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You can read the entire FIU preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 National magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
C-USA East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Ron Turner, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ron Turner | DEF. COORDINATOR: Josh Conklin
After the surprising firing of Mario Cristobal, and the unsuccessful attempt to attract Butch Davis, athletic director Pete Garcia brought in a man with 36 years of coaching experience at the collegiate or professional level.
And, since most of Ron Turner’s experience — with the exception of head coaching stints at Illinois and San Jose State — has come as an offensive assistant, even as the coordinator for the Chicago Bears in a Super Bowl, that’s the unit that will be most closely scrutinized.
This won’t be an easy job. Only three offensive starters return, including oft-injured quarterback Jake Medlock, who threw only two interceptions but will be pushed by backup E.J. Hilliard, who showed some improvement in the spring. Medlock takes a lot of hits, and that is likely to continue unless a green line jells quickly. Only three returning lettermen have started a single game, and now all must adjust to a system change — from the spread to pro-style — that calls for far fewer shotgun snaps.
There should be more optimism about the so-called skill positions, with leading returning rusher Kedrick Rhodes, along with receiver Willis Wright (averaged 25.3 yards per reception in 2012).
This unit was a mixed bag last season, with strong numbers against the run and solid ones against the pass, but too many big plays yielded when it mattered most, and too little resistance offered in the red zone.
Now the two best players, safety Jonathan Cyprien and end Tourek Williams (6.5 sacks), are off to the NFL, and the entire starting linebacking trio is gone, too.
So new coordinator Josh Conklin, the former safeties coach at Tennessee, has the opportunity to shape his 4-3 defense with at least nine new starters. That defense will often look like a 4-2-5 with sophomore linebacker Davison Colimon dropping back to his former spot as a safety.
The standout figures to be cornerback Richard Leonard, who will be complemented on the other side by Sam Miller. And even with all the player departures, there is some experience on the defensive line (watch Giovani Francois and Isame Faciane) and an abundance of athletic ability in the back seven. Patrick Jean, one of three sophomores expected to start at linebacker, had an especially strong spring.
Jack Griffin and Josh Brisk held the role of kicker and punter for 40 and 36 games, respectively. With both gone, Sergio Sroka steps into the kicker spot, while Medlock — in addition to his quarterbacking duties — was competing with Chris Ayers to punt. The return game should be dynamic, even if Leonard (touchdowns in 2012 on both a punt and a kickoff) gives up those duties to De’Andre Jasper.
Last season was a downer, with FIU falling well short of expectations. Still, the dismissal of the popular Cristobal — who ended up at Alabama after a brief stop at Miami — was not well-received by many Panthers backers, who felt he’d done enough to elevate the program that he should have gotten another shot. Now Turner, who won Big Ten Coach of the Year back in 2001, takes over during a transitional time, with the move from the Sun Belt to Conference USA, a low number of starters returning, and a rather small recruiting class.
The Panthers had better beat Bethune-Cookman early on, or else they could be 0–4 before the bye. Then it will be even harder to bring back the enthusiasm that was prevalent around this program only two years ago.