#102 Florida International Football 2016 Preview

Florida International Panthers
Overall Rank: #102
#7 C-USA
Florida International keeps taking steps in the right direction under Coach Ron Turner. In 2013 they won just one game. In 2014 that number jumped up to four and last year the Panthers reached five games and had a couple weeks of bowl hopes, but beating Marshall or Western Kentucky was a tall order. But five wins was impressive especially considering all of the injuries FIU had to deal with. There is some talent returning, but the Panthers will need to find depth in order to reach a bowl game.
2015 Record: 5-7, 3-5
2015 Bowl: None
Coach: Ron Turner (10-26 at FIU, 52-87 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Steve Shankweiler
Defensive Coordinator: Matt House
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Alex Garnder, RB, 760 yards
Passing: Alex McGough, QB, 2,722 yards
Receiving: Thomas Owens, WR, 638 yards
Tackles: Anthony Wint, LB, 88
Sacks: Xavier Hines, CB, 1.0; Mark Bruno, DB, 1.0
Interceptions: Niko Gonzalez, S, 2
Other Key Returnees: TE Jonnu Smith, OL Michael Montero, S Tyree Johnson
Key Losses: WR Clinton Taylor, CB Richard Leonard, DE Mike Wakefield, DE Denzell Perine, DT Lars Koht, CB Jeremiah McKinnon
FIU’s offense did improve last year. Quarterback Alex McGough completed an impressive 64.1 percent of his passes for 2,722 yards and 21 touchdowns, with just eight interceptions. Those are solid numbers, but the high completion percentage was due to the inability or unwillingness to stretch the defense with the occasional deep ball. Or those short passes need to turn into more big gains with the help of receivers Thomas Owens and Julian Williams and tight end Jonnu Smith. On the other side of the ball, the back seven should again be pretty good. Safeties Tyree Johnson and Niko Gonzalez are young, but gained plenty of experience. Cornerbacks Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon are gone, but there are options now. Linebacker Anthony Wint is the team’s top returning tackler with 88 and Davison Colimon is back after missing last season.
And the linebackers might have to do a lot of work if the new look front four falters. With the loss of Lars Koht, Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine, FIU must replace their top three sack specialists. Seniors Imarjaye Albury and Marques Cheeks are experienced tackles, but finding some pass rushers from the ends will be a challenge. Back on offense, FIU hopes to get more out of their run game in order to give McGough some time to look down field. Dinking and dunking is all well and good, but it has to be mixed with a downfield attack and a decent run game if this offense is going to be consistently dangerous. Alex Gardner is back after rushing for 760 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015. Anthony Jones showed promise as a freshman and he could be the change of pace back that is a threat to make a big play. He did average 5.1 yards per carry on 48 attempts as a freshman.
The Bottom Line:
The schedule is a bit front heavy and back heavy. After hosting Indiana and Maryland in the first two weeks of the season, Florida International will need to be playing good football and reel off quite a few wins before a November that includes games against Western Kentucky and Marshall. Six wins is still a very achievable goal though and this team can do it if the offense finds a playmaker and the defense can find a pass rusher or two.
Projected Bowl: New Mexico Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 109.9 (121st in nation, 12th in conference)
Passing Offense: 237.8 (52, 5)
Total Offense: 347.8 (106, 10)
Scoring Offense: 25.5 (90, 7)
Rushing Defense: 185.1 (83, 9)
Pass Defense: 221.0 (61, 2)
Total Defense: 406.1 (76, 7)
Scoring Defense: 29.8 (85, 7)
Turnover Margin: 0.25 (46, 3)
Sacks: 1.83 (83, 7)
Sacks Allowed: 2.25 (75, 8)