Every team has a "must-win game." Sometimes its a rivalry game, sometimes its a division foe or maybe even a non-conference opponent. No matter the case, every team has a game that they absolutely must win in order to accomplish their goals.
For FIU football, the goal is to return to their first bowl game during the Ron Turner era. With a schedule that features home games against two P5 teams, conference favorite Middle Tennessee State, annual CUSA contender Marshall, and the Shula Bowl, there are plenty of options to choose from.
Sept. 17 - at UMass
This game is not going to draw much attention from the FIU faithful. But after hosting two Big Ten teams to start the season the visit to Massachusetts will be the first of five straight tossup games. Pending an upset against Indiana or Maryland, FIU will enter this contest 0-2 and with pressure on Ron Turner to deliver a trip to the postseason the Panthers absolutely need this one.
This game is the tone setter for the season. Although S&P gives FIU just a 52% chance to win, they are without question the more talented team. A loss to Umass for the second straight season would put aspirations of a bowl game in dire straits. With UCF on the docket next week this also has the makings of a trap game.
Sept. 24 - vs UCF
I love it when G5 programs in the same state play one another. This game should feature a ton of emotion on both sides. FIU (and FAU) are yearly tabbed as the worst FBS program in the state of Florida and a win against fellow G5 programs in the state does a lot on the recruiting trail. There's no question this game is going to mean a lot more to FIU.
Last year FIU pulled one of the biggest upsets in the opening week as the Panthers beat UCF 15-14 in Orlando. As it turns out, that win wouldn't mean as much as the Knights would finish the season winless.
Entering this game 0-3 would make it essential for FIU to come away with a win but with this game having so much on the line, a win would be a shot in the arm for the FIU no matter what their record is. But if FIU loses it just about ends any hopes of a bowl game.
Oct. 1 - vs FAU
The Shula Bowl will feature a ton of angst on both sidelines if both teams enter this game with a losing record. Ron Turner is 1-2 in the Shula Bowl and if the Panthers enter this game 0-4 it could be the final nail in the coffin for his tenure in Miami if FIU is to lose to FAU for the second straight year.
But with this being the conference opener FIU could try and salvage the season with a huge rivalry win thrusting them right into the heart of conference play.
But that's the worst case scenario. If FIU is to enter this game 2-2 or 3-1 with a win over a P5 team, we could see FIU Stadium come alive with a FIU team playing with a ton of confidence. If the Panthers come away with a win and a 4-1 record, you would have to enter FIU into the discussion of winning CUSA East.
I really want to choose UMass as an 0-3 start could possibly signal the end of the Turner era but the two-game stretch of UCF and FAU visiting Miami is too much to pass. FIU will have two opportunities to try and salvage their season should they start 0-3 and although the Shula Bowl has more on the line because it's a conference game, I'm choosing UCF.
Should they record their first win against UMass it wouldn't really move the needle for Turner as FIU should beat them. But a win against UCF for the second straight year would do that and then some as it would help FIU so much on the recruiting trail.
Due to FAU improving its recruiting dramatically since hiring Charlie Partridge and UCF's Scott Frost being no slouch on the trail either, FIU could be left behind if things don't change and the best way to prove your staying power is winning on the field.
With Scott Frost bringing over Oregon's innovative spread offense to the Magic Kingdom this is going to be an intriguing affair so many eyeballs will be watching FIU. It's the last non-conference game for the Panthers and should they win they will enter the Shula Bowl with a ton of confidence and a great shot in their quest for six wins.
Regardless of how the first three games play out, everything will still be on the table for a successful season when the Knights come to Miami and with confidence being a major barometer for downtrodden teams, FIU needs everything they can get before conference play starts and that would start with a win here.