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FIU QB Wesley Carroll
Preview 2011 Florida International Golden Panthers
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UCF at FIU Lookahead
Miami might have missed on a golden opportunity.
Head coach: Mario Cristobal
5th year: 16-33
Off. 21, Def. 26, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best FIU Players
1. WR/KR T.Y. Hilton, Sr.
2. SS Jonathan Cyprien, Jr.
3. DE Tourek Williams, Jr.
4. LB Winston Fraser, Jr.
5. RB Darriet Perry, Sr.
6. RB Jeremiah Harden, Jr.
7. QB Wesley Carroll, Sr.
8. PK Jack Griffin, Jr.
9. LB Larvez Mars, Soph.
10. CB Junior Mertile, Jr.
Sep. 1 North Texas
Sep. 9 at Louisville
Sep. 17 UCF
Sep. 24 Louisiana
Oct. 1 Duke
Oct. 8 at Akron
Oct. 15 OPEN DATE
Oct. 18 at Arkansas St
Oct. 25 Troy
Nov. 5 at WKU
Nov. 12 Florida Atlantic
Nov. 19 at ULM
Nov. 26 at Middle Tenn.
The Hurricanes hired Al Golden, who'll be 42 going into the season and is one of the hot young head coaches in college football. He was able to bring in terrific talent to Temple as he turned around one of the most miserable programs in college football. While he worked wonders, he went 27-34 and didn't win anything in the MAC – unless you want to give credit to an East Division tie in 2009.
The Hurricanes didn't hire FIU's Mario Cristobal, who'll be 41 during the season and is one of the hot young head coaches in college football. He was able to all but create the Florida International program taking a young team and turning it into a winner. While he only has a 16-33 record, he was able to do two things that Golden didn't: 1) win a conference title and 2) win a bowl game.
That's not to say that Golden won't succeed at Miami – he's a terrific coach – but Cristobal could've been an even better fit having played for the Hurricanes as a tackle in the early 1990s. Few know the Miami program, the culture, and the area better, and no one would bring the energy that Cristobal would've provided.
Florida International won't complain that it has its main man back for another year.
Now Cristobal has to show that he can make the Golden Panther into another Troy, a consistent Sun Belt powerhouse, and he has to prove that this isn't a 2008 Buffalo scenario, when Turner Gill and the Bulls magically came up with a MAC title when everything went their way, only to lose the mojo the next year.
This year's FIU team has more than enough talent to be the best team in the league by a wide margin, and Cristobal has the positive but foreign task of living life as the front-runner. The offense was great at powering the ball and came up with enough pop at the right time to overcome an 0-4 start to get to a bowl game and win in a 34-32 thriller over Toledo. Veteran quarterback Wesley Carroll has been around for forever, including a stint at Mississippi State, and he has an experienced and talented receiving corps to throw to led by 2010 Sun Belt Player of the Year, T.Y. Hilton. The running game that finished 27th in the nation should be terrific with a four-headed monster of backs returning to work behind a big line that has enough returning experience to keep the production of last year going.
Cristobal is a defensive coach and he has a terrific-looking group of athletes who should have few problems getting into the backfield on a regular basis. The secondary loses a few key players in Anthony Gaitor and Ashlyn Parker, but it should be one of the best in the league thanks to the return of star safety Jonathan Cyprien. Tourek Williams is a special pass rushing end, while Winston Fraser leads a promising corps that gets back Larvez "Pooh Bear" Mars from injury and brings in JUCO talent Jordan Hunt.
Hilton is back as one of the nation's top return men, while kicker Jack Griffin is coming off a 17-of-20 season on field goals and punter Josh Brisk, despite the FIU punting game finishing 119th in the nation, is back after putting 18 inside the 20 and forcing 16 fair catches.
The offense is going to be better, the defense will be aggressive and dangerous, and the special teams will be among the best in the Sun Belt.
And Cristobal is still on the campus instead of a few miles away in Coral Gables.
