Golden Hopes: Your Florida International Golden Panthers preseason preview

(Pete Garcia wakes up startled after a nap at the University)

Assistant: Pete, What’s the matter?

Garcia: I just had the weirdest dream that we fired Mario Cristobal, hired Ron Turner and never made it back to a bowl game…

Assistant: I think that’s called a memory, not a dream, sir.

Garcia: Well then, at least we have Butch Davis, right?

Assistant: Yes, sir. That happened only a few months ago.

Garcia: Well, my work here is done…. zzzz

(Garcia falls asleep until the fall semester starts)

Here is your FIU preview:

Coach:

After years of Ron Turner as head coach with minimal improvement, FIU fans have Butch Davis to look forward to. An interesting choice after being away from the game for seven years, Davis does have a winning pedigree from his years at both Miami and North Carolina.

One of his biggest problems though has been his ability to get caught in scandal, as he got canned at UNC because of actions in the athletics program taken during his tenure. The tradeoff for a coach who has ties to the area is that there is a constant risk he could try to pull something tricky while at the school.

Davis should do much better than Turner, who was fired midway through the season for his crummy performance in the early goings. As a proven recruiter of South Florida talent, expect him to compete in what will be a tight market for years to come because of all the new coaching hires in the area.

Offense:

At quarterback, Alex McGough returns for his senior season to try and improve upon last year’s performance. Throwing for 1,891 yards of passing, 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last year, McGough will have to prove that he can make a jump in production for his final season.

Another Alex returning is Alex Gardner, the Panthers’ leading rusher from a year ago. Gardner ran for 930 yards and six touchdowns while splitting carries at times with Anthony Jones. Both should play about the same as last year, with Jones preparing himself for a starting job next year.

Jonnu Smith is gone after being drafted to the NFL, so a young tight end core will have to step into the hole he leaves. Zach Armor will have a chance to step in to Smith’s old role.

Leading the wide receivers will be Thomas Owens, who had 652 yards of receiving and seven touchdowns. He and Tony Gaiter IV will presumably be McGough’s top two targets.

The offensive line only allowed 27 sacks last year, the lowest since 2011.  Other than only being two deep at the moment at center, the unit looks like it will perform about the same.

Defense

Anthony Wint will be one of the most important pieces of the linebacker core and defense as a whole. Wint and Treyvon Williams, who was second and first on the team in total tackles respectively,  could be one of the most fearsome duos in Conference USA.

On the line, Fermin Silva was fourth on the team with 5.5 sacks. His veteran leadership and ability to break through will help a unit that has only one senior in defensive end Newton Salisbury, but plenty of juniors.

In the secondary, Isaiah Brown broke out in his rookie season last year to lead the team with three interceptions.

The Panthers will have to make the biggest jump here to improve, as the offense looks like it will take a positive step regardless of if it is passing or rushing the ball.

Overall:

All things being said, there’s not a lot of confidence in the Golden Panthers to make an extravagant turnaround from last season. I for one, stand up and say that I think they’ll surprise much of the east.

Davis should have his work cut out him, but this year starts the rebuild for the Panthers. If the new coach can reverse fate and get more butts in the seats, I can’t see how anyone could not support him.

Record: 6-6

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