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Opportunity awaits for FIU football in 2016, but are the Golden Panthers ready?

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If the injury bug is a bit kinder, FIU should be able to make a run at its first bowl in five years.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. A coaching redshirt year

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.

-- The big 2015 FIU football guide

Sometimes you can only learn so much about yourself. In 2014, Ron Turner's second FIU team used a little bit of turnovers luck and quite a bit of defensive improvement to move from 124th to 96th in the F/+ rankings and from 1-11 to 4-8. It returned most of a bad offense and almost all of a strong defense, aside from a couple of safeties and the defensive coordinator.

The offense was dismal enough to tamp down enthusiasm, but it wasn't hard for me to talk myself into the job Turner was doing. Turner's hire was as maligned as a hire could be, but one could begin to see how it might work out pretty well for FIU.

In 2015, however, FIU dealt with a different kind of luck: injuries luck. It had none. The Golden Panthers returned three starting offensive linemen and got a combined nine starts out of them. They got one game out of starting linebacker Davison Colimon and four out of Treyvon Williams. Their secondary, a strength in 2014, got plucked apart: three of the top five returnees (Jordan Davis, Wilkenson Myrtil, Shermarke Spencer) played a combined five games.

September was as cruel as it could possibly be from an injuries standpoint, and combined with a change in coordinator, the defense fell apart. In terms of S&P+, FIU's defense regressed by about 6.5 points per game, and while the offense improved by 5.5, it was a net loss.

Still, while FIU fell a bit in the advanced ratings, the win total went from four to five. The Golden Panthers alternated between helpless and awesome, crushing three C-USA foes (UTEP, ODU, Charlotte) by a combined 141-55 and continuing to hint at their potential despite an overcrowded treatment room.

The final two games of the year brought perhaps a predictable crash. FIU was run off the field by Marshall and WKU, undoing a lot of the positivity the first 10 games had put together.

Still, while quite a few C-USA teams got waylaid by injury in 2015, not many showed the flashes of quality that the Panthers did. And your post-injury year can often provide you with depth you didn't expect to have. FIU now returns eight linemen with at least seven games of starting experience, four starting linebackers (in a three-LB system), and six to eight starting defensive backs.

The offense, a question mark throughout Turner's tenure, must continue to improve, and the defense must prove it still has the ceiling it showed in 2014. And, of course, injuries could wreak havoc all over again. But if you're looking for a potential breakthrough among the teams in the lower half of C-USA, FIU might be your best bet.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 4-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 112 | Final S&P+ Rk: 108
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
3-Sep at Central Florida 128 15-14 W 15% 40% +12.0 +14.0
12-Sep at Indiana 61 22-36 L 22% 19% -5.4 -6.5
19-Sep NC Central N/A 39-14 W 66% 100% +3.5
26-Sep at Louisiana Tech 57 17-27 L 20% 5% +8.1 +4.5
3-Oct at Massachusetts 100 14-24 L 8% 3% -1.5 -7.0
10-Oct UTEP 125 52-12 W 94% 100% +25.9 +25.5
17-Oct at Middle Tennessee 82 34-42 L 21% 14% +4.0 +1.0
24-Oct Old Dominion 117 41-12 W 58% 93% +20.4 +16.5
31-Oct at Florida Atlantic 96 17-31 L 7% 2% -12.2 -16.5
7-Nov Charlotte 124 48-31 W 58% 97% +3.9 -1.0
14-Nov at Marshall 58 0-52 L 1% 0% -37.0 -40.0
21-Nov Western Kentucky 15 7-63 L 1% 0% -38.3 -39.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 20.9 112 34.1 101
Points Per Game 25.5 90 29.8 85

2. Up, down, done

The win expectancy figure above is intended to toss all the stats from a given game up into the air and announce that, with these stats, you could have expected to win this given game X percent of the time. It gives us a way of looking at which teams might have had loaded dice on their side. Sometimes you'll see a team played in a ton of games in the 30- to 70-percent range and that the final record was determined partially by chance.

Other times, you'll get FIU's 2015 season. The Golden Panthers either played well and won or played poorly and lost. After an unlikely win over UCF in the season opener, each of their final four wins were slam dunks above 90 percent in win expectancy. Meanwhile, all seven of their losses were below 20 percent in win expectancy, and five were at five percent or worse. After September 3, there was little room for doubt in any of these results.

