2012 FIU Preview

Posted Aug 11, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Florida International Golden Panthers

FIU Golden Panthers

Preview 2012

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By Pete FIUtak

Head coach: Mario Cristobal
6th year: 24-38
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 17, Def. 28, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 13
Ten Best FIU Players
1. LB Winston Fraser, Sr.
2. DE Tourek Williams, Sr.
3. DT Isame Faciane, Jr.
4. S Jonathan Cyprien, Sr.
5. RB Kedick Rhodes, Jr.
6. OT Caylin Hauptmann, Sr.
7. LB Jordan Hunt, Sr.
8. CB Sam Miller, Jr.
9. DE Greg Hickman, Jr.
10. C Shae Smith, Sr.

Unit Rankings
QB - 5
RB - 5.5
WR - 6
OL - 6
DL - 6
LB - 6
DB - 6
ST - 6
2012 Schedule
Sep. 1 at Duke
Sep. 8 Akron
Sep. 15 at UCF
Sep. 22 Louisville
Sep. 29 at Louisiana
Oct. 4 Arkansas State
Oct. 13 Middle Tenn.
Oct. 20 at Troy
Oct. 27 WKU
Nov. 3 at South Alabama
Nov. 16 at Florida Atlantic
Nov. 24 ULM
From the start of the 2006 season up until a shocking win over Toledo at the end of September of 2008, FIU went 1-26 with the lone victory coming against a sad North Texas team to close out 2007. There wasn't any offense, less defense, and the program wasn't even remotely close to being competitive with anyone outside of the Sun Belt. Things have changed in a big hurry.

Mario Cristobal turned out to be the right coach at the right place, taking his youth, energy and ties to the Miami area to build up the program from the ground. He might have mostly been getting the scraps left over from the other Florida schools, but he was still able to target and get enough good players to slowly start to improve things on both sides of the ball. After two straight winning seasons and bowl appearances, the future is bright for both the team and the coach.

It's still a minor miracle that Cristobal is still at FIU with a red-hot name for just about every next-step job opening, but he's building something great with a move to Conference USA next season and talent and depth on both sides of the ball.

The Golden Panthers were able to beat a strong Louisville team last season along with UCF, and now the expectations are high enough that beating both of those teams won't be a shocker in any way, while it'll be an upset if they can't beat Duke to kick things off. FIU won't go unbeaten, but there aren't any sure-thing losses on the slate and there aren't any teams on the slate that can't be seen as a possible win. That's the level Cristobal has moved the program to and that's what Conference USA is hoping to get next year.

The problem for FIU will be holding on to Cristobal. He would've been a perfect fit for Miami, but Al Golden got the gig and is firmly entrenched now. Pitt and Rutgers were interested, but they might not have been quite the right fit. Cristobal is destined to take over a big-time BCS job and he's going to be someone's long-time head man once the right opening comes along. But first he's fully into the FIU job and he's totally committed to taking the program to another level. His lasting legacy, whenever he takes off, will be that he made the program strong enough to be a good-looking job for someone else. After this year, FIU should be extremely attractive.

What To Watch For On …
Offense: The offense sputtered and coughed way too often, but offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey has just enough talent and ability to do what's needed to let the great-looking defense take care of the rest. Sophomore Jake Medlock is a big passer with incredible upside, but he's coming off a shoulder injury and has to fight off talented freshmen Loranzo Hammonds and E.J. Hilliard for the job. The attack will work around junior Kedrick Rhodes, a slippery back who set the school record with 1,149 yards last season. There's nice depth behind him working behind a good-looking line with four starters returning and a Miami transfer in Delmar Taylor at right guard. The receiving corps and passing game loses star T.Y. Hilton, but it gets back the next six pass catchers with Wayne Times a reliable No. 1 to work around.

Defense: If this isn't the league's best defense it'll be No. 1A. Ten starters return to a defense that finished first in the Sun Belt in sacks and scoring defense allowing more than 20 points just three times. Middle linebacker Winston Fraser has the potential to be the league's best defensive player coming off a 108-tackle season, but he'll have help with Jordan Hunt and Kenneth Dillard two veterans on the outside. The pass rush comes from all sides with Tourek Williams an all-star end to start with Isame Faciane a terrific inside presence to hold up against the run. Everyone of note is back in the outstanding secondary with Jonathan Cyprien an all-star strong safety and juniors Jose Cheeseborough and Sam Miller two ballers at cornerback.

