NEW ... 2010 FIU Preview
FIU CB Anthony Gaitor
FIU CB Anthony Gaitor
Posted Jul 14, 2010

Preview 2010 Florida International Golden Panthers

FIU Golden Panthers

Preview 2010

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Mario Cristobal
4th year: 9-27
Ten Best FIU Players
1. WR T.Y. Hilton, Jr.
2. CB Anthony Gaitor, Sr.
3. FS Jonathan Cyprien, Soph.
4. LB Toronto Smith, Sr.
5. RB Jeremiah Harden, Soph.
6. LB Winston Fraser, Soph.
7. RB Darriet Perry, Jr.
8. DE Tourek Williams, Soph.
9. C Brad Serini, Sr.
10. SS Ashlyn Parker, Sr.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 11 Rutgers
Sept. 18 at Texas A&M
Sept. 25 at Maryland
Oct. 2 at Pitt
Oct. 9 WKU
Oct. 16 at North Texas
Oct. 30 at Florida Atlantic
Nov. 6 ULM
Nov. 13 at Troy
Nov. 20 at Louisiana
Nov. 27 Arkansas State
Dec. 4 MTSU

FIU actually had some real live expectations going into last year after going 5-7 in 2008, and it fell flat with no consistency, a porous defense, and too many blowouts with all nine of the losses coming by eight points or more. But the team was really, really banged up throughout the season.

It was for the Golden Panthers to have the same lineup from one game to the next as several of the key parts of the puzzle, like LB Winston Fraser, safety Ashlyn Parker, WR Junior Mertile, and several others, either got hurt early on or missed just enough time here and there to keep the team from ever progressing. But after three years under head coach Mario Cristobal, injuries can't be used as an excuse … and that's a good thing in several ways.

Mining the greater Miami area for talent, Cristobal has brought in a slew of very talented, very athletic, and very promising players on both sides of the ball, and now there's excellent young depth to go along with the good-looking starters. FIU might only return one starter on the defensive front seven, but there's so much quickness in the linebacking corps, so many good players in the rotation in the secondary, and so much potential up front that the results are almost certain to be better. The D can't be any worse after finishing second-to-last in the nation in yards allowed, and now there should be a big-time turnaround.

The offense doesn't have the same promise or hope only because the line is so iffy. Led by T.Y. Hilton, the receiving corps could be the best in the Sun Belt, and the addition of transfer Jeremiah Harden gives FIU some nice options at backfield. Throw in former Mississippi State starting quarterback Wesley Carroll into the equation (battling with an improved Wayne Younger for the job), and the skill players are by far the best that FIU has ever had. If the line can block someone on a regular basis, and can keep the quarterbacks from being a grease spot, the O should finally start to produce after years of mediocrity.

Out of the nine wins in Cristobal's three years, none have been against teams that finished with a winning record, three have been over North Texas, two have come against Western Kentucky, and the lone non-conference win came over a miserable Toledo team in 2008. FIU will take the wins over anyone at any time, but they just have to start coming. The team is too athletic to not be better.

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. Paul McCall was a nice passer who did what he could to get the offense going, but the attack needs more of a playmaker under center. Wayne Younger has had a rocky career including a 2007 that was a step back even in his first year. As a freshman, Younger completed 46% of his passes for 1,357 yards with nine touchdown passes and 17 interceptions, but he ran for 536 yards and two scores. He hasn't gotten much better, completing 45% of his career passes for 1,863 yards with ten touchdowns and 21 interceptions, but he had a good offseason after looking sharper, more decisive, and with more power in his arm. It was assumed that former Mississippi State starting quarterback Wesley Carroll was going to take over the job when eligible, but Younger has made the quarterback derby a positive.

What to watch for on defense: The line. The linebacking corps has the potential to be phenomenal with two good options for each spot (and three prospects in the middle), and the secondary can't help but be better with the return of Ashlyn Parker at safety to go along with some good returning starters. Now the line has to do something positive. FIU is great at getting into the backfield for tackles for loss, but the run defense was miserable last year and was powered over by everyone. The Golden Panther defense came up with 271 yards in tackles for loss and still finished 116th in the nation in run defense. It's a young, young line led by several promising sophomores, and they have to grow up in a hurry.

The team will be far better if … the lines can toughen up. The defensive line has to show it can stop someone from powering the ball once in a while, and the offensive line has to keep someone from destroying the backfield. The running backs are quick and talented, but they can't show it off without having a little room to roam. The quarterbacks are mobile, but it would be nice if they could get a few seconds to throw. If the lines are appreciably better, the Golden Panthers will be in the Sun Belt title hunt.

The schedule: The team had better be used to opposing locker rooms, or the season will be a death march. After opening against Rutgers and being the sacrificial lambs at Texas A&M, Maryland, and Pitt, FIU gets its layup against WKU. And then the real season begins with four of the next five games will be on the road meaning that from September 18 to November 20, seven of nine games will be on the road. On the plus side, the final two games against, arguably, the league's two best teams, Arkansas State and MTSU, are at home, but by then this could be one cashed team.

Best offensive player: Junior WR T.Y. Hilton. A great all-around playmaker, he has been one of the Sun Belt's best players over the last two seasons with 98 catches for 1,645 yards and 12 touchdowns, 92 rushing yards and two scores, averaged 11.1 yards per punt return and a whopping 25.4 yards per kickoff return. Considering the offense has been so limited, his production has been even better than the stats.

Best defensive player: Senior CB Anthony Gaitor. One of the team's steadiest players, he was also one of the lone bright spots on a struggling secondary. Very fast and very productive, he has made 145 career tackles at corner while making nine picks and taking two back for touchdowns. While he's not a next-level corner, he's a good talent who'll earn all-star honors once again.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore DTs Kasey Smith and Joshua Forney. Starting left tackles James Wiggins could turn out to be the team's most important player as the offensive line has to do something to be more productive, but the success of the team will come if the defensive front makes a big improvement. It starts in the middle where the 275-pound Smith and the 265-pound Forney have to not only prove that they can stop someone from running up the gut, but they have to show they can be the cornerstones of the defense for the next three seasons.

The season will be a success if … FIU wins six games. The schedule is way too tough with way too many road games to expect a decent record, but if everyone can stay healthy and if the lines are better, the Golden Panthers should be able to win five Sun Belt games while hoping to come up with an upset somewhere against one of the better conference teams like MTSU or Arkansas State.

Key game: Oct 30 at Florida Atlantic. If this is going to be a relatively successful season, and if the team really is good enough to be in the Sun Belt title hunt, wins over WKU and North Texas have to be a given. If the Golden Panthers can start out 2-0 in conference play, the rivalry game on the other side of town in Miami Gardens will be a must win. FIU has lost four straight in the series.

2009 Fun Stats:
- First Half Scoring: Opponents 241 – FIU 109
- Kickoff Returns: FIU 71 for 1,466 yards (20.6 average) – Opponents 43 for 778 yards (18.1 average)
- Interception Return Average: Opponents 20 (on 12 interceptions) – FIU 9.5 (on 10 interceptions)

- 2010 FIU Preview | 2010 FIU Offense
- 2010 FIU Defense | 2010 FIU Depth Chart
- FIU Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006