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The big 2015 FIU football guide: Ron Turner might actually be good at this

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The 128-team countdown previews a school that might've actually made a solid hire after all.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Stigma

The Golden Panthers lost five games by a touchdown or less in 2012, and with the athletic director already tired of Cristobal's flirtation with other schools, they fired him. They whiffed on hiring Butch Davis and replaced Cristobal with former Illinois head coach Ron Turner. And while you never want to render permanent judgments on a hire after just one year, it's almost impossible for 2013 to have gone any worse.

FIU returns most of last year's first- and second-string, and Ron Turner used a few mulligans by bringing in new assistants. The schedule features eight home games and two FCS opponents. The table is set for improvement.

It's hard to get too optimistic, though, isn't it?

Our reaction to coaching hires is like our reaction to recruiting classes. We know we have to wait a while to figure out if it was good or bad, but our instinct is to render immediate judgment. And sometimes a school makes a move so strange from a PR perspective that we not only judge, we relish in the judgment.

In late-2011, for instance, Kansas hired Charlie Weis. In his last two jobs, he'd been fired from Notre Dame and put a wholly mediocre Florida offense on the field, but he somehow got another major head coaching job. We laughed, and we judged, and we were correct. Weis went 6-22.

A year later, we judged like crazy when FIU hired Ron Turner. The program had seemingly whiffed twice before they found Turner, both in firing the best coach it ever had (Cristobal) and in trying and failing to hire Davis. In then hiring Turner, a coach we had all decided wasn't any good, they completed the trifecta.

In the eight years before, Turner had gone from college head coach to NFL offensive coordinator to NFL position coach. His Illinois tenure ended when he went 4-19 in 2003-04, and while he coordinated a Chicago Bears offense that went to the Super Bowl, the offense wasn't really the reason.

And when FIU not only went 1-11 in 2013 but looked horrendous in doing so, we judged some more. We closed the book, in fact. And those of us who hadn't did so when FIU began 2014 by losing to Bethune-Cookman.

But then a funny thing happened: FIU started to improve. The offense -- Turner's specialty -- didn't come around (that tends to happen when you're starting freshmen at quarterback and running back), but the defense was dynamite. It ranked 41st in Def. S&P+ despite a late fade, and FIU won four of its final 11 games and came close to winning three others. After plummeting from 83rd to 124th in the F/+ rankings in 2013, the Golden Panthers bounced back to 96th.

Most of the defense returns -- sans the coordinator -- and at the very least, the offense won't be worse, both from the perspective of experience and the "it can't get worse" factor. Is it possible that we closed the book on Turner's FIU experience too soon? Or was "they finished 4-7 and almost did better!" a sad peak?

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 4-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 96
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Bethune-Cookman N/A 12-14 L 17% -22.7 57%
6-Sep Wagner N/A 34-3 W 71% 12.8 100%
13-Sep Pittsburgh 43 25-42 L 20% -19.3 4%
20-Sep Louisville 23 3-34 L 4% -40.8 0%
27-Sep at UAB 79 34-20 W 63% 7.9 83%
2-Oct Florida Atlantic 100 38-10 W 62% 7.2 96%
11-Oct at UTSA 109 13-16 L 15% -24.2 17%
18-Oct Marshall 17 13-45 L 16% -23.5 0%
1-Nov Rice 86 17-31 L 8% -32.6 1%
8-Nov at Old Dominion 108 35-38 L 34% -9.9 46%
15-Nov Middle Tennessee 87 38-28 W 50% 0.2 69%
22-Nov at North Texas 125 14-17 L 2% -48.6 0%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 15.4 125 27.6 61
Points Per Game 23.0 101 24.8 41

2. The defense gave in late

In terms of per-play averages, FIU held each of its first six opponents well below season averages. The Panthers allowed 5.8 yards per play to Pitt, 4.7 to Louisville, and 4.6 to UAB and gave up a combined 27 points to Bethune-Cookman, Wagner, and FAU. This was a stout D, and FIU hit the midway point of the season at 3-3 despite a woeful offense.