What to watch for on offense: A faster offense under new coordinator Tim Cramsey. Everyone likes to hurry things up and everyone wants to control games, but Cramsey will be trying to get his offense to do it with a good receiving corps certain to help out new starting quarterback Jake Medlock and with a strong, versatile offensive line able to blast away for the ground game. Tempo, tempo, tempo will be the key to the attack that finished 82nd in the nation in yards and was a bit too inconsistent.

What to watch for on defense: The front seven. Everyone returns to a solid secondary that should be the best in the Sun Belt, but the defense all keys around a front seven that's active, aggressive and really, really good. In all 17 of the team's top 18 tacklers return, but it's Winston Fraser at linebacker and Tourek Williams on the end who'll set the tone for the rest of the veteran D. Isame Faciane and Jerrico Lee are two terrific tackles who'll be a nice part of the rotation, while Jordan Hunt and Kenneth Dillard are good outside linebackers who'll thrive around Fraser.

The team will be far better if … the pass defense holds up. Arkansas State was able to get by FIU with 238 rushing yards and three scores, but that was the one time all year the run defense didn't hold up. The bigger issue was a secondary that had a great season, but was lit up by Louisville and Duke for a combined 698 yards and four touchdowns, and gave up 226 yards and two touchdowns against Marshall in the bowl loss. Eight of the 11 touchdown passes allowed came in four losses, and two of the other scores came in the win over Louisville. FIU went 6-1 in games when the secondary didn't allow a touchdown.

The schedule: It's manageable enough to make a push to beat last year's school record of eight wins. Going to Duke to start the season will be a good test against an ACC team, but going to UCF two weeks later will be the non-conference road game the team will really want. Louisville might be the best team in the Big East, and if FIU can come up with the home win, look out. The Sun Belt season will be figured out right away going to Louisiana to kick things off and following it up with a home game against Arkansas State. Win those two and the rest of the campaign will be a walk in the park, even with three road games in a four game stretch over the second half of the year.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Kedrick Rhodes. The coaching staff is going to use Rhodes in a variety of ways lining him up at receiver from time to time while also counting on him as a workhorse after leading the team with 1,149 yards and nine scores. The 5-11, 190-pounder is a slippery back who got hurt a few years ago, but proved he could handle the workload last year and now will do even more. The second-team All-Sun Belt performer hit the 100-yard mark five times and showed he could catch with 27 grabs for 252 yards.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Winston Fraser. The defense might be loaded with terrific veterans, and the All-Sun Belt team will be chocked full of Golden Panthers, but it's Fraser who's the heart and soul from his middle linebacker spot. He's not all that big at 6-2 and 226 pounds, but he's tough as nails and is always in the right spot making a team-leading 108 tackles with four sacks and a pick last season. A big-time recruit for the program, after getting past a neck injury a few years ago he has proven he was worth it.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Jake Medlock. The FIU offense will mostly revolve around the defense and getting Rhoades and the running game going, but the passing game has to be efficient and effective after averaging 215 yards per game and finishing third in the Sun Belt in efficiency. Medlock is a big passer who looks the part, but he needs to be 100% healthy after suffering an injured shoulder last season and he has to do a better job of taking care of his body. He doesn't have to bomb away for 3,000 yards, but like Wesley Carroll was able to do last season, he has to keep the interceptions to a minimum.

The season will be a success if … FIU wins the Sun Belt for a second time in three seasons. The program might have been created in 2002, and it's not like there's a great base of success or tradition to pitch, but Cristobal has set the bar high enough that last season's 8-5 campaign was a disappointment. It might have been the best year in the team's young history, but it didn't come with a Sun Belt title. On the way to Conference USA, the Golden Panthers have to go out a champion.

Key game: Sept. 29 at Louisiana. Troy should be good, but FIU is better, and going to South Alabama and Florida Atlantic shouldn't be a problem. If the Golden Panthers can take care of business at home against conference powers WKU and Arkansas State, the road trips shouldn't be a problem after the Sun Belt opener against the Ragin' Cajuns. FIU lost last year in a 36-31 thriller after winning the previous two meetings.

2011 Fun Stats:
- 1st Half Scoring: FIU 201 – Opponents 112
- Sacks: FIU 35 for 260 yards – Opponents 15 for 127 yards
- Punt Return Average: FIU 15.9 yards – Opponents 9.6 yards

- 2012 FIU Depth Chart

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