The Florida International University (FIU) Panthers are ready for the 5th Annual Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl game against the University of Toledo Rockets, slated for Friday, December 21 at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium. The game will get underway at 12:30 p.m.
Head Coach of the Panthers Butch Davis was at a press conference which was held on Friday. The former National Football League (NFL) Head Coach with the Cleveland Browns said the Panthers Athletic Department and players were excited for the opportunity to play in the only current bowl game outside of the United States. The Panthers are the first Florida-based team to play in the Bahamas Bowl.
“When we found out that we had the opportunity to come to the Makers Wanted Bowl Game in The Bahamas, it was electric in our athletic department. The players were unbelievably excited. I think it is a great opportunity for our student-athletes to not only get a great experience but to stay at the Atlantis resort as well. I want our players to enjoy the hospitality of The Bahamas,” he said.
Davis was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns for four years in the NFL. He was also the defensive coach of the Dallas Cowboys where he won two Super Bowl titles. Davis has 10 years of collegiate coaching under his belt.
Also at the press conference was Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment at FIU Pete Garcia. Garcia said FIU and The Bahamas have a great relationship. He feels like it will be a home game for FIU.
“This is a game for us where we will feel right at home. We have a relationship with the government of The Bahamas that has been in place for years. We feel that The Bahamas is our front porch to FIU so we are very excited,” Garcia said.
This is the second straight year that FIU will be in a bowl game, and it is the fourth bowl game in school history.
Davis commended Coach Jason Candle of the Rockets on the great job he has done with that program.
“It’s a great honor to play against Toledo. I know that Jason (Candle) has done a great job in building that program. They are a very good football team and it is going to be a challenge for us. I know they are as excited as we are about being here,” Davis said.
The Panthers finished the season with an 8-4 win-loss record. That placed them in second place in the Conference USA East standings. In the middle of the season they had a four-game winning streak in which they defeated Arkansas Pine Bluff, Middle Tennessee, Rise and Western Kentucky University. They lost their final game of the season to Marshall, falling 28-25 at home.
Over the course of the season, the Panthers had some adversities. Davis said he is proud of his team and their play this season.
“Our football team has gone through some unbelievable adversities during the course of the season. Most teams go through a lot of things that present challenges but I am unbelievably proud of these young men and the way in which they have dealt with some of the challenges and adversities they faced. Everybody loses players. Last year, we lost eight starters on defense and six starters on offense. Having an opportunity to qualify for a bowl game was a little of a mystery,” said Davis.
One of those players that the Panthers lost on offense was quarterback Alex McGough. He was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in this year’s NFL Draft.
Filling in for McGough was James Morgan. Morgan had an exceptional season in leading the Panthers as he threw 26 touchdown passes and passed for 2,764 yards. Davis was proud of how Morgan responded to pressure this season.
The Panthers have averaged 34.6 points per game this season and have allowed 24 points per game. That defense is led by linebacker Sage Lewis who has 126 tackles on the season and averaged 10.5 tackles per game.
The Panthers have the head-to-head advantage against the Rockets, but slightly. They are 2-1 against the Rockets including a victory in their only bowl meeting. They last met in the 2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit, with the Panthers winning, 34-32.