(How woeful? FIU averaged greater than 4.9 yards per play just once in this span. The national average is around 5.7 or so. And FIU played two FCS opponents.)

But as is frequently the case, the defense began to cave from lack of support. Injuries were minimal, but the Panthers still sprang leaks. Marshall, Rice, and ODU combined for 7.4 yards per play and 38 points per game. MTSU tacked on 5.5 and 28. And while the D rebounded in the finale against North Texas, the offense regressed to form after a couple of decent performances. The result: a mostly sustained downward slide after top-50-caliber performances against UAB and FAU.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 6 games): 40% (record: 3-3)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 6 games): 21% (record: 1-5)

By handing your offense over to a freshman, as Turner and coordinator Steve Shankweiler did with Alex Mcgough, you are pretty much admitting that you are building for future seasons and sacrificing the present tense. That FIU still finished 4-8 is an encouraging sign.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.76 112 IsoPPP+ 70.7 123
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 35.1% 122 Succ. Rt. + 80.7 124
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 33.8 124 Def. FP+ 93.1 123
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.1 89 Redzone S&P+ 79.8 124
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.0 ACTUAL 22 -2.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 123 124 124 123
RUSHING 107 124 125 126
PASSING 115 120 118 114
Standard Downs 122 123 125
Passing Downs 118 122 111
Q1 Rk 119 1st Down Rk 125
Q2 Rk 107 2nd Down Rk 126
Q3 Rk 125 3rd Down Rk 99
Q4 Rk 126

3. The vision

Let's start with this: when FIU's offense looked decent/good, what did it look like? The full-season numbers are so awful that it's hard to glean anything from them, so let's do a little bit of isolating.

Late in the year against ODU and Middle Tennessee (a wretched defense and a simply bad one, respectively), FIU put up 73 points and 763 yards (5.8 per play), easily the two best performances of the season. In these games, running back Anthon Samuel (a Bowling Green transfer who took over for freshman Alex Gardner, who missed the final four games with a shoulder injury) rushed 44 times for 257 yards and two scores. Against ODU, McGough completed a 57-yard strike to running back Napoleon Maxwell but finished just 8-for-13 with two sacks; against MTSU, he looked great: 17-for-24, 231 yards, three scores, no picks, one sack. Tight end Jonnu Smith went off for eight catches, 140 yards, and all three of McGough's scoring strikes.

FIU's vision of a run-first offense with play-action potential and a big-play tight end briefly came to fruition.

Still, FIU was too young to sustain this vision. Samuel did well against North Texas, too (14 carries, 89 yards), but McGough was horrendous: 11-for-25, 56 yards, three interceptions, three sacks. He finished with a 50 percent completion rate (far too low), a nine percent sack rate (far too high) and a 4 percent interception rate (again too high).

The trick is obvious: reinforce the vision. Whether McGough continues to be the man, or whether he's usurped by a redshirt freshman (Luke Medlock) or a true freshman (Christian Alexander or Maurice Alexander, not related), FIU must figure out how to move the ball on the ground and find receivers. (Turner ran off some receivers in the offseason, and they weren't particularly happy about it.)

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Alex McGough 6'3, 215 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8158 138 274 1680 14 10 50.4% 28 9.3% 4.9
E.J. Hilliard
33 48 336 1 0 68.8% 12 20.0% 4.2
Luke Medlock 6'1, 197 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7938
Christian Alexander 6'3, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8297
Maurice Alexander 6'0, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7915

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Alex Gardner RB 5'9, 192 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8106 139 562 1 4.0 4.8 32.4% 2 1
Anthon Samuel RB 5'11, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7200 132 582 5 4.4 3.7 37.1% 0 0
Silas Spearman III (2013) RB 5'8, 187 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7800 132 368 4 2.8 3.6 22.0% N/A N/A
Alex McGough QB 6'3, 215 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8158 69 300 4 4.3 3.9 33.3% 10 4
Napoleon Maxwell RB 6'0, 203 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7706 55 254 1 4.6 2.5 41.8% 1 0
Alfonso Randolph (2013) RB 5'11, 193 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7800 26 56 0 2.2 2.1 30.8% N/A N/A
Lamarq Caldwell RB
20 53 0 2.7 2.5 15.0% 0 0
E.J. Hilliard QB
17 88 0 5.2 3.6 47.1% 3 2
Terry Bennett RB 5'10, 204 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7986






