Florida International became an FBS program in 2006, but the Panthers had won just nine games as an FBS member going into this season.
This season didn't start too well for FIU, which opened 0-4 after playing four Big Six programs. But since FIU started Sun Belt Conference play, there has been a big turnaround. Indeed, the turnaround has been big enough that the Panthers are in the driver's seat to win the league title and head to their first bowl.
Last week saw FIU claim the biggest victory in school history, a 52-35 beatdown of league standard-bearer Troy in which FIU rolled up a school-record 668 total yards, including 448 on the ground.
Twelve of the Panthers' 17 rushing touchdowns this season have come in league play, thanks to a physical and aggressive offensive line that honed its game playing all those major-conference foes earlier in the season.
"We want to be as blunt as a punch to the face," line coach Alex Mirabal told the Miami Herald.
That bluntness has put FIU -- which is 4-5 overall but 4-1 in the Sun Belt -- in a great position: The Panthers need to win two of their remaining three games to clinch at least a tie for the league crown, which would get them a bowl bid.
Those three games are a matchup at Louisiana-Lafayette (2-8) on Saturday, a home game with Arkansas State (4-6) on Nov. 27 and a home game with Middle Tennessee (3-7) on Dec. 4.
"Without a doubt, Saturday will be the biggest game we have played," senior C Brad Serini told reporters this week.
The Sun Belt has two bowl tie-ins, one with the New Orleans Bowl and one with the GoDaddy.com bowl, formerly known as the GMAC Bowl.
FIU, a school of about 40,000 in west Miami, hasn't had a winning record since starting football in 2002. If the Panthers win Saturday, they could clinch a bowl bid in front of the home fans on Nov. 27. But the players profess not to be looking that far ahead.
"There are still three games left, and we're not worried about the last game, the second-to-last game," QB Wesley Carroll -- a Mississippi State transfer -- told reporters this week. "We're worried about this game. It's the biggest game of the year."
Best matchup: Fresno State offensive line vs. Boise State defensive line. Bulldogs RB Robbie Rouse has rushed for 503 yards and four touchdowns in the past two games, and he has rushed for 769 yards in the past four games. If Fresno is to have any shot at beating Boise State, Rouse needs another big outing. But Boise State is second nationally in rush defense, allowing just 74.9 yards per game. If Fresno allows Boise DTs Billy Winn and Chase Baker to clog the middle, the Bulldogs are in trouble.
Player on the spot: Houston QB David Piland. Piland, a true freshman who is one of four players to start at quarterback for injury-ravaged Huston this season, tossed five interceptions in last week's loss to Tulsa. But coach Kevin Sumlin said Piland remains his starter. Houston (5-5) needs one more win for bowl eligibility and finishes the regular season with games against Southern Miss this week and Texas Tech next week. Piland has thrown 12 TD passes in the past three games and needs to be sharp if the Cougars are to beat Southern Miss in what should be a high-scoring game this weekend. Sumlin can live with one or two picks, but obviously not with four or five.
Numbers game: Nevada senior QB Colin Kaepernick needs 51 rushing yards to record his third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season and become the first player in NCAA history with three seasons of 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards. Kaepernick and the Wolf Pack go against New Mexico State this weekend; he has averaged 101.3 rushing yards in his career against the Aggies. In addition, Kaepernick and senior RB Vai Taua hold the NCAA career record for most combined TDs with 103.
