The FIU Panthers lose one football opponent as uncertainly of fall season lingers

Walter Villa
·3 min read

The FIU Panthers’ 12-game 2020 schedule, which includes five home contests, took a hit on Monday when fellow Conference USA member Old Dominion announced it was postponing all fall sports, including football, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

FIU had been scheduled to visit Old Dominion on Sept. 19, but that is now canceled.

Old Dominion joins Connecticut and the entire Mid-American Conference in canceling their fall football seasons. Other schools and leagues might make the same choice.

So far, however, the rest of Conference USA has shown no sign of following Old Dominion’s example.

Conference USA issued a press release last week stating that its members, including FIU, will play eight league games this season.

“Non-conference games may be played at the discretion of the individual schools,” the press release read.

So far, FIU’s four non-conference games are still on: visiting Jacksonville State in the opener; at UCF in what could be the toughest contest on the schedule; at Liberty; and at Massachusetts.

FIU coach Butch Davis, who told the Miami Herald several weeks ago that he believed it was a “slam dunk” there would be a college football season this fall, was still hopeful as of last week.

“Everybody has had their fingers crossed that there would be a vaccination, but I don’t think that is going to happen or at best not until at least November or December,” said Davis, who officially opened fall practice on Saturday.

“I do think we will have a college football season this year. But I think it will be minimized. I don’t think anybody is going to be playing 12, 13, 14 games.

“Everybody wants to finish this season off with bowl games. Hopefully we have four teams playing for the national championship, and we can whip this coronavirus’ ass.”

THIS AND THAT

Josias Jean, a graduate transfer kicker/punter from Alcorn State, has added to the competition at FIU. Jean, who played his high school ball in Fort Myers, is athletic — he ran the 400-meter hurdles at Alcorn State. However, Jean is considered a longshot to beat out senior punter Tommy Heatherly or freshman kicker Chase Gabriel.

Heatherly ranked fifth in Conference USA and second in FIU history with his 43.0 average last season, earning Davis’ praise.

“There were times last year where Tommy looked like an NFL punter, with 4.5 to five-seconds of hang time,” Davis said. “He just has to get that consistency.”

FIU lost star kicker Jose Borregales as a graduate transfer to Miami, but Gabriel made 13-of-15 field goals as a prep senior last year, including three kicks over 50 yards in one incredible state playoff game. He also went 13-for-13 on extra points.

Davis said he’s pleased with his depth at defensive line and linebacker. He also said senior linebacker Jamal Gates is emerging as a leader.

Cornerback is Davis’ biggest defensive concern, following the graduation of Stantley Thomas-Oliver, who was drafted in the seventh round by the Carolina Panthers, and Ike Brown, who signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent.

Davis praised safety Dorian Hall, a 6-4, 190-pound redshirt junior. “He’s not even remotely the same kid he was two years ago,” Davis said. “He’s bigger, stronger, and now he can make all the checks (on defensive signals).”

The biggest worry for Davis overall is his team’s physical shape. But he is not alone in thinking that way. “Every coach in college football is concerned,” Davis said. “For us, we didn’t have spring practice or summer conditioning.”