4. Young guns vs. really young guns

At quarterback, it's a sophomore vs. a redshirt freshman vs. two true freshmen. At running back, it's a veteran vs. two sophomores who saw playing time vs. two sophomores who saw time in 2013 before redshirting with injury.

At receiver, the leading returnees are a junior tight end and a sophomore receiver who caught 12 passes. Only one other scholarship wideout caught a pass, and Turner was quick to talk up incoming freshman Anthony Jones as if he will quickly be one of FIU's best.

FIU's offense is only going to be marginally more experienced. That's alarming, considering Turner's already entering his third year; youth movements happen in the first year or two, but by the third year, you'd like to have a base of experience.

Regardless, there's plenty to like.

Samuel easily has the best track record of any of the skill players, having rushed for 1,842 yards and 16 touchdowns in two years at Bowling Green. Jonnu Smith's production was up and down, but the highs were quite high: nine for 127 against Wagner, eight for 140 against MTSU, a 75-yard touchdown against UAB. Alex Gardner showed decent big-play potential as a freshman last year, and Napoleon Maxwell showed hints of both potential (42 percent opportunity rate) and explosiveness (the 57-yard reception against ODU). Michigan State transfer Juwan Caesar brings size and a solid recruiting pedigree. And Jones does come to campus with expectations of his own.

There's reason for hope. There's also a ton of youth.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Jonnu Smith TE 6'3, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7833 84 61 688 72.6% 27.2% 59.5% 8.2 -33 8.2 75.7
Glenn Coleman WR
52 23 468 44.2% 16.8% 51.9% 9.0 166 8.7 51.5
T.J. Lowder WR
23 10 121 43.5% 7.4% 65.2% 5.3 -11 4.9 13.3
Dennis Turner WR 5'11, 175 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026 21 12 94 57.1% 6.8% 61.9% 4.5 -54 4.4 10.4
Dominique Rhymes WR
19 7 59 36.8% 6.1% 36.8% 3.1 -38 2.9 6.5
Fred Porter WR
18 9 91 50.0% 5.8% 38.9% 5.1 -24 6.1 10.0
Ya'Keem Griner TE 6'4, 235 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 17 9 94 52.9% 5.5% 23.5% 5.5 -19 4.0 10.3
Alex Gardner RB 5'9, 192 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8106 16 8 48 50.0% 5.2% 37.5% 3.0 -54 2.7 5.3
Akil Dan-Fodio TE 6'4, 225 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) N/A 13 9 65 69.2% 4.2% 46.2% 5.0 -42 4.6 7.2
Clinton Taylor WR 5'10, 169 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7700 11 9 86 81.8% 3.6% 27.3% 7.8 -18 8.0 9.5
Napoleon Maxwell RB 6'0, 203 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7706 8 5 156 62.5% 2.6% 37.5% 19.5 95 19.3 17.2
Richard Burrows WR
8 2 15 25.0% 2.6% 50.0% 1.9 -16 1.6 1.7
Lamarq Caldwell RB
6 2 1 33.3% 1.9% 50.0% 0.2 -27 0.3 0.1
De'Andre Jasper WR
4 2 8 50.0% 1.3% 50.0% 2.0 -17 2.3 0.9
Thomas Owens WR 6'1, 196 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 3 0 0 0.0% 1.0% 100.0% 0.0 -4 N/A 0.0
Cody Hodgens WR 5'9, 163 Jr. NR NR 1 1 16 100.0% 0.3% 0.0% 16.0 5 N/A 1.8
Jonathan Pavlov TE 6'4, 251 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7894
Juwan Caesar
(Michigan State)
WR 6'5, 219 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8631
Anthony Jones WR 5'11, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8226

