There has been a transfer in power in the town most known as the melting pot. As the University of Miami ("The U") will be watching these bowl games from their couches at home, FIU is playing in their second consecutive bowl. At 8-4 the Golden Panthers will be taking on the 6-6 Marshall Thundering Herd in the Beef O' Brady's bowl, December 20, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Since head coach Mario Cristobal has taken over in 2007 it has been an uphill climb. His team had just 8 total wins in his first 3 seasons. Last year they had their first winning season, first bowl appearance, and bowl win since making the climb to Division I in the NCAA. Cristobal has changed the attitude and outlook of the FIU Golden Panthers and it had to start in the city they were from. I was on the 2007-2008 team that had just 1 win which snapped a 23 game losing streak. When you asked fellow students if they were going to or went to the games it was almost a joke or they would ask how bad was it? Times have changed on campus and seats have filled, players on the team are now icons on campus with their own billboards and posters.
The state of Florida contains some of the best talent in the nation as far as High School Football is concerned; a majority of that talent coming from Miami. There are many great players from the Miami area that do not want to leave the city they grew up in. With The Hurricane's future unknown after all of these violations popping up; possible scholarship loss or postseason ban could be next. A talented player may not want to enter that university of uncertainty. When head coach Mario Cristobal calls and says hey, do you know about FIU football? We've won (hopefully) two bowl games in a row...why don't you come to a game. This new force from Miami becomes very tempting.
The recruiting has paid off and has become the foundation of this young team. Sophomore Kedrick Rhodes led the Panthers in rushing with 224 attempts for 1,121 yards and 8 TDs. Senior Wesley Carrol led the Panthers from the QB position with 2,224 yards 14 TDs and just 4 INT. Perhaps the most well known Panther who has had some national recognition is Senior WR T.Y Hilton. This season he's had 64 receptions for 950 yards and 7 TDs, he also had a punt return for a TD.
When you are filling out your bowl predictions this holiday season, do not sleep on these Golden Panthers. They had big wins against Louisville and UCF and lost three games by 5 points or less. They're doing it right down South; don't be surprised in the next few years if people are talking about the best team in Miami - and it's not the Hurricanes.