UMaine's first football practice of the season on August 3. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The University of Maine football team will have its hands full with Florida International University at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Miami.

The Black Bears will also have to deal with the heat. It is expected to be in the high 70s or low 80s for the opening kickoff.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t that hot here for some of our training camp. It’s just the way our summer has been,” second-year head coach Jordan Stevens said. “But we had a great summer of training and conditioning and our attendance was through the roof in terms of guys being here all summer.”

That conditioning has gotten the team in much better shape than it was a year ago, Stevens said. And the team is hoping that the conditioning, along with the team’s health, will lead to a competitive season opener against FIU. That team plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which is a notch above UMaine’s Football Championship Subdivision for scholarships and resources.

UMaine will be paid $250,000 for the contest.

Stevens said playing a Football Bowl Subdivision team is always a challenge.

“But we aren’t going to flinch going down there. We’re going down there to compete. They are a very well-coached team,” Stevens said. “So we’re going to have to play our brand of football with toughness and discipline and make sure we are in position in the fourth quarter to pull out a win.”

In order to win, he said the Black Bears are going to have to be physical. Stevens added that his team had a great training camp and is “relatively” healthy going into the first game.

“It’s really good to be in this position right now,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to getting down to Miami and playing a great opponent.”

Quarterback Derek Robertson, running back Tavion Banks and wide receivers Montigo Moss and Jamie Lamson have had impressive training camps, according to Stevens. The defense has been bolstered by the return to health of cornerback Kahzir “Buggs” Brown, free safety Robby Riobe and strong safety Shakur Smalls. Riobe is a senior and Brown and Smalls are juniors.

None of the three played in the season-ending 42-41 overtime loss to New Hampshire.

“They definitely have a presence back there. That’s where we have the most experience,” Stevens said.

Graduate student Josh Lezin and senior Jacob Tuiasosopo will take on much more prominent roles as starters in the defensive line and Stevens is looking for good things from first-year starting linebackers junior Vince Thomas, sophomore Darius McKenzie and junior Christian Thomas.

New defensive coordinator Jeff Comissiong has emphasized the fundamentals, including tackling, to try to reduce the amount of big plays surrendered by last year’s 2-9 team.

UMaine allowed 54 plays of at least 20 yards.

“We want to make teams earn it,” said Stevens, a former all-conference defensive end at UMaine.

Robertson inherited the quarterback job from Joe Fagnano, who transferred to the University of Connecticut. Robertson started seven games two years ago after Fagnano got hurt.

“Derek has been a great leader and we have a level of comfort knowing he is going to manage the game like we need him to,” Stevens said. “His fire and passion for the game rubs off on all the players. They feed off that.”

FIU opened its season on Saturday, jumping out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead over Louisiana Tech before losing 22-17.

FIU’s Shomari Lawrence rushed for 139 yards on 15 carries but quarterback Grayson James completed just 5-of-14 attempts for only 4 yards.