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 77.3 2.46 2.44 34.7% 72.7% 18.7% 60.2 12.0% 9.2%
Rank 124 117 119 107 27 57 125 126 94
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Donald Senat C 26
Jordan Budwig LG 6'4, 324 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7941 24
Aaron Nielsen RT 6'4, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 23
David Delsoin LT
19
Jordan White LG
12
Dieugot Joseph LT 6'6, 294 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726 10
Delmar Taylor RG
6
Byron Pinkston RG
6
Trenton Saunders OG 6'4, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8041 3
Michael Montero C 6'2, 299 Jr. NR NR 0
Edens Sineace RT 6'5, 303 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 0
Chris Flaig OG 6'5, 294 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7759 0
Kai Absheer OL 6'5, 305 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000
Josh Deuyour OL 6'9, 310 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7706
Chris Miller OL 6'4, 345 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7656

5. At least size isn't an issue

FIU's line will pass the eyeball test. The 10 returnees listed above boast an average size of 6'5, 305, and not all of that comes from monstrous redshirt freshmen Josh Deuyour and Chris Miller. If the idea is to run to set up the pass, Samuel and company will have plenty of beef.

From the perspective of line stats, FIU had one of the least successful lines in the country, ranking 124th in Adj. Line Yards and 125th in Adj. Sack Rate. That the Panthers were good in short yardage situations and avoided negative run plays is a good sign -- perhaps the struggles were due as much to the freshmen getting the carries as the line itself. But the line still bears burden of proof, especially considering five players with starting experience have departed.

Granted, thanks to constant shuffling, four others with starting experience return, including two two-year starters. But while this line probably wasn't as bad as its stats last year and has all the size you could want, it has plenty to prove.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.97 117 IsoPPP+ 96.6 77
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 36.8% 17 Succ. Rt. + 109.7 33
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 30.8 47 Off. FP+ 99.0 78
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.6 9 Redzone S&P+ 109.4 35
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.7 ACTUAL 33.0 +10.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 36 56 31 77
RUSHING 56 59 47 69
PASSING 30 55 24 83
Standard Downs 82 38 98
Passing Downs 17 15 25
Q1 Rk 51 1st Down Rk 57
Q2 Rk 100 2nd Down Rk 106
Q3 Rk 21 3rd Down Rk 36
Q4 Rk 28

6. ATTAAAACK!

There are two ways for your decent defense to be flawed: either you are too inefficient (bend-don't-break), or your focus on efficiency leads to big plays. You can succeed in either case; Michigan State, for instance, allows some of the biggest big plays in the country but succeeds by allowing very few of them.

FIU followed the Michigan State model. The Panthers were happy to risk big plays to make their own, and it frequently paid off. There were indeed big plays -- while FIU allowed only 86 gains of 10-plus yards (11th in the country), 21 of those went for 30-plus (90th). But FIU had a top-25 pass rush and a top-20 passing downs defense. They sacrificed size for speed, and it worked.

Most of last year's most aggressive pieces are back, including ends Michael Wakefield and Denzel Perine, linebacker Davison Collmon, and sticky corners Richard Leonard, Jeremian McKinnon, and Wilkenson Myrtil. The biggest loss, actually, came in the coaches' booth: coordinator Josh Conklin was impressive enough at FIU that new Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi (formerly the leader of the Michigan State defense) gave him the same role.

In turn, Turner brought aboard former Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House, in need of a job after Paul Chryst went to Wisconsin. Pitt's defense was similarly aggressive but struggled after losing Aaron Donald. House knows how to utilize a good pass rush and will find FIU's pieces to his liking.

(Turner also brought former EMU head coach Ron Cooper to his staff, which should be entertaining if nothing else.)

