The honeymoon is over at FIU for head coach Butch Davis. The taste of the champagne barely lasted because of a “turnover chain” and a head coach who was having a party in Boca Raton at Florida Atlantic University.
The lack of attention does not diminish how great it was for Davis and his coaching staff to plunge in, come up with eight wins, and get to a bowl – even if it was a disaster of a 28-3 loss to the Temple Owls in the Gasparilla Bowl.
This year, it’s about being more consistent, and making sure that you prove in crucial South Florida games this season against the Miami Hurricanes and Lane Kiffin leading FAU, that the FIU Panthers name deserves to be shared with the term “rivalry.”
The beat goes on. Vital skilled players are gone on this team.
Offensively, veterans were valuable last season. Alex McGough was one of them. McGough is gone, leading rusher Alex Gardner done, and star receiver Thomas Owens finished. New playmakers will be needed to step up.
It has been a busy offseason at the all-important quarterback position for FIU. Former Bowling Green quarterback James Morgan is more than just some typical football player. He cares about law school and indeed does want to become a lawyer.
“As much as you can you try to learn, you try to visualize, watch the film, draw things up,” Morgan said at media day. “Something that as I get more reps, it will come to me.”
Maurice Alexander has experience, but he’s moving to receiver. Christian Alexander has a big arm to take over the job, but Morgan is ready to step in and play. But his interceptions will raise eyebrows.
Butch has had time to clear away the confetti and find a way to improve his offense this offseason. The Panthers could not do anything consistently on offense. It might have been a better season, but the team scored just 27 more points than the 2016 version, and with one bowl game.
The Panthers have South Florida pride on their roster this includes from the heart of Palm Beach County. Offensive and defensive Panthers like, Shawndarrius Phillips, Cadarius Gaskin, Milord Juste, Josh Powell, Jamal Gates, Noah Curtis and Jason Mercier. All bring needed young experience moreover have a chance to make a name for themselves and essential to help with the consistency.
Defensively, the Panthers lost five of their top six tacklers. They have to find a way to replace playmaking linebackers Anthony Wint and Treyvon Williams, who combined for 184 stops. Overall, seven starters are gone, with all four parts of the starting secondary needing to be replaced.
Fermin Silva is expected to be one of the best linebacker/defensive ends in Conference USA.
“The team expectations are to get better,” Silva said. “My goal is just to help my team out and do what the coaches need me to do, it all about the team.”
It is bowl game or bust, for the Panthers. Seven wins, you make a bowl game. That’s the foundation. Panthers cannot lose to UMass, Rice and Arkansas-Pine Bluff at home. Beating Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic at home will help improve from last season giving them the attention they lost last season.