FIU football starts with a home opener against Big Ten team Indiana at 7 p.m. on Sept. 1 at Riccardo Silva Stadium at MMC. Students enter free, and everyone else is encouraged to purchase tickets now for what promises to be an exciting season.
Football head coach Butch Davis is entering his second year with the Panthers after a bowl-worthy debut season. Excellent recruiting and an emphasis on fan turnout and an improved game-day experience should make for a great fall on campus. Here, coach shares what he’s excited about just weeks before the first game.
FIU Magazine: As you approach your second season with the Panthers, how have you prepared the team?
Davis: We had a wonderful first season culminating in our first bowl game appearance since 2011. We came in last year and put in a system and process that our players believed in. In year two, we know more about our players’ abilities. We’re raising the level of expectation with a significant emphasis on the players taking ownership of the growth and development of the team. Hopefully, it’s easier for the returning players, and it’s their job to get the newcomers up to speed.
FIU football had a wonderful recruiting class that ranked as the best in Conference USA and no. 66 in the nation. What impact will this have on this year and in future years?
While we lost some experienced guys that were key to our success last year, I’m excited with how we recruited and reloaded. I wanted to get bigger and faster, and I think we’ve done that. In year one, one of the major hurdles was that we did not have a lot of depth. Players got tired and exhausted. They played more snaps than we wanted. Our coaches worked very hard on the recruiting trail to find players that our program needs. We added some top-caliber players that I feel could play at any level, and we won some recruiting battles over some of the top-tier programs nationally.
The home opener vs. Big Ten opponent Indiana is looming. What are you looking forward to, not only just for that game but for the overall schedule?
Opening the season with a high-profile opponent really motivates your players during the offseason. They know that you’ve got to be ready to go week 1. This will be a great early-season opportunity for our team to play a Power 5 opponent on our home turf with a national TV audience. This year’s schedule again will be a great test for our program. The front end of the schedule will be extremely challenging especially with big games like Indiana and then Miami to get us ready for conference play. We want to show the nation that Panther Pride is alive and well on this campus, so it’s going to be important for our fans to come out and support the team.
You and the FIU administration have been working together this offseason to focus on getting the fans out for game day. Can you tell us more about that?
One of the major challenges that the university has is attendance at all sporting events, not just football. We would like to have between 15,000 and 20,000 fans at every game. We have been working to deliver a better fan experience for everyone on game day. We have to get the students involved. We have to get the alumni in Miami-Dade and Broward counties involved. We’ve got to get them not only to come support football but all athletic programs. We want more students, alumni, more FIU employees. We believe that Panther Pride is a sleeping giant and we need our fans to feel like we are part of them, and they are part of us.