It might be occurring under the national radar, but Butch Davis has established Florida International as a perennial bowl program.
While that might not take much given the proliferation of bowls and their need for teams who at least manage to win as many as they lose, the fact is that Davis has led the Panthers to their third straight bowl trip.
FIU’s trip to the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., to play Arkansas State on Saturday might not be college football’s most prestigious destination. But for a program that had made just two bowl trips in its previous 12 years in FBS, going to three straight bowl games is proof that Davis has made serious progress in Miami.
“We’re thrilled for our team to play in the Camellia Bowl, which is a school-record third straight bowl game,” Davis said. “We get the chance to cap the season on a high note.”
The Panthers (6-6) became bowl-eligible Nov. 23 with a 30-24 victory over an old Davis employer, Miami, at Marlins Park. It was the biggest win in the program’s 15-year history, and FIU’s first against its cross-town rival.
Quarterback James Morgan leads the offense, throwing for 2,248 yards and 13 touchdowns with just three interceptions on 319 attempts. Running backs Anthony Jones and Napoleon Maxwell have combined for 1,411 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Arkansas State (7-5) is led by wide receiver Omar Bayless, the school’s first Associated Press All-America pick since 1987. Bayless enters the game with 84 catches, 1,473 yards and 16 touchdowns, making him just the 19th player this century to amass those numbers in a year.
The Red Wolves are going to their ninth straight bowl game, although this one wasn’t accomplished under the easiest circumstances. Coach Blake Anderson left the program for nearly three weeks and missed a season-opening loss to SMU following the death of his wife, Wendy.
Anderson was pursued by Missouri for its coaching vacancy after it fired Barry Odom last month, but he opted to stay at Arkansas State. He took his team to Montgomery on Tuesday with the game plan already in place.
“With all that goes on at the bowl, we didn’t want to be in a teaching environment,” he said to the Jonesboro Sun. “We wanted to get most of the teaching done here where we had time for good walk-throughs and a good teaching environment.”
The Red Wolves own a 6-2 series lead, with all eight games occurring when the teams were members of the Sun Belt Conference. FIU now plays in Conference USA.
–Field Level Media