Chryst, Pitt try to stay focused on FIU Saturday


It’s no secret that Florida International — Pitt’s opponent this Saturday — was a bad football team last year, and it only projects to finish this season as another bad football team.

It’s interesting, too. The program has gained almost as much national recognition in recent years for being so, well, bad, as good teams have received for being good.

Paul Myerberg of USA Today Sports put it best earlier in the year when he wrote, “Turn right at awful, drive straight through terrible, merge through dreadful and stop two miles down the road at Florida International in 2013, as bad a team as any we’ve seen in the last decade of major college football.”

Just plain bad.

The FIU Panthers recently appeared — as did the other 127 Division I football teams — in a graphic released by the Wall Street Journal entitled “How Good (and Bad) Is Your Team?”

FIU was bad — rated in the grid’s lower-left quadrant that brought together teams both “weak” on the field and “embarrassing” off it. FIU was dead last, the weakest and most embarrassing (Pitt, on the other hand, was actually featured in the grid’s top 25).

Part of the reason for FIU’s placement in the chart is because it lost to Louisville in what was the most lopsided game of the 2013 college football season, 72-0. FIU gained 27 total yards of offense in the game, and quarterback E.J. Hilliard, And quarternack EJ Hilliard, who lost his starting job the other day to freshman Alex McGough, was sacked four times for -33 yards. You do the math.

Myerberg spoke about the blowout, already looking back on the game with a historical viewpoint.

“In ages to come, FIU fans will speak of the Louisville loss in hushed tones to small children, scaring misbehaving kids straight with tales of [former Louisville quarterback] Teddy Bridgewater, touchdowns in bunches and offensive ineptitude,” he said. “It got better from there, you’ll say, and I’ll reply: Yeah, but that was pretty bad.”

Bad, indeed.

Pitt’s Paul Chryst coaches the team that calls Pittsburgh — a city that acts as a sports media hub, among other things — its home. The program shares its home field and practice facility with the Steelers, an iconic tradition of international proportions, so the spotlight is always on Chryst.

You might wonder: How can Chryst, in biweekly press conferences, talk up his week three opponent? Does he sugarcoat the fact that Pitt is traveling to play David, if Pitt is Goliath?

“Certainly I think as far as their offense, I’ve been impressed,” Chryst said of FIU via teleconference on Wednesday. “They’ve got the ability to hurt you throwing the ball and running. I think the running back is a good player.”

Pitt wide receiver Manasseh Garner was a little more straightforward when he addressed the media on Monday.

“We’ll respect FIU, whether they were the No. 1 team in the country or what they are now,” he said. “They’re still our opponent, and we’re going to practice and prepare just as if they’re the best team in the country.”

Speaking of preparation, forecasters are calling for hot conditions (87 degrees, 78 percent humidity) for Saturday’s noon game between Pitt (2-0, 1-0 ACC) and FIU (1-1, 0-0 Conference USA). The contest is just the second-ever noon game played at FIU Stadium, also known as “The Cage.”

And although NCAA’s rulebook does not specify, FIU’s athletics site claims that road teams have to agree on which uniform color home teams wish to wear. The site added that FIU’s decision makers wanted to wear white on Saturday to fend off the Miami heat, even though teams traditionally choose to wear white on the road and dark colors at home.

Pitt admittedly denied FIU of its wish, and Pitt will wear white uniforms.

One FIU fan added a comment to the site’s post, saying that it’s a win-win jersey situation for Pitt in its plan to keep cool on Saturday. “Gold helmets would attract much less heat. They reflect the sunlight. And the head is the most important part of the body to keep cool on a hot day. Just saying … ”

Hopefully, for Pitt fans, the game will get out of hand early. If it does, it could be fun to note with people in your living room that FIU and Pitt share a list of connections. While some of them are rather odd, they are all noteworthy.

Chryst said that his relationship with FIU head coach Ron Turner dates back a long time, adding to the discussion that the schools’ mascots aren’t the only things the squads have in common.

In the early ‘80s, Turner groomed Pitt quarterback John Congemi while serving as Pitt’s quarterbacks coach under then-head coach Foge Fazio. And, in 1993, former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, who was head coach of the NFL’s Chicago Bears from 1993 to 1998, hired Turner as the Bears offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

And, when Wannstedt resigned from Pitt in 2010 and Todd Graham left abruptly in 2011, FIU had just come off two successful seasons.

FIU’s then-coach, Mario Cristobal, took his team to bowl games in 2009 and 2010, and, after the 2010 season, he reportedly became the frontrunner to be Graham’s replacement at Pitt after interviewing for the job that December.

Instead, Pitt chose Chryst, and Cristobal’s FIU Panthers went 3-9 in 2012. Cristobal was fired that year. It’s funny how things play out.

Maybe FIU will win some games again soon. It’ll have to wait another several weeks, though. 

FIU hosts Louisville next Saturday.