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2010 NCAA Football Preview: Florida International Golden Panthers

2009 Record: 3-9 (3-5 in Sun Belt)
2009 Bowl: None
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Mario Cristobal (9-27 at FIU)
Non-Conference Schedule: Rutgers (9/11), at Texas A&M (9/18), at Maryland (9/25), at Pittsburgh (10/2)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 22.9 points per game (6th in Sun Belt)
Rushing Yards/Game: 105 (last in Sun Belt, 107th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 216 (6th in Sun Belt)
Total Yards/Game: 321 (last in Sun Belt) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 35.3 points per game (7th in Sun Belt, 111 in the Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 232 (8th in Sun Belt, 116th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 258 (8th in Sun Belt, 108th in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 491 (9th in Sun Belt, 119th in Nation)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: -0.33 per game (4th in Sun Belt)
Penalties: 62 yards per game (7th in Sun Belt)

Returning Starters
Offense: 8
Defense: 5
Kicker/Punter: 0

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Wayne Younger, Sr (22 of 58 for 257 yds, 4 INT)
Rushing: RB Darriet Perry, Jr (103 carries for 301 yds, 3 TD, 2.9 ypc, 30 ypg)
Receiving: WR T.Y. Hilton, Jr (57 rec, 632 yds, 5 TD, 4.8 rec/game)
Tackles: FS Jonathan Cyprien, Soph (78)
Sacks: LB Toronto Smith, Sr (3.5)
Interceptions: CB Anthony Gaitor, Sr (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #118
Pre-Snap Read: #109
Sporting News: #84

2010 Pre-Season Sun Belt Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #8
Phil Steele: #6 (tie with Louisiana)

FIU gave up almost 500 yards of total offense to their opponents last year and played an out-of-conference schedule that included Florida and Alabama. This year they have another tough OOC schedule as they face off against Rutgers, Texas A&M, Maryland, and Pittsburgh. In Phil Steele's preview he says that FIU will be better but probably won't top last years win total. To get a closer look at the FIU Golden Panthers we turned to Andres of

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

Strengths: FIU has a great group of wide receivers, let by TY Hilton. TY was named a Freshman All American 2 years ago and was hindered by some injuries in 2009. Despite being limited by nagging injuries, led the team with 57 catches, 632 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions. In addition to TY, the team can also count on returning Juniors, Greg Ellingson who was second on the team with 34 receptions, 528 receiving yards and four receiving touchdown and led the team in yards per reception with 15.5. In addition, FIU will welcome Willis Wright, who was an ESPN 150 recruit for 2010.

On the other side of the ball FIU's strength might lie in its secondary. Led by Anthony Gaitor who was named to the All-Sun Belt Conference First Team…finished the season with 45 tackles, 4.5 for loss and two interceptions. In addition, FIU returns Safety Ash Parker from injuries which should provide a nice complement to Gaitor. The Panthers also feature several young but promising DB's that saw plenty of playing time in 2009.

Weaknesses: FIU has struggled on both sides of the lines. The Golden Panthers have huge problems stopping the run with its undersized DL. FIU tried to address this problem by recruiting the DL heavily bringing in 3 big bodies in Jordan White from Williston High School at 6'4 330 pounds, Jerricho Lee at 6'0 260 pounds and Nassau Junior College defensive end Jeremy Jermin at 6'3 235 pounds. However, relying on freshmen and JC transfers trying to learn a new system is a cause for concern once again for FIU's DL. On the other side of the ball, the FIU Offensive Line has been just as bad in its inability to protect the quarterback and create running lanes for FIU's running backs. Again, FIU tried to address this through recruiting both high school and junior college route. FIU does have a lot of experience returning on the OL but that might not mean much for a group that struggled in 2009.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

If FIU is to show improvement from last year, it will have to start off with a major test at Home against Rutgers. Last year FIU played a valiant game at Rutgers, losing 23-15 in New Jersey. This year, the Golden Panthers hope to start a season with its first win against a BCS Automatic Qualifier. FIU does get the benefit of being at home and being the first game of the year ensures that the Panthers will have a strong crowd behind them. If FIU can put up a good showing against Rutgers, it could set the tone for the rest of the season.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

Pitt is the 4th straight game against a BCS AQ conference member to start the season, and could arguably be the toughest of the 4. At this point, the FIU team could be once again looking at an 0-4 start and Pitt might just be the nail that sends the young Golden Panthers on another tailspin year. However, if FIU can manage to remain injury free through this game, the schedule certainly becomes more favorable with all conference games and 5 of the next 8 games in Florida.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

Coaches are really high on Jeremiah Harden, RB, a transfer from Syracuse. If Harden can get average running protection from the line, then he might be able to give the Panthers another weapon to complement its excellent receiving corps. In addition, it will keep the FIU defense on the sidelines protecting the DL and LB's from the wear and tear of bigger teams.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

TY Hilton (see above). Not only a standout receiver but can also burn you kick and punt returns.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Anthony Gaitor (see above)

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

FIU needs its QB to develop. Coming into the season, everyone expected Ole Miss transfer Wesley Carrol, 2007 All SEC Freshmen team, to waltz into the starting job, however, the Panthers have yet to name a starting QB and there is talk that RSR Wayne Younger might still win the job. Panther faithful are nervous as Wayne has never won a game he has started and has been very inconsistent. The QB needs to be able to give the developing OL a capable leader who gets rid of the ball quickly and accurately in order for the offense's weapons on the outside to be fully utilized.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

FIU features a new Offensive and Defensive Coordinators. For that reason, I believe they both need to be the top offensive and defensive newcomers. OC Scott Satterfield joins FIU from the University of Toledo where he served as Passing Coordinator/QB Coach. At UT, Satterfield was able to bring out the best in Sr. QB Opelt and the Panthers are hoping he is able to similarly develop FIU's Wesley Carroll/Wayne Younger. In addition, the Panthers hope that he can better utilize the receiving weapons that he inherits as well as develop a consistent running game in 2010.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

New Defensive Coordinator Geoff Collins joins FIU from Central Florida where he served as LB Coach and Recruiting Coordinator. DC Collins is hoping to simplify the defensive scheme to allow the quick LB's corps and the strong secondary to try and make up for the smallish defensive linemen. If Coach Collins can infuse his high energy scheme quickly and if FIU's offense can help keep the defense off the field, then FIU's defense might surprise some people.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

HC Mario Cristobal comes into his 4th season under greater pressure to perform. After a 1-11, 5-7 and 3-9 seasons, I believe anything less than 5 - 7/6 - 6 would be a major disappointment. However, anything more than that might be too much to ask for. FIU has recruited extremely well for an SBC team, and the hope is that the talent will at some point help overcome some of the inexperience. This still remains a young team, but that excuse might be running out for Coach Cristobal.

My prediction: 5 - 7
Successful: 7 - 5 and FIU gets to its first Bowl Game.

Thanks to Andres for doing our Q&A and make sure to visit

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