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2011 College Football Season Preview: FIU Golden Panthers

2010 Record: (7-6, 6-2 in Sun Belt)

Head Coach: Mario Cristobal (16-33, 13-17 in Sun Belt)

Last Bowl Game: 2010 Little Caesars Bowl (lost to Toledo 34-32)


2010 Exit Survey


9/1: North Texas (2010 result: won 34-10)

9/9: at Louisville

9/17: UCF

9/24: Louisiana (2010 result: won 38-17)

10/1: Duke

10/8: Akron

10/18: at Arkansas St (2010 result: won 31-24)

10/25: Troy (2010 result: won 52-35)

11/5: at Western Kentucky (2010 result: won 28-21)

11/12: FAU (2010 result: lost 21-9)

11/19: at ULM (2010 result: won 42-35 OT)

11/26: at Middle Tennessee (2010 result: lost 28-27)

2010 Offensive Statistics:

Scoring: 28.8 ppg (3rd in Sun Belt, 51st in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 187.54 yds/game (2nd in Sun Belt, 27th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 207.5 yds/game (6th in Sun Belt, 70th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 395.1 yds/game (3rd in Sun Belt, 46th in Nation)

2010 Defensive Statistics:

Scoring: 27.3 ppg (1st in Sun Belt, 65th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 169.08 yds/game (4th in Sun Belt, 77th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 199.8 yds/game (3rd in Sun Belt, 32nd in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 368.9 yds/game (1st in Sun Belt, 61st in Nation)

2010 Misc Stats:

Turnover Margin: +0.31 per game (1st in Sun Belt, 36th in Nation)

Penalties: 73.3 yds/game (last in Sun Belt, 118th in Nation)

Returning Starters:

Offense: 7

Defense: 7

Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders:

Passing: QB Wesley Carroll, Sr (226 of 367 for 2623 yds, 16 TD, 14 INT)

Rushing: RB Darriet Perry, Sr (170 for 839 yds, 16 TD)

Receiving: WR T.Y. Hilton, Sr (59 rec for 848 yds, 5 TD)

Tackles: DB Jonathan Cyprien, Jr (113)

Sacks: DE Tourek Williams, Jr (6)

Interceptions: DB Junior Mertile, Jr (3)

From 2006 to 2007, FIU went 1-23. Last year they went 7-6 and tied for first place in the Sun Belt. That's a great improvement from a team that just recently moved up to play football on the highest level. From 2009 to 2010 FIU improved 4 games in the win column and they look like they are in a very good position to challenge for the Sun Belt title again this year. FIU returns their QB, their top rusher, top receiver, top tackles, second leading sacker and their top interceptor.

The schedule is also more kind than it was last year. Last year FIU started off with four straight tough games against Rutgers, at Texas A&M, at Maryland and at Pitt. They went 0-4 going 6-2 in the conference to finish off the season. This year, FIU starts off with North Texas (a team they beat by 24 last season) before facing tough games against Louisville and UCF. But then they play Louisiana, Duke, Akron and Arkansas State. FIU won't sneak up on anyone this year but they just might have a better year this year than they did in 2010. We talked to Andres of to get a local perspective on the 2011 season.

In our Exit Survey you said that the biggest area of improvement this off-season was needed on the defense end of the football. What is your take on the defense now that spring practice is in the books?

The defense is under a new Defensive Coordinator for the 2nd year in a row. Todd Orlando comes to FIU from UConn where he was the DC for one of the Big East stingiest defenses.  The defense appeared to have the upper hand during the spring and one area of surprising strength was the front 4.  Tourek Williams, Josh Forney, James Jones, Isame Faciane and Andre Pound were all very active and able to apply pressure during the spring games. 

In addition, Junior Mertile, converted to CB from WR late last season, looks like he is becoming more comfortable in his new role.  Mertile had several picks in spring practice, proving that his interception in last year’s Little Caesars Bowl was no fluke.  Mertile will be relied upon to replace all everything Senior Anthony Gaitor who was drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft.  The team’s linebackers, though inexperience, appear to be full of speed, which is the trademark of any Florida team.  All in all, FIU fans should feel better about the prospects of the defense going into next year, than we had previously thought.

For those that don't follow FIU that closely...give us a couple of under-the-radar guys that can make a real impact this year.

FIU fans are eager for our top recruits from previous years to make an impact.  On the defensive side, 4 Star Recruit, LB Larvez “Pooh-Bear” Mars is coming off an injury from last year.  FIU fans would love to see Mars live up to the hype and he will be needed to replace All Conference graduating senior Toronto Smith.  On the offensive side FIU fans would love for WR Willis Wright, ESPN Top 150 recruit, to display the type of talent which made him one of the most sought after receivers coming out of high school.  However, it looks like it might be a less heralded SO WR, Glenn Coleman, which has shown more flashes of greatness during the spring and might surprise everyone this upcoming season.  Lastly,RB Jermiah Harden, who was hampered by injuries last season, has looked fantastic during the spring and could definitely surprise people in the fall.  Another player hampered by injuries last season, LB Greg Hickman, is looking like he is ready to burst out into the scene in the crowded race to replace Toronto Smith.

Who are some newcomers that can come in and immediately help this year?

As we mentioned above, FIU is looking to replace graduating senior LB Toronto Smith, and HC Mario Cristobal’s recruiting magic struck again.  LB Jordan Hunt, the #48 ranked JUCO player in the nation, made his presence felt during Spring Practice.  If he is as good as advertised, the Panthers LB corps might be as good, if not better, than last year.    The Panthers are also hoping to get contributions from CB Richard Leonard, part of last year’s recruiting class who failed to qualify but made it to FIU this year.  Leonard was a highly touted recruit and with the loss of Anthony Gaitor, the FIU defensive coaches are hoping that he can step in and contribute right away.

Looking at the schedule, what are the most important games for FIU this year?

For the first time since moving up, FIU has a balanced schedule with 6 home and away games this year.  This gives us the opportunity to win those crucial out of conference games.  FIU has two very important home games, UNT to start the season and in-state rival UCF.  A win against UNT would set the tone for the entire season and help establish FIU as a team to beat in the Sun Belt Conference.  C-USA’s UCF comes to Miami for an in-state game and we expect plenty of South Florida recruits to be there in a match up that might help them choose between these two football programs.

What is the one game on the schedule that you want to win the most this year?

I think a win against UCF would be incredible for the program.  UCF has successfully recruited South Florida talent in the last couple of years and a win vs. the Knights would go a long way in helping FIU’s when it comes to the recruiting battles.  In addition, should a spot open up in C-USA, it would help FIU’s cause to establish the quality of its football program versus last year’s C-USA Champion.  A close 2nd would be a win vs. FAU.  Though the Golden Panthers were 2010 SBC Champions and won its Bowl Game, we were not able to get the FAU monkey off our backs, a win against the Owls would be very sweet indeed for Mario and all FIU fans.

What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?

My gut, and heart, tells me that this team can go 9-4 with a couple of OOC wins (vs. Duke and @Akron) and a 2nd consecutive SBC Championship.  The 9th win will come in FIU’s 2nd ever Bowl appearance this time in New Orleans.

Next Preview: Louisiana

2011 Team Previews

C-USA- East Carolina, Houston, SMU, Southern Mississippi

MAC- Ball St, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Temple, Toledo

MWC- New Mexico, UNLV, Wyoming

Sun Belt- FAU, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Troy, ULM

WAC- Idaho


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