What to watch for on offense: The running back rotation. The passing game should be more than fine with veteran QB Wesley Carroll knowing what he's doing and with a good receiving corps to work with, but the FIU offense will work around the ground game. The backfield is loaded with four good backs led by senior Darriet Perry, a fill-in who ended up running for 839 yards and 16 touchdowns. Jeremiah Harden was the starter, and could be again, but missed half of last year. He's back and ready to go, as is Darian Mallary, a scooter of a smallish back who tore off 679 yards averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Kedrick Rhodes averaged 7.3 yards per carry as a true freshman, highlighted by a 100-yard day against FAU, and WR T.Y. Hilton averaged 9.4 yards per run with four scores.
What to watch for on defense: The linebacking corps. There's a little work to be done with the loss of two starters, but there's a chance it could be addition by subtraction. Winston Fraser is a rock-solid veteran who'll be the anchor of the unit, but there's a chance that Larvez "Pooh Bear" Mars could be the star after missing all of last year hurt. A top recruit a few years ago, he has the talent to become an All-Sun Belt star, while JUCO transfer Jordan Hunt will be an instant impact performer. If this group shines, the defense will be the best in the league.
The team will be far better if … The passing game can be more efficient. With the running game certain to dominate at times, the pressure will be off the passing game. That doesn't mean it can't be better. Carroll isn't a bombs-away type of passer who'll throw for 300 yards a game, but he's experienced enough to be a steady game-manager, but in a good way. He has to cut down on his interceptions after throwing 14 two years ago, and while he completed 62% of his throws, it would be nice to come up with a few more big plays and keep things moving more on third downs.
The schedule: The Golden Panthers dive into the Sun Belt action right away with what should be a fun date against a rejuvenated North Texas team. And then comes the fun of the non-conference slate with a trip to Louisville on a Friday night before a chance to make an in-state statement against UCF. With Louisiana and Duke at home to follow, that means FIU plays four of its first five games at home. And then comes the downside with three road games in four weeks, but the one home date is the showdown against Troy. Closing out on the road against ULM and Middle Tennessee, two of the Sun Belt's better teams, will be a challenge for the repeat efforts.
Best offensive player: Senior WR T.Y. Hilton. He was the Sun Belt Player of the Year because of his all-around game, running for 282 yards and four touchdowns and rocking as a return man to go along with his receiving duties. He'll be used in a variety of ways and will be one of the nation's best all-purpose yardage stars, after finishing eighth in the nation, but it would be nice if he scored more as a receiver. He only came up with five receiving touchdowns with two coming in one game.
Best defensive player: Junior SS Jonathan Cyprien. In a secondary full of all-stars and veterans, it was the 6-0, 205-pound strong safety who stepped up and was the best of the lot with a team-leading 113 tackles with a pick and seven broken up passes. A big hitter, he came up with three forced fumbles and was the tone-setter for the defense. Once again, FIU has several veteran playmakers who can lead the way, but it's Cyprien who'll come up with the biggest plays.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore C Ceedrick Davis. It's not a stretch to say that the turnaround wouldn't have come last year unless the offensive line was tremendous, and there are some question marks even though three starters are back. The tackles are good and the guards will be fine, but the line needs a leader to take over for all-star Brad Serini. The 305-pound Davis is big, strong, and has the upside to be even more dominant than Serini against the run.
The season will be a success if … the Golden Panthers win another Sun Belt title. While the end of the season has some rough games to deal with and six of the final eight games are on the road, with five of them against Sun Belt foes, the Troy game is at home. FIU is too talented and too experienced to shoot for anything less than another championship and another bowl appearance. Anything else will be a major disappointment.
Key game: Oct. 25 vs. Troy. ULM and Arkansas State are good enough to rise up and win the Sun Belt title, and both of those key games are on the road, but the championship might be decided on a Tuesday night in late October. Last year, FIU came up with one of the biggest shockers of the season with Wesley Carroll throwing for three touchdowns and the running game ripping off 448 yards and four scores, with three players going over the 100-yardmark. Winning this game won't guarantee a Sun Belt title, but losing it could make it impossible to win it.
2010 Fun Stats:
- FIU Opponent 1st Quarter Scoring: 40 – FIU Opponent 2nd Quarter Scoring: 116
- Penalties: FIU 107 for 953 yards – Opponents 88 for 714 yards
- Punt Return Average: Opponents 11.9 – FIU 6.3
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