The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 127 FIU.
Previewing FIU’s Offense for 2014:
Coming off arguably the worst offensive season the Football Bowl Subdivision has seen since 2005, further regression seems impossible for FIU. The team will be based around an offensive line that returns five starters from last season, including left guard Jordan Budwig, a local product who started as a true freshman last season and was the team’s best run-blocker.
In all, FIU returns offensive linemen with a combined 69 career starts. The hope of FIU coach Ron Turner and his staff is that experience will help the Panthers improve a rushing offense that averaged 2.1 yards per carry last season (last in the nation, and it wasn’t even close) and a passing game that was forced into quick dump passes on nearly every down.
The big question for FIU in 2014 is who will be under center (and that idiom still applies to the pro-style Panthers). Jake Medlock, the Panthers’ starting quarterback last year, transferred to D-II Valdosta State for his senior season, leaving the man he beat out last year, E.J. Hilliard, and a promising pair of early enrollee freshmen to battle for the job. Hilliard, a scrambling quarterback from nearby Miami Northwestern, has never looked comfortable in Turner’s anti-spread scheme. His competition for the starting job comes from Tampa product Alex McGough. At 6'3" and 210 pounds, McGough is as prototypical of a pocket passer as FIU is going to find, and he stole the show in the Panthers’ spring game. He’ll be pushed by fellow freshman Bud Martin, who has the best arm strength of the three.
Regardless of which quarterback plays, he’ll be handing the ball off to junior running back Lamarq Caldwell, who averaged 3.8 yards per carry last season. For a team based in South Florida, FIU has a surprising dearth of playmakers at wide receiver. Sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith picked up many of those dump passes.
Previewing FIU’s Defense for 2014:
FIU didn’t exactly pair a strong defense with its anemic offense last year, and the defense could devolve further in 2014.
Finding two defensive tackles who can replace Greg Hickman and Isame Faciane is priority No. 1 in West Miami. The two tackles were the reason FIU’s 5.28 yards allowed per opponent rushing attempt wasn’t a bigger number and that the FIU pass rush had any numbers at all. With both gone to graduation, the Panthers will give first dibs on their jobs to junior Lars Koht and sophomore Imarjaye Albury.
There’s depth at defensive end, with Giovani Francois and Denzell Perine standing out. Wonderful Monds II should provide quality snaps as well. Darrian Dyson can play multiple positions and could be the D-line’s X-factor.
The return of cornerback Richard Leonard from academic ineligibility should boost an already solid secondary, which is anchored by free safety and male model (seriously) Justin Halley.
Linebacker is another position of concern. Middle backer Luis Rosado is the group’s top returning tackler (35). He’ll be flanked by Davison Colimon and Patrick Jean, who combined for 39 tackles.
Previewing FIU’s Specialists for 2014:
The Panthers are young on special teams. Austin Taylor returns after a decent freshman season in which he made 8-of-12 field goals. True freshman Luke Medlock is likely to win the starting punting job.
While the natural progression of players and the return of Leonard at cornerback provide hope that FIU can improve, holes in the defensive front seven and the possibility that a true freshman will start at quarterback extinguish those small bits of positivity. Games against Louisville, Pitt, Marshall and even rival FAU are likely to be embarrassingly lopsided. The Panthers have a better chance of going winless than making a bowl game.