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 101.1 2.80 3.18 34.5% 82.8% 20.5% 127.1 7.0% 10.5%
Rank 56 44 51 23 124 48 23 23 20
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Michael Wakefield DE 6'3, 254 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 12 32.0 5.0% 14.5 8.0 0 3 4 1
Denzell Perine DE 6'3, 256 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 12 31.0 4.9% 9.5 6.5 0 1 2 1
Giovani Francois DE
12 31.0 4.9% 5.5 5.0 0 1 1 0
Lars Koht DT 6'5, 283 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 12 21.5 3.4% 3.0 1.5 0 0 0 0
Imarjaye Albury DT 6'0, 277 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8382 12 15.0 2.4% 3.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Darrian Dyson DT 6'4, 296 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8370 12 14.0 2.2% 4.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Leonard Washington DT 6'0, 305 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7400 11 3.5 0.5% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Marques Cheeks DT 6'3, 284 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8116
Josh Glanton DE 6'3, 253 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7200
Jermaine Sheriff DE 6'2, 233 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7556
Fermin Silva DE 6'1, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8361
Irick McDonald DE 6'3, 222 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8117
R.J. Harris DL 6'2, 263 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8115







7. Florida speed

Technically, FIU doesn't lack for size. Ends Wakefield and Perine both cross 250 pounds, and the top five returning tackles average 6'2, 289, which is neither enormous nor tiny. Still, FIU's defensive front boasted far more speed than resistance. The six primary contributors combined for 40 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks, and seven forced fumbles but got shoved around in short-yardage situations (Power Success Rate ranking: 124th).

Almost everybody's back up front. Turner says guys like former star recruits Darrian Dyson and Marques Cheeks "look like different guys" after offseason conditioning and weight training, but every head coach in America says that about somebody heading into spring practice. Until proven otherwise, FIU will have a speedy, aggressive front that you can run on.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Treyvon Williams LB 5'11, 229 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7839 12 42.5 6.7% 4.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Davison Colimon LB 6'1, 217 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7600 12 40.0 6.3% 8.0 4.0 1 0 0 1
Anthony Wint LB 6'0, 224 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7876 9 38.0 6.0% 0.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Jordan Guest LB 6'4, 221 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683 12 28.5 4.5% 2.0 1.0 0 1 1 0
Luis Rosado LB 6'2, 234 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7200 12 27.5 4.3% 2.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
De'Shawn Hazziez LB 6'2, 214 Jr. NR NR 12 12.0 1.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Fred Russ LB 5'10, 222 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7659 6 4.5 0.7% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Vontarius West LB 5'11, 195 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8331
Jeremy Derrick LB 6'2, 202 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7906
Sage Lewis LB 6'1, 228 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7980








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Demarkus Perkins S
11 57.5 9.0% 4.5 1.5 2 2 1 0
Justin Halley S
11 39.5 6.2% 0.5 0 0 3 0 0
Richard Leonard CB 5'9, 189 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7946 12 36.0 5.7% 1 0 5 7 2 2
Jordan Davis S 6'1, 218 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7400 12 34.0 5.3% 0 0 1 2 1 0
Jeremiah McKinnon CB 6'0, 194 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000 12 32.5 5.1% 2 0 2 5 1 0
Wilkenson Myrtil CB 6'0, 196 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7500 12 14.0 2.2% 0 0 2 2 0 0
Randy Harvey CB
11 13.5 2.1% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Shermarke Spence S 5'9, 182 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7444 12 12.5 2.0% 0 0 1 1 1 0
Deonte Wilson S 6'0, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7200 12 9.0 1.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Niko Gonzalez S 5'11, 181 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 9 6.5 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Vontarius West S 5'11, 195 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8331 12 4.5 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Xavier Hines CB 5'11, 180 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8274
Bobby Stinson DB 6'0, 161 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7556
Mark Bruno DB 5'10, 170 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7956
Tyree Johnson DB 5'9, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7656
Kenyatta Anderson CB 5'11, 182 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8222
Emmanuel Lubin CB 6'1, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8106
Olin Cushion III CB 5'9, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7746
Jestin Green CB 6'0, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7898

8. Safety play was key last year

Aside from end Giovani Francois, almost literally every member of the front seven is scheduled to return. That's reason for excitement, as is the return of last year's top three cornerbacks, who combined for 23 passes defensed, three tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles.

