Florida International Panthers
The Panthers made a big splash, high profile hire this off-season when they brought in Butch Davis, formerly of Miami, North Carolina, and the Cleveland Browns, to be the next head coach. Davis will automatically raise the profile at FIU, but the major issue with him is that if they are going for name recognition alone, none of the kids being recruited today know much about him or his better days early in his career, as they simply are not old enough to remember, and that is a problem. If they buy into him, that certainly would change some fortunes around, and maybe, just maybe, FIU can start to climb the ladder in the CUSA East.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Leading rusher Alex Gardner will return at RB for the Panthers this fall, and if the Panthers want to succeed early, they will have to turn him more into a workhorse back than he was allowed to be in 2016. He rushed for 930 yards last season, and averaged 5.14 yards per carry, and also ran for six scores. Anthony Jones ran for 562 yards as the backup, and also returns.
Thomas Owens and Shug Oyegunle are both back to start at WR, and Oyegunle was just coming on at the end of last season. Owens led the team with 47 receptions last fall, and should be a primary target once again. Stanley Thomas is also back after catching 35 passes last fall, and should start over Oyegunle in two receiver sets, Mark Hutchinson and Austin Maloney will both return as key reserves.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
QB Alex McGough is back at QB, but he had a rough year in 2016, passing for 1891 yards with 13 TDs and 11 INTs. He missed three games last fall, which opened the door for Maurice and Christian Alexander, both sophomores this season. Christian had the better numbers, but had less playing time. Butch Davis will likely make it a high priority to fix McGough early, or move on from him.
The line returns just two starters in 2017. Kai Absheer will be back at LG, and Daquane Wilkie will be back at RT. Dallas Connell will get a crack at starting at LT, Neal Mars could be up for either Center or OG, and James Cruise, a senior, could be up for RG.
Austin Taylor is gone at PK, and hit 12/16 FG attempts last season. He was as close to automatic scoring as anyone else on the roster last fall, and is a big loss.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The DE spots up front should be locked down for fall camp, as both Fermin Silva and Newton Salisbury both return as starters. John Broome was pushing Salisbury for the starting job at RE last fall when the season came to a close, and will get the chance to push him again.
Treyvon Williams and Anthony Wint will return at LB. They tied for the team lead in TFLs with 6.5 a piece last fall, and combined for 217 tackles. Sage Lewis and Fred Russ, the backups to Williams and Wint, both return as well.
Three starters return in the secondary in CB Emmanuel Lubin and Safeties Xavier Hines and Niko Gonzalez. Hines may move to CB this fall, or could stay at Safety. Lubin finished last season with five PBUs, as did Hines. Gonzalez finished with four total PBUs. If Hines stays at Safety, Andrew Brown steps into a starting CB role, where he was a key backup last season.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The front line is missing both starters at the DT position as we head into fall camp. Imarjaye Albury and Leonard Washington have moved on. Milord Juste will have a shot at one spot, while Jermaine Sherriff will get a shot at the other open spot, but depth is thin.
The OLB spot opposite Williams was never really settled and is open for competition as we head into the fall once again. Lewis may get a chance to move over, but there is, again, little in the way of depth.
The Punter position is back in the hands of Stone Wilson, but he averaged an abysmal 37.59 yards per punt average last season, and finding someone to push him would be valuable.
2017 Schedule: 8/31 at UCF, 9/9 Alcorn State, 9/16 at Indiana, 9/23 at Rice, 9/30 Charlotte, 10/7 at Middle Tennessee, 10/14 Tulane, 10/28 at Marshall, 11/4 UTSA, 11/11 Old Dominion, 11/18 at FAU, 11/24 Western Kentucky
Butch Davis has some building to do at FIU. Depth is not great across the board, and the same can be said for the overall talent level. Davis has never had to take on a job of this magnitude before, and he has some rust built up from some time sitting in radio and TV studios instead of walking the sidelines, and the North Carolina baggage is still hanging over him as well. The schedule is brutal early, with three of their first four games coming on the road. Expect nothing in 2017 from this club, and you will be OK.