-old mind. FAU is, in essence, his dream.
FIU doesn't have such an identity. Don Strock was neither had the vision nor the credibility to build a program from scratch. And when he was fired he left a home that had a shaky foundation and a shakier future.
The Golden Panthers' current coach, Mario Cristobal, is a friend and he's someone who I believe will build FIU the right way. But he has acquired a house with a bad structure...and termites and it needed to be torn down and rebuilt. Unfortunately for Coach Cristobal he had to take some of the things that were already there and try to recreate them in his mold. That's not easy.
But for one week the Panthers should bask in the glory of having a ranked team come into their house for the grand opening of their new stadium and a nod to the future where things will be brighter for Cristobal and his Golden Panthers.
Saturday will be great and historic day for the FIU program...until the whistle blows and then USF rolls.
So given the "exhibition" status that I feel this game will have and the lack of knowledge of what FIU will do on offense since they still don't have a backfield that Cristobal is comfortable with, let's list some important goals for USF in this game:
No Injuries: This is the first of a 3-game stretch over 17 days. Each game gets harder too. Next week in Raleigh has trap written all over it and the following Thursday against Pittsburgh will be a matchup of a desperate team and an even more desperate coach against a (hopefully) top-10 program. So the Bulls need to get through this game as healthy as possible.
Big First Half: If the Bulls can storm out to a 4-score lead by halftime they can start to integrate the second team in the game and quite possibly go with second and third-teamers for a good part of the second half.
Jamar Taylor: Hopefully Taylor will get a full set of carries this week and the other backs can have an additional week of rest to get healthy.
Backup QBs: Do they continue to go with Gregory or burn B.J. Daniels' redshirt completely. My guess is the staff will stick with Gregory and try to redshirt Daniels this season since the schedule doesn't have too many more spots for a backup to get work.
Get Defensive: Multiple sacks, multiple turnovers and a touchdown on defense or special teams would be nice this game. The defense has played well but I believe they can play better.
Mix In Some Water: Pepsi and Cheetos? C'mon Coach Leavitt, you've got to take better care of yourself than that! Bad enough you only sleep 30 minutes a week, but downing 72 bottles of Pepsi isn't going to do anything but destroy your immune system. The USF community wants you around and healthy for the next 20-25 years so mix in a few gallons of water and some celery stalks.
So Bulls, enjoy South Beach, take in a few sights and stare at the beautiful people while watching the Bulls roll this weekend.
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