Florida's two best Division I FBS teams outside the big six conferences (or what's left of them -- sorry, USF) entered FIU Stadium undefeated this past Saturday. Only one left with a perfect record. The Golden Panthers engineered a mild 17-10 upset over UCF and remained hot after last week's huge road win over Louisville. Sure, unreal, early expectations have a habit of throwing water on flames, so we're almost hesitant to wonder whether FIU has a chance to end the season with a perfect record. Though, given the rest of the team's schedule, it's possible.
In his fifth year as head coach at FIU, Mario Crisotbal has the perfect storm of conditions to make this a statement season. His team is as good as it's ever been, while their nonconference schedule is relatively weak. They've already conquered Lousville and UCF. All that's left on the nonconference schedule is the MAC's Akron (Oct. 8) and the ACC's Duke (Oct. 1).
Duke is notoriously one of the weakest teams in the AQ conferences and somehow looks even worse this year. They opened the season with a loss to an FCS team and managed their first win just this past weekend by pulling a one-point victory against similarly sucky Boston College. Sure, we shouldn't put much stock in transitive winning scenarios, but FIU just beat UCF. UCF destroyed BC 30-3. Duke scraped by with a one-point victory against BC. Throw in FIU's home-field advantage, and you do the math.
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Akron doesn't look much better. They're 0-3, including a conference loss.
The rest of the Golden Panthers' schedule is against fellow Sun Belters, and they went 6-2 in the conference last year. There's no reason they shouldn't improve on that. No team in the conference is as hot as the Panthers. Their only losses in the conference last year were to FAU and Middle Tennessee. FAU is at home this year, and while Middle Tennessee is on the road, they don't look too threatening this year either.
Again, we're just rampantly speculating, and it's still so early in the season. But looking around the mid-major conferences, no one besides the usual suspects (Boise State,
TCU, Utah) and maybe Houston and San Diego State have as solid a chance at having a BCS-busting season than the Panthers (also consider that FIU has virtually the same schedule, with home and away switched up, next year). And with the sudden instability in the conference system, it could leave FIU poised to make a move out of the FBS basement of the Sun Belt. Just make sure you keep Cristobal on lock, guys.