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FIU Football: Butch Davis is telling the truth — and the truth hurts

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Whether Panthers’ fans want to hear it or not, Butch Davis is telling them the truth.

Michael Berlfein/FIU Athletics

Recruiting is the lifeblood of a program.

This is a sentence used by Butch Davis countless times when talking about the importance of a successful recruiting period and signing day.

Few would know better than Davis.

20 years ago, the number one team in college football was the Miami Hurricanes. A team whose roster featured 17....yes, 17 first-round picks and saw a staggering 38 players drafted. While that legendary Hurricanes’ team was coached by Larry Coker — for all intents and purposes, it was Davis’ club, one that would go on to win a national championship and be ranked among the top college teams of all time by multiple publications.

Apologies to Panthers’ fans for the UM reference — it’s only to set the stage for my second apology of this article.

Sorry to tell you — but Butch Davis is telling the truth...and it hurts.

Last Saturday’s 50-10 loss at Middle Tennessee dropped FIU to 1-9 on the season and 1-16 since the upset win over Miami in 2019. FIU hasn’t won a road game since November 17, 2018, at Charlotte. The obvious question on the minds of fans and outsiders alike has been simple. How has the program fallen on such hard times after qualifying for three consecutive bowls and a program-record nine wins in 2018?

During his postgame press conference following the Old Dominion game, Davis provided an answer that most FIU fans seemed unhappy with, in the aftermath.

“The issues that we have, there’s no fix for, we’re playing 15-18 kids who shouldn’t even be suiting up.”

How exactly is this the case, given the fact that Davis has notched top-five recruiting classes in Conference USA in each of his five seasons? The answer is simple.

After winning eight games in 2017, FIU signed a 2018 recruiting class that was rated as the best in C-USA by 247 Sports. Where does that ‘18 class stand, four years later in what would be their senior seasons?

Of the 22 enrollees, 10 aren’t on the roster and seven are reserves who have played in 50% or less of snaps this season.

The 2019 class was signed after a program-record nine wins and a Bahamas Bowl victory. That class has fared better, but not by much. Five players (Stone Norton, Nate White, DeShaun Davis, Ni’Kendrick Carter, Kendre Gant) are not on the roster. A sixth, Brian Dillard, did not qualify and is at Division II West Georgia. Gant, Norton and Carter were rated among the top-five signees in that class by 247. Six other signees are reserves who have played in 50% or less of snaps this year. Punter Tommy Heatherly, wideout Kris Mitchell, defensive end Ty Danzy, running back Lexington Joseph, center Julius Pierce and guard Sione Finau have seen the most playing time.

The ‘19 class included the utilization of the transfer portal, as eight players joined FIU from other programs that offseason. Obinna Nwankwo, Jeremiah Holloman, Josh Valentine-Turner, Chris Whittaker, Alexy Jean-Baptiste, Maleek Williams, Tyson Maeva and Nikoli Jaghai transferred in. Of the eight, Valentine-Turner and Williams are the only ones left on the roster. Jean-Baptiste, Whittaker, Nwankwo aren’t starters at their current programs, Holloman is out of football and Jaghai chose to graduate. Maeva is a starter at Fresno State.

When Davis makes note of the injuries and lack of scholarship players available which has forced walk-ons and freshmen into the lineup, the departure of 15 signees along with the five transfers certainly players a major factor.

2020’s class has seen three players: Xavier McGriff, Jose Mirabal and Maljon Joor choose to depart, with McGriff and Mirabal being rated among the top-five signees. Texas transfer D’Andre Christmas-Giles arrived but played in only three games before choosing to leave football.

Outside of the program’s control has been injuries that have kept Teddy Richardson and Jecoryan Davis-Hamilton from suiting up, along with the retirement of offensive lineman Kameren Williams due to Wolff-Parkinson White Syndrome.

This past year’s class has seen signees Jakovi Bryant and Katravis Geter Jr. choose to leave the program. Texas State transfer Hal Vinson appeared in the season-opener against Long Island, before leaving prior to the game against his former team.

In total, the 27 players lost have played a tremendous factor in FIU’s ability to have the depth needed to prevent several freshmen and walk-ons from seeing action.

Davis has made his displeasure with the transfer portal noted throughout his FIU tenure.

“The old days, guys like Russell Maryland (former Miami defensive tackle) who won the Outland Trophy, if the portal had been available back then they would have jumped ship because they have to play behind All-Americans. Wait your turn and work hard and the next two or three years, you’ll be the superstar,” said Davis in February of 2020.

No Conference USA program has lost as many signees over the four-year span as FIU — a troubling sign for the team.

As Davis says, recruiting is the lifeblood of a program — and unfortunately, whether it be due to the transfer portal, players choosing to leave or recruits not working out — it’s cost FIU over the past 24 months and it lies squarely with Davis as to the current results.