The FIU Panthers play football in sunny Miami, Florida. Including the Miami Hurricanes, Miami Dolphins, Miami Heat and Miami-Dade College Sharks.
Led by head coach Butch Davis the past two seasons, the Panthers have not only improved but also through adversity Davis is doing a fantastic job and outperformed my expectations for the program in a short period.
However, the teams who have underperformed in Miami garnered more attention overshadowing the fantastic progress the football program is making.
This season, I will raise the pressure.
I mentioned Davis, but it always starts at the quarterback position. Who is the starting quarterback? Last season, FIU replaced three-year starter Alex McGough who broke a school record with 2,798 passing yards. Christian Alexander battled Bowling Green transfer James Morgan for the starting job, Morgan won but only averaged 179 yards per game in his first four starts. Morgan had back-to-back 300-yard games and threw for 251 yards per game in the final eight contests. Morgan’s injury lead to Alexander starting and winning MVP in the Bahamas Bowl. Alexander has transferred. Morgan is officially the captain of the ship. He broke FIU’s single-season touchdown pass record and is expected to improve this season.
The running back position could be the most surprising for the Panthers. Anthony Jones, despite being shot in September, recovered finished the season on a positive note with fantastic play in the bowl game. FIU has only had two 1,000 yard running backs in school history, Davis has shared Jones could surpass the 1,500-yard mark. Napoleon Maxwell was granted a sixth year only addling to an experienced position.
The defensive line leads the defense, dare I say it, possibly the best in South Florida. Three starters are back led by defensive end Jason Mercier who finished with 22 tackles and named CUSA All-freshman team. Also, transfer from Arkansas DE Alexy Jean-Baptiste is on campus and don’t sleep on Teair Tart at the defensive tackle position. Panther did lose defensive coordinator Brent Guy but have eight starters returning.
This season I predict the Panthers to finish second in Conference USA East division just behind their rival the Florida Atlantic Owls. With their experience, their schedule is why the pressure to improve is this high. Of the four contenders in the East, the Panthers have to play each of the other three on the road and face Louisiana Tech on the road as well. FIU was 4-0 on the road last year, but none of those teams made a bowl.
Sixteen starters return including possibly the best quarterback in the conference. Davis is a coach who continually demonstrates with experience comes success. The schedule is the most difficult since Davis’ arrival nevertheless I expect the Panthers to be in contention for the CUSA title. Let’s hope they notice in sunny Miami.