With the depth issues that FIU was dealing with, it probably makes sense that the three worst performances of the season (from a percentiles perspective) came in the last four games. FIU undoubtedly faded. And the last two games were lost causes from the opening kickoff.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 2 games): 19% (record: 1-1 | average score: Opp 25, FIU 19)
  • Average Percentile Performance (middle 8 games): 42% (record: 4-4 | average score: FIU 33, Opp 24)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 2 games): 1% (record: 0-2 | average score: Opp 58, FIU 4)

In theory, improved health and depth can prevent the same type of fade from happening this time around. That's important because two of the four most highly projected opponents on the schedule show up in November again.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.18 104 IsoPPP+ 83.4 114
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.3% 94 Succ. Rt. + 87.1 114
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.0 71 Def. FP+ 33.5 118
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.5 59 Redzone S&P+ 87.8 113
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.1 ACTUAL 15 -7.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 106 115 114 114
RUSHING 122 119 118 122
PASSING 52 107 91 111
Standard Downs 116 112 115
Passing Downs 104 112 101
Q1 Rk 107 1st Down Rk 115
Q2 Rk 117 2nd Down Rk 103
Q3 Rk 115 3rd Down Rk 122
Q4 Rk 104

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Alex McGough 6'3, 218 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8158 269 420 2722 21 8 64.0% 24 5.4% 5.7
Trey Anderson 5 20 132 1 0 25.0% 1 4.8% 6.0
Bud Martin 6'0, 217 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7733
Christian Alexander 6'3, 221 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8297
Maurice Alexander 6'0, 180 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7915

3. Dink and dunk gets you only so far

Only when the bar is really low can you consider FIU's 2015 offensive output "improvement." The Golden Panther attack improved from horrendous to merely bad, but they still weren't particularly good at anything. And while you can perhaps blame offensive line shuffling for part of that, that will only get you so far. FIU has lacked at the skill positions for a while now.

Perhaps because of the line and a lack of confidence in the run, FIU's play-calling approach changed drastically in 2015. In 2014, the Panthers ran the ball 65 percent of the time on standard downs and 40 percent on passing downs; last fall those percentages shifted to 45 percent and 27 percent, respectively. And that manifested itself in the form of lots of dinks and lots of dunks. Alex McGough completed 64 percent of his passes, which seems impressive at first. But he averaged just 10.1 yards per completion -- only 25 of his 269 completions gained 25 yards.

An efficiency passing game can work if it's actually efficient. But while FIU's No. 91 ranking in Passing Success Rate+ was a relative strength, it wasn't something that could carry FIU against decent defenses.

If FIU could break at least a few big plays from short passes, the Golden Panthers were in business. In their last four wins, McGough completed 69 percent of his passes at 12.8 yards per completion -- not explosive, but not awful. In the other eight games, though? A 62 percent completion rate and just 8.7 yards per completion. You could see exactly what FIU wanted to do offensively, but it only occasionally worked.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Alex Gardner RB 5'10, 192 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8106 186 760 9 4.1 3.8 30.6% 2 2
Alex McGough QB 6'3, 218 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8158 64 275 3 4.3 3.8 34.4% 8 4
Anthony Jones RB 5'11, 190 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8226 48 243 2 5.1 6.3 31.3% 0 0
Anthon Samuel RB 32 104 1 3.3 3.7 21.9% 0 0
Trey Anderson QB 9 95 0 10.6 13.1 44.4% 0 0
Lamarq Caldwell RB 9 31 0 3.4 2.8 22.2% 0 0
Silas Spearman III RB 5'8, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7800
Napoleon Maxwell RB 6'0, 208 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7706
Alfonso Randolph RB 5'11, 197 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7800
Shawndarrius Phillips RB 5'11, 226 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7756
D'Angelo Ware RB 5'9, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8500






Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Thomas Owens WR 6'1, 198 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 88 51 638 58.0% 20.4% 7.3 56.8% 47.7% 1.42
Alex Gardner RB 5'10, 192 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8106 68 60 442 88.2% 15.8% 6.5 72.1% 51.5% 1.12
Clinton Taylor WR 58 37 387 63.8% 13.5% 6.7 67.2% 43.1% 1.44
Jonnu Smith TE 6'3, 232 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7833 56 36 397 64.3% 13.0% 7.1 64.3% 39.3% 1.70
Julian Williams WR 5'11, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7200 39 19 176 48.7% 9.0% 4.5 59.0% 30.8% 1.38
Akil Dan-Fodio TE 32 21 241 65.6% 7.4% 7.5 68.8% 50.0% 1.29
Ya'Keem Griner TE 31 21 225 67.7% 7.2% 7.3 54.8% 45.2% 1.47
Dennis Turner WR 6'0, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026 24 11 150 45.8% 5.6% 6.3 50.0% 29.2% 2.05
Anthony Jones RB 5'11, 190 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8226 11 5 22 45.5% 2.6% 2.0 72.7% 18.2% 1.07
Shawn Abrams WR 6'4, 175 Sr. NR NR 10 6 74 60.0% 2.3% 7.4 70.0% 50.0% 1.34
Anthon Samuel RB 6 4 16 66.7% 1.4% 2.7 66.7% 33.3% 0.82
Shug Oyegunle WR 5'9, 193 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7894 3 2 83 66.7% 0.7% 27.7 33.3% 33.3% 7.88
Juwan Caesar WR 2 1 3 50.0% 0.5% 1.5 100.0% 0.0% 0.00
Jonathan Pavlov TE 6'4, 251 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7894
Stantley Thomas WR 6'2, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7926
Tony Gaiter WR 5'9, 178 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8148
Darrius Scott WR 5'11, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7889







