2009 CFN FIU Preview
FIU CB Anthony Gaitor
FIU CB Anthony Gaitor
Posted Jul 27, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Florida International Golden Panthers

FIU Golden Panthers

Preview 2009

By Pete FIUtak

- 2009 CFN FIU Preview | 2009 FIU Offense
- 2009 FIU Defense | 2009 FIU Depth Chart
- 2008 FIU Preview | 2007 FIU Preview | 2006 FIU Preview 

Head coach: Mario Cristobal
3rd year: 6-18
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 27, Def. 26, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 14
Ten Best FIU Players
1. WR/KR T.Y. Hilton, Soph.
2. CB Anthony Gaitor, Jr.
3. LB Scott Bryant, Sr.
4. FS Ashlyn Parker, Jr.
5. SS Jeremiah Weatherspoon, Sr.
6. QB Paul McCall, Sr.
7. WR Greg Ellingson, Jr.
8. LB Tyler Clawson, Sr.
9. OT Ula Matavao, Sr.
10. OT Joe Alajajian, Sr.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:

2009 Record: 0-0

9/12 at Alabama
9/19 at Rutgers
9/26 Toledo
10/3 at ULM
10/10 at Middle Tenn.
10/17 Troy
10/24 at Western Kentucky
10/31 UL Lafayette
11/7 at Arkansas State
11/14 North Texas
11/21 at Florida
12/5 Florida Atlantic

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record:

8/30 at Kansas L 40-10
9/6 at Iowa L 42-0
9/20 South Florida L 17-9
9/27 at Toledo W 35-16
10/4 at North Texas W 42-10
10/11 Middle Tenn. W 31-21
10/18 at Troy L 33-23
11/1 at UL Lafayette L 49-20
11/8 Arkansas State W 22-21
11/22 UL Monroe L 31-27
11/29 at FAU L 57-50 OT
12/6 Western Kentucky W 27-3

The 2006 FIU Golden Panthers were among the worst teams, at least offensively, in the recent history of college football. The 2007 team wasn’t all that much better, but it started to improve at the end of the year. Last year, FIU didn’t seem to realize just how good it became with a few losses that a veteran team would’ve pulled off. Now the program, the coaching staff, and the players appear to be ready to take the next step and become a star of the Sun Belt.

FIU was this close …. this close … to beating UL Monroe and Florida Atlantic in November last year and pushed South Florida and Troy in two good measuring sticks. This year’s team would’ve won at least two of those games, maybe three, and now it’s time for FIU to have the attitude that it really can compete with anyone on its schedule.

Okay, so it can’t stay on the same field with Alabama or Florida, but with Troy coming to FIU Stadium and a not-that-bad second half of the schedule, it’s time to go from being among the dregs of college football to a fun mid-major player.

The passing game has the potential to be special with a veteran quarterback in Paul McCall who knows how to run an efficient attack and with a tremendous receiving corps led by T.Y. Hilton, a franchise type of playmaker who’ll be a Percy Harvin-like do-it-all star who’ll be a major deep threat along with his role as a top kick and punt returner. All five starters return to the offensive line and there’s plenty of speed and quickness in the young, inexperienced backfield.

The defense should be fantastic in the back seven with Scott Bryant one of the Sun Belt’s most underappreciated linebackers and Anthony Gaitor an emerging superstar at corner. And then there’s the defensive front, which has plenty of players who have seen time, but doesn’t have a sure-thing playmaker with all four starters needing to be replaced. The D finished in the upper half of the Sun Belt last year, and if there’s some semblance of a pass rush, it’ll finish high again.

So all the pieces are there to become a bowl team and challenge for the Sun Belt title. Is the team really ready? Head coach Mario Cristobal will make it ready after building from the bottom for the last few years. This will be an interesting team to watch out for.

What to watch for on offense: A great year from the passing game. Paul McCall is a nice veteran who already holds the school’s single-season record for touchdown passes throwing 15 last year. It’ll be a shock if he doesn’t shatter the mark with T.Y. Hilton one of the Sun Belt’s best receiver, Greg Ellingson a big, talented target who can hit the home run, and good up-and-comers with Junior Mertile and Marquis Rolle two players to get excited about. Tight end Eric Kirchenberg, if healthy, could be a big part of the attack.

What to watch for on defense: The line. The back seven will be good, possibly the best in the short FBS history of FIU football. However, the front four is starting from scratch after a mediocre year. There was no pass rush and unless Cody Pellicer and Armond Willis can become the flashes into the backfield they’re expected to be, there won’t be much of an improvement. There should be a decent rotation on the inside, but can anyone stuff the run? 340-pound Jonas Murrell will be an interesting piece of the puzzle.

The team will be far better if … the offensive line is better. With all five starters returning and dependable, veteran depth at several spots, the line has to be a plus, right? It didn’t matter much last year with almost all the key players returning, but the pass protection was non-existent and the Golden Panthers only averaged 99 rushing yards per game.

The Schedule: There’s a winnable home game against Toledo. That’s it as far as the competitive non-conference games on the schedule with road dates at Alabama, Rutgers, and Florida. The Sun Belt season starts out nasty with road games at UL Monroe and Middle Tennessee before hosting Troy, but it’s a plus to get the Trojans at home and Florida Atlantic also has to go down the road. There aren’t two home games in a row all year, but there aren’t back-to-back road games after mid-October.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore WR T.Y. Hilton. The team desperately needed offensive playmakers going into last year, and Hilton came through with an epic true freshman season averaging a whopping 24.7 yards per catch with 41 grabs for 1,013 yards and seven touchdowns to go along with two rushing scores. He’s also a tremendous kick returner averaging 23.4 yards per kickoff returner and 14.8 yards per punt return.

Best Defensive Player: Junior CB Anthony Gaitor. It could also be Scott Bryant, the team’s leading tackler over the last two years. Gaitor went from a shaky freshman to a ball-hawking all-star picking off five passes and breaking up 11 passes. He’s not all that big at 5-10 and 175 pounds, but he’s a big-time playmaker who tackles bigger than his size.

Key player to a successful season:
Senior DE Reginald Jones. The defensive front needs to find four new starters and a steady pass rusher has to emerge. The Golden Panthers were lousy last year at getting to the quarterback with Jones turning into a disappointment. This year the senior has to be the main man to boost the nation’s 89th ranked team in sacks.

The season will be a success if ... FIU gets to a bowl game. There are several big holes to fill and there are some concerns to deal with as far as overall consistency, but the athletes and talent are in place to come up with six wins. There will need to be an upset or three, but after winning five games last year, it’s time to take another step forward.

Key game: October 17th vs. Troy. While the Florida Atlantic showdown is the Sun Belt’s new rivalry, the game against Troy could be bigger for FIU’s title hopes. After starting out the conference season at UL Monroe and Middle Tennessee, beating the Trojans could be a must to avoid an 0-3 start going into a road trip to Western Kentucky. If FIU can start 2-1, even if the one loss is to Troy, it’ll be in the hunt for the Sun Belt championship the rest of the way.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Penalties: FIU 105 for 799 yards – Opponents 81 for 738 yards
- Average yards per carry: Opponents 3.9 – FIU 2.8
- First quarter scoring: Opponents 91 – FIU 47

- 2009 CFN FIU Preview | 2009 FIU Offense
- 2009 FIU Defense | 2009 FIU Depth Chart
- 2008 FIU Preview | 2007 FIU Preview | 2006 FIU Preview