What they're saying
"It's one of those iconic things -- Notre Dame football, Army football, Yankee Stadium -- that's American sport. All three of those things on the same day? Wow, what a neat opportunity. We'll try to get our arms around that this week, use that to the degree we can be as good as we can be in the practice environment, then we're going to step across that white line and play football." -- Army coach Rich Ellerson, on Saturday's Army-Notre Dame game, the first football game at "new" Yankee Stadium
"We're not good enough to look past anybody. We won't look past anybody. We're going to practice for New Mexico State. We understand what this game leads to. But you have to take one game at a time. We aren't in the category of Boise, where we can look at everything and say, 'Here's what were going to do.' We aren't there." -- Nevada coach Chris Ault, whose team plays New Mexico State this week and Boise State next week
"We constantly talk about making good decisions with our football team. These are 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids. Unless you are that age, you probably do not think the same way they do. I know I don't." -- Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora. Three Southern Miss players were shot at a nightclub at 1:30 a.m. Sunday after the team got home from its win at UCF
"We didn't play well, and people don't want to say that. Players are usually the last ones that want to say that. We didn't play well last week." -- UCF coach George O'Leary, on his team's home loss to Southern Miss
"I'm not going to lie to you; It's a heartbroken team right now. The coaches, too. We didn't take advantage of this opportunity, so that's disappointing." -- Temple coach Al Golden, to the Philadelphia Daily News after Tuesday night's loss to Ohio U. with first place in the MAC East on the line
"It's really not the blue field and the contrast. It's that the guys in the blue jerseys are real good." -- Fresno State coach Pat Hill, on getting ready for Boise State
Etc.: With two touchdowns in Tuesday's win over Temple, Ohio U. QB Boo Jackson tied Theo Scott for the program's single-season touchdown responsibility record with 23. Scott set the record last season. It was also the eighth consecutive road conference win for the Bobcats. … Boise State K Kyle Brotzman became the WAC's career scoring leader in last week's win over Idaho. Brotzman has 403 points in 48 games; the record of 395 had been owned by Hawaii K Jason Elam (1989-92). Brotzman has made 61-of-81 field-goal attempts and 220-of-223 PATs in his career. His 403 points are the most of any active player in the nation. … Middle Tennessee senior QB Dwight Dasher last week became just the 15th player in FBS history to rush for at least 2,000 yards and pass for at least 5,000 yards in a career. … Southern Miss clinched its 17th consecutive winning season with its victory over UCF on Saturday. That is the fourth-longest active streak among FBS schools, following Florida State (29), Florida (20) and Virginia Tech (18). … Northern Illinois has won seven in a row, which matches the longest streak since the school moved to Division I-A (now known as FBS) in 1969. … Arkansas State redshirt freshman QB Ryan Aplin has 3,036 total yards this season; he is just the fifth player in Sun Belt Conference history with 3,000 yards of total offense in a season. … Hawaii senior WR Greg Salas needs 218 receiving yards to break Jason Rivers' career school record of 3,919. ... East Carolina QB Dominique Davis leads the nation with 31 TD passes after throwing five in last week's win over UAB. The 31 is a school single-season record; it had been 30, by Jeff Blake in 1991. Davis also set a school single-season mark for passing yards with 3,007. … Florida Atlantic beat Louisiana-Lafayette 24-23 last week; it was the Owls' third one-point victory this season. … North Texas is plus-5 in turnover margin in the three games since Mike Canales took over as interim coach; in the seven games before Canales took over, the Mean Green were minus-6 in turnover margin. In addition, the Mean Green have increased their scoring average from 16.9 points per game to 30.3 points per game since Canales took over. … Tulsa junior WR Damaris Johnson has 3,054 kickoff-return yards, 64 shy of the NCAA career record held by Western Michigan RB Brandon West (2006-09). … Western Kentucky RB Bobby Rainey ran for 154 yards in last week's OT victory over Arkansas State. It was his seventh 100-yard game of the season and his fifth with at least 150 yards. … Navy has scored 15 times in its past 17 possessions (13 touchdowns and two field goals). … Buffalo senior FS Davonte Shannon is the active career leader in solo tackles, with 246. Idaho senior FS Shiloh Keo is second with 228 and Central Michigan senior LB Nick Bellore is third with 225. … Tulane true freshman RB Orleans Darkwa has posted four consecutive 100-yard games. And Green Wave senior TE Cody Sparks has six TD receptions, a school single-season record by a tight end. … Notre Dame has won 13 in a row over Army and is 15-1-1 in the past 17 meetings. The Black Knights have not beaten Notre Dame since Oct. 11, 1958. … Louisiana-Monroe redshirt freshman QB Kolton Browning has 199 completions, sixth-most in a season in school history. He is 44 shy of the school record. … Southern Miss' victory at UCF on Saturday was the Golden Eagles' first road win over a ranked team since a 21-0 victory at Alabama on Sept. 16, 2000. … Western Michigan beat Eastern Michigan last week, and with games remaining against Kent State and Bowling Green, the Broncos have a chance to close out a season with three consecutive victories for the first time since 1998. … In its past two games, both losses, Kent State has had the ball for a combined 33:42 less than its opponents. … A win Saturday over New Mexico State would give Nevada is first 10-win season since 1991, when the Wolf Pack were 12-1 while playing in Division I-AA (now known as FCS). … Idaho's Shiloh Keo will miss the first half of the Vandals' game against Utah State as a result of a flagrant foul he committed against Boise State backup QB Michael Coughlin in Friday's game. WAC commissioner Karl Benson originally suspended Keo for one game, but the decision was appealed by Idaho and reduced to a half-game by the WAC Sportsmanship Committee.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.