New quarterback, new expectations for FIU Panthers
Florida International’s best season as a football program was in 2011, when the Panthers went 8-5 and made it into the St. Petersburg Bowl. Butch Davis was able to replicate that result last year right down to the same bowl in his first season as head coach.
This year will carry championship expectations in the C-USA. Last year’s quarterback, Alex McGough, is now in the NFL as a member of the Seattle Seahawks. His replacement will likely be James Morgan, who came to FIU from Bowling Green as a grad transfer. As a freshman with the Falcons, Morgan threw for over 2,000 yards and set a program record with 16 touchdown tosses in only seven starts. He is one of five C-USA quarterbacks to be named as one of 49 players nationally included on the watch list for the 2018 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
He’ll have Florida transfer CJ Worton and QB turned wide receiver Maurice Alexander to throw to.
Coach Davis considers the running back position to be the Panthers’ deepest position, which includes Anthony Jones returning from injury. He and D’Vonte Price will be running behind one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country. All five starters from last year return, including first team all-conference left guard Jordan Budwig.
Only four starters return on defense, which means the Panthers will likely have to win offensive shootouts if they’re going to contend for the C-USA title. FIU will have reinforcements in Rutgers grad transfer Kiy Hester (DB) and Georgia Tech transfer Jordon Wood (DL).
How FIU fares this season will largely depend on how they start and finish. FIU is known as the rare Group of 5 program to attract major conference foes to their home stadium. Playing in Miami helps facilitating that.
FIU is 1-21 against Power 5 foes, with their lone win coming against Louisville on the road in 2011, which turned out to be former Panther and current Indianapolis Colts wide receiver TY Hilton’s coming out game. The Panthers will have an opportunity to improve that record this year when the Indiana Hoosiers come to town to the start the season.
The Panthers are 4-12 in road openers but 4-1 when opening the conference slate on the road. They will travel to Virginia to take on Old Dominion, who are 8-1 in home openers.
The Panthers will experience a blast from the past when they take on the Miami Hurricanes for the first time since 2006. Ironically, Hard Rock Stadium is the Canes’ current home and was the original home of the Panthers. Miami is 2-0 against FIU and their last meeting resulted in a brawl. Expect a much more tame encounter this season.
Coach Davis made his name on building arguably the great college football team of all time at Miami before leaving for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns in 2001. He’ll take on a potential juggernaut in Miami, led by second year starting quarterback Malik Rosier and running back Travis Homer. Rosier threw for 3,120 yards and 26 touchdowns last year and Homer finished last season just 34 rushing yards shy of 1,000 despite starting the season as the backup.
If the Panthers are going to win their second conference championship in school history, they will have to first win the Shula Bowl against the Florida Atlantic Owls. Davis and Lane Kiffin both entered their new head coaching jobs in south Florida and developed a little rivalry.
The Owls ran the table for their first C-USA crown thanks to the unstoppable force that is running back Devin Singletary, who was 80 yards short of rushing for 2,000 yards last season. The road team in that series is 1-7 in the previous eight meetings. FIU will have to find a way to stop Singletary for that trend to continue.
FIU is 10-6 in season finales. A conference title birth may be decided in the season finale when FIU takes on Marshall on November 24. Both teams finished 8-5 last season and will feature grad transfer quarterbacks.
FIU is certainly good enough to make a Bowl game. It should be good enough to contend for the conference crown. It may just depend on how far their new quarterback takes them.
Photo by fiusports.com
About: Tony Capobianco
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