The summer heat sweltering down on players and coaches only means one thing - the 2012 football season is getting ever so close.
For the last two seasons the Florida International Golden Panthers have put together back to back winning seasons, erasing their perennial stature as the Sun Belt Conference's bottom feeder - and they don't plan on letting up now.
Last season for Florida International was easily their best in recent years as they went 8-5 (5-3) and represented the Sun Belt Conference in the Beef 'O' Brady Bowl. They ended up losing to a tough Marshall team, 20-10. Head coach Mario Cristobal, who has been a rising star among coaches, turned down other coaching opportunities to stay with the Golden Panthers and will try to lead them to a SBC Championship this year.
Offensively the Golden Panthers were only average in the 2011 season, despite having a star player in T.Y. Hilton, and will be looking to become more of a threat in 2012. The passing game was able to average 215 yards a game, ranking them 70th in the nation. The bright spot of FIU's passing game was the decision making of the quarterbacks, as they all completed over 60% of their pass attempts and only threw 4 interceptions.
The Golden Panthers running game ranked 72nd last season, averaging 146 yards per game and produced a total of 18 rushing touchdowns. While the offense was near the middle of the line in both categories, they will need to work on both to be considered a true favorite for the conference championship. But with the loss of Hilton, who was drafted in the 3rd round of the NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts, this will not be an easy one to overcome.
Defensively, Florida International is able to hold their own amongst the best. Last season they held their opponents to a total of 344 yards per game - 226 passing yards and 118 rushing. The defense also was ranked among the top in points allowed, allowing only 19 points per game, which ranked them 14th in the nation.
The Golden Panthers stellar defense, led by Defensive Coordinator Tom Orlando, will be looking to continue their recent ways to make it easier for Florida International continue their winning ways.
Projected Starters/Players to Watch
So. QB Jake Medlock - 6'3" 220lbs 2011 stats: Completed 37-56 passes for 376 yards with one TD and one INT while serving as the backup QB. A bit of a question mark for the FIU offense.
Jr. RB Kedrick Rhodes - 5'11" 190lbs 2011 stats: Team leading 234 carries for 1194 yards and 8 TD's. Will be looked to as the catalyst for the offense, especially in the early goings.
Sr. WR Wayne Times - 5'11" 188lbs
2011 stats: Ranked 2nd on the team with 54 catches for 540 yards and two TD's. With the departure of Hilton, Times will be a go-to guy early on for the young Medlock.
Sr. LB Winston Fraser - 6'2" 226lbs
2011 stats: Team leading 108 total TKL's, 7.5 TKL's for loss, four sacks and one INT.
Sr. LB Jordan Hunt - 6'1" 230lbs 2011 stats: 85 total TKL's, 11.5 TKL's for loss and four sacks.
Sr. DB Jonathan Cyprien - 6'0" 210lbs 2011 stats: 81 total TKL's, 5.5 TKL's for loss, one sack and one INT.
Sept. 1st at Duke
Sept. 8th Akron
Sept. 15th at Central Florida
Sept. 22nd Louisville
Sept. 29th at Louisiana Lafayette
Oct. 4th Arkansas St
Oct. 13th Middle Tennessee
Oct. 20th at Troy
Oct. 27th Western Kentucky
Nov. 3rd at South Alabama
Nov. 16th at Florida Atlantic
Nov. 24th Louisiana Monroe
The Florida International Golden Panthers have the defense to lead them to a possible Sun Belt Conference Championship, and have the benefit of not being forced to run the gauntlet with a manageable out of conference schedule. Unfortunately though, their offense will not have the power to make sure that dream becomes a reality. The loss of star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton will prove to be too big of a hole to fill. Even though they will fall just short of the conference title, expect the Golden Panthers to compete in their third straight bowl game and continue to be one of the top teams in the Sun Belt.