4. Big plays, somehow, some way

Here's a list of FIU returnees whose stats hint at potential explosiveness:

  • Sophomore running back Anthony Jones, whose 6.3 highlight yards per opportunity was well above average (anything over about 5 is pretty good, and anything over 10 means you're Dalvin Cook).
  • Junior receiver Thomas Owens caught a combined 15 passes for 282 yards (18.8 per catch) against Indiana, UTEP, and Charlotte (and averaged 9.9 per catch against everybody else).
  • Junior receiver Shug Oyegunle caught a 79-yard touchdown against UTEP, and junior Dennis Turner caught a 64-yard touchdown aganist NC Central. They otherwise combined for 11 catches and 90 yards.

That's pretty much it. These guys did most of their damage against NC Central (FCS) and UTEP (122nd in Def. S&P+), but we at least have visual evidence that they can get into the open field and outrun people.

There's experience in the skill position arsenal, but one way or another, FIU will need to generate a few more big plays if the Golden Panthers want to make a serious run at a bowl bid.

Maybe it comes via experience -- fast guys get smarter and more able to use their speed as they get more reps (and better blocking). Or maybe it comes from a newcomer. Freshman RB D'Angelo Ware was a mid-three-star recruit per the 247Sports Composite, and Tony Gaiter was a three-star as well. Stantley Thomas is a high-two-star with decent size.

It just has to come from somewhere. Dink and dunk might work on NC Central, but as we saw last year, it doesn't work on everybody. It forces you to be flawless in your execution, and FIU ... is not flawless.

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 87.1 2.53 3.38 30.8% 55.6% 21.6% 100.7 3.7% 6.8%
Rank 117 114 52 125 116 94 61 37 54
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Michael Montero C 6'2, 299 Sr. NR NR 12 12 2015 2nd All-CUSA
Aaron Nielsen LG 4 27
Jordan Budwig LG 6'4, 324 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7941 0 24
Dieugot Joseph LT 6'6, 297 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726 5 15
Daquane Wilkie RT 6'3, 284 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 12 12
Edens Sineace RT 6'5, 303 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 8 8
Trenton Saunders RG 6'4, 290 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8041 5 8
Chris Miller LG 6'4, 328 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7656 7 7
Kai Absheer RG 6'5, 305 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 7 7
Neal Mars C 6'3, 287 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652 0 0
Chris Flaig RG 6'5, 302 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7759 0 0
Josh Deuyour OL 6'9, 310 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7706 0 0
Dallas Connell OG 6'3, 283 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7785

Douglas Connell C 6'3, 288 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7678

Shane McGough C 6'2, 280 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7556

5. Injuries created a wealth of experience, part 1

That FIU's line stats improved at all could be a sign of good things to come. The Golden Panthers ranked 124th in Adj. Line Yards and 125th in Adj. Sack Rate in 2014, and while quick passing helped to keep pressure off of the QB, improvement to 117th and 61st, respectively, is still improvement. That FIU raised its level at least a little bit without almost any starting experience was impressive.

Aaron Nielsen, Jordan Budwig, and Dieugot Joseph had combined for 57 of FIU's 60 returning starts heading into 2015, and they combined to start just nine games. Budwig missed the whole season, and both Nielsen and Joseph missed about two-thirds. This forced freshmen like Daquane Wilkie, Chris Miller, and Kai Absheer into action, and while the result wasn't good, again, it wasn't any worse than 2014.