But starting safeties Demarkus Perkins and Justin Halley must be replaced, which is a bit scary. Perkins was an excellent playmaker, and Halley was important in making sure FIU didn't allow TOO many plays. The return of experienced junior Jordan Davis will help, but the safety depth chart gets awfully young. Quite a few of FIU's more touted signees are defensive backs, plus sophomores Shermarke Spence (two passes defensed in minimal playing time) and Vontarius West (former star recruit) seem to have plenty of potential. But a glitchy safety corps will quickly tamp down your aggressiveness.

(Side note: Olin Cushion III might have the greatest cornerback name ever, even if he's meant for more of a bend-don't-break defense.)

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Jose Laphitzondo 6'3, 184 Sr. 59 40.7 4 5 8 22.0%
Chris Ayers 6'0, 180 Jr. 23 35.3 3 6 5 47.8%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Austin Taylor 5'8, 170 Jr. 55 58.5 6 3 10.9%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Austin Taylor 5'8, 170 Jr. 29-30 11-15 73.3% 4-6 66.7%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Richard Leonard KR 5'9, 189 Sr. 24 25.7 0
Glenn Coleman KR 6 20.3 0
Richard Leonard PR 5'9, 189 Sr. 13 23.8 1
Clinton Taylor PR 5'10, 169 Sr. 7 10.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 90
Field Goal Efficiency 61
Punt Return Efficiency 68
Kick Return Efficiency 58
Punt Efficiency 98
Kickoff Efficiency 82
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 76

9. Decent field position components

There was nothing great nor terrible about FIU's special teams. Richard Leonard has loads of potential as a return man, and FIU boasted the rare situational punting platoon (Jose Laphitzondo is the 3-wood, Chris Ayers is the 9-iron). Basically, if FIU's offense can figure out how to move the chains, this unit and defensive big plays should lead to strong field position margins.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
5-Sep at Central Florida 60
12-Sep at Indiana 88
19-Sep N.C. Central NR
26-Sep at Louisiana Tech 35
3-Oct at Massachusetts 120
10-Oct UTEP 90
17-Oct at Middle Tennessee 87
24-Oct Old Dominion 108
31-Oct at Florida Atlantic 100
7-Nov Charlotte NR
14-Nov at Marshall 17
21-Nov Western Kentucky 50
Five-Year F/+ Rk -23.3% (102)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 102 / 92
2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 11 / -1.3
2014 TO Luck/Game +5.1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 16 (8, 8)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 4.7 (-0.7)

10. Optimist vs. pessimist

There are two ways to look at FIU. The optimist sees a team that lost a ton of close games and returns most of last year's two-deep (sans the receiving corps). FIU finished a healthy 90th in the F/+ rankings despite the 4-8 record and FCS loss, which speaks to potential. If the quarterback position is stable, FIU's schedule presents enough potential wins (eight opponents ranked 87th or worse in F/+ last year) that another three-win jump could be realistic.

The pessimist can make plenty of solid points. Based on turnovers luck (plus-5.1 points per game, mostly stemming from the defense recovering 19 of opponents' 25 fumbles), the Panthers were lucky to be in so many close games in the first place. Plus, there was a good amount of turnover on the defensive staff, and the quarterback position is unlikely to improve to any major degree. FIU faces four of those eight iffy opponents on the road. And after last year's strange schedule, which featured eight home games, the Panthers get only five.

FIU will likely be a better team, one that will probably get fewer lucky bounces and will definitely get fewer home games. That will tamp down major bowl hopes. But if the passing game isn't a total albatross, the Panthers will be a tough out, giving us an even more conflicted version of the job Ron Turner is doing.

Coaching isn't easy; neither is judging hires. We might find out we were wrong about Turner. (Or we might watch the offense continue to strangle growth until he's fired.)