Despite having multiple games canceled and postponed due to a litany of injured players and COVID-19, Butch Davis was itching to take on a then top-25 Marshall team. However, Conference USA made the call to change the Thundering Herd’s schedule, which ended the Panthers’ 2020 season.
“I absolutely wanted to play Marshall and we truly thought that there would be an opportunity to finish the season,” said Davis.
The rescheduling of games left FIU with an 0-5 record — its first winless season since 2006. For the first time, Davis gave an in-depth insight into the challenges that the program faced during the season in his season-recap press conference.
“In retrospect, I would have loved to have been battling with Conference USA to do like the Big Ten or SEC did and let’s not even try to play games till the end of October,” said Davis. “That way, you get the kids back on campus and you can get them in your training program to get them back up to speed instead of having to jump right into planning for a season.”
The Panthers’ season was riddled with subpar play on offense and inconsistent outings on defense, in addition to the team suffering season-ending injuries to 17 players during the course of the year. Davis shed light on how bare the team and coaching staff were at points in the season.
“Of our 10 assistant coaches, we lost eight at times throughout the course of the season either to COVID or contact tracing, several of the graduate assistants and I had to be gone for 17 days and add in the injuries with players,” said Davis. “When you don’t have most of your offensive staff or defensive staff — at times we didn’t have (Andreu) Swasey and it’s tough.”
The Panthers’ offensive struggles revolved around the passing game, with FIU ranking 122nd out of 127 FBS teams in passing offense per game (123.4) and the team’s struggles to defend the run carried over from last season. In his postgame press conferences this season, Davis repeatedly noted the impacts that lack of consistent practices had on the team and expounded on that during the presser.
“Entering the Liberty game, we had somewhere between 40 and 45 scrimmage plays for the whole team since the (Camellia) bowl game in December,” said Davis. “40 plays before you’re set to take on a quality opponent, you’ve got to be kidding.”
Redshirt freshman Stone Norton entered the transfer portal in early December, leaving FIU without its leading passer from the season. Davis spoke about the signal-callers left on the roster and potentially adding another quarterback.
“Of one position that was devastated more than any other position on the team, it was the quarterback and they needed the spring practices and the opportunity to grow,” said Davis. “Max Bortenschlager and Kaylan Wiggins are coming back along with Haden Carlson, who’s progressing really nicely despite missing some time due to the contact tracing as well — but we’re going to scour the country and see if there’s a guy out there who can make an impact.”
Following the conclusion of the season, left tackle D’Antne Demery, defensive end Noah Curtis and center Shane McGough announced their intentions to enter the 2021 NFL Draft, while Norton, wide receiver JJ Holloman, guard Obinna Nwankwo and defensive lineman Jordan Woods announced their entry into the transfer portal.
With the NCAA expected to pass a one-time transfer rule granting players immediate eligibility and the option for seniors to return for another season, there’s a litany of questions surrounding the program entering the offseason.
“I’ve talked to the seniors and we may have as many as 10 of them who we’ve talked to and are committed to coming back,” said Davis. “As far as the portal goes, we’re absolutely looking at players in the portal and for the February signing period, we may have some guys out of the portal added to the roster.
With uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus and how quickly college football will be able to return to a normal football schedule, Davis notes that there are contingency plans in place to learn from the tumultuous season.
“If for some reason FIU shuts the campus down and all students are sent home, they’re going to let the football players stay here in the dorms so we can continue offseason conditioning and we can have spring practice,” said Davis. “We’ll still obviously continue the testing three times a week, but do the things that are needed so we don’t face the adversities that we faced this season.”