Now Budwig and Joseph rejoin a line that features a ton of sophomores and all-conference center Michael Montero. If FIU can establish the run at least a LITTLE bit and force defenses to mind the line of scrimmage, they can get more two-on-one opportunities in their quick passing game. And they can stress defenses to the point of giving up a few more big plays. The line might now have the depth to play its part in that equation.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.08 2 IsoPPP+ 94.6 85
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 48.6% 123 Succ. Rt. + 79.3 126
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.8 69 Off. FP+ 26.5 115
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.4 65 Redzone S&P+ 90.2 108
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.0 ACTUAL 18.0 -2.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 76 110 126 85
RUSHING 83 122 127 105
PASSING 61 102 116 82
Standard Downs 120 128 95
Passing Downs 87 108 70
Q1 Rk 104 1st Down Rk 125
Q2 Rk 110 2nd Down Rk 105
Q3 Rk 115 3rd Down Rk 115
Q4 Rk 122

6. From one extreme to the other

Before essentially trading coordinators with Pitt, FIU's defense was admirably aggressive. The 2014 Golden Panther defense was willing to sacrifice a few big plays in the name of three-and-outs, and for the most part it worked. FIU was good against the run and better against the pass, and they closed out drives beautifully: 17th in Passing Downs S&P+, 35th in Redzone S&P+.

Defensive coordinator Josh Conklin was did well enough that new Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi plucked him away to run a different Panther defense. In turn, Turner hired Matt House, who had been Paul Chryst's defensive coordinator at Pitt in 2014.

Between the coordinator change and the injury-addled back seven, FIU's defensive identity flipped around 180 degrees. In 2015, the Panthers ranked 126th in Success Rate+ but allowed just 46 gains of 20-plus yards, 17th in the country. Aggressive in 2014, they turned into one of the bendiest bend-don't-break defenses in FBS. Consequently, it faded through the course of 60 minutes, getting a little bit worse in each successive quarter, and it offered almost no resistance against Marshall and WKU at the end of the season.

In 2016, we should find out how much of this flexibility was design and how much of this was necessity. If the injury bug doesn't bite quite as much, House should be able to deploy a pretty solid back seven, but now he has something new to worry about: a completely reconstructed pass rush.

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 90.9 3.03 2.30 44.1% 62.5% 18.2% 94.8 3.8% 6.7%
Rank 102 88 4 122 44 90 75 103 79
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Lars Koht DT 12 37.5 5.7% 8.0 4.0 0 0 1 0
Michael Wakefield DE 12 33.5 5.1% 15.0 7.5 0 2 4 0
Denzell Perine DE 12 33.0 5.0% 10.5 4.5 0 3 2 0
Imarjaye Albury DT 6'1, 293 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8382 12 12.0 1.8% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Darrian Dyson DT 10 10.5 1.6% 1.0 0.5 0 1 0 0
Marques Cheeks DT 6'3, 290 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8116 11 8.5 1.3% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Josh Glanton DE 6'3, 263 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7200 9 7.5 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Leonard Washington DT 6'0, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7400 12 5.5 0.8% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 1
Fermin Silva DE 6'2, 234 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8361 9 5.0 0.8% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
John Broome DE 6'2, 241 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7794 6 5.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Milord Juste DT 6'0, 268 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7959 7 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Johnson DE 6'3, 266 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7744 12 2.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Madison Kubat DE 6'2, 237 Sr. NR NR 6 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Jermaine Sheriff DE 6'2, 250 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7556
R.J. Harris DE 6'3, 263 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8115
Newton Salisbury DE 6'3, 246 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000
Devontay Taylor DE 6'3, 278 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793
Andrew Tarver DT 6'1, 305 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8054

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Anthony Wint LB 6'0, 224 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7876 12 64.5 9.7% 5.5 0.5 1 2 0 0
Jephete Matilus LB 12 41.0 6.2% 5.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Davison Colimon
(2014)
LB 6'1, 217 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7600 12 40.0 30.0% 8.0 4.0 1 0 0 1
Vontarius West LB 6'0, 203 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8331 12 30.5 4.6% 3.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Treyvon Williams LB 6'0, 229 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7839 4 26.5 4.0% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
De'Shawn Hazziez LB 6'2, 214 Sr. NR NR 12 14.5 2.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Luis Rosado LB 9 11.0 1.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jordan Guest LB 6'4, 221 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683 10 9.5 1.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Fred Russ LB 6'0, 228 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7659 7 4.0 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0

7. The only playmakers are gone

At first glance, it appears the linebackers didn't really do their jobs in 2015. FIU did well in short-yardage situations and made a decent number of stops in the backfield, but if a runner got past the line of scrimmage, he ran a long way.

This, along with a pass rush that was almost completely driven by the line, gives you an idea of last year's front-seven strengths and weaknesses. FIU was able to penetrate a bit with its defensive line. But in 2016 the linebacking corps better be ready to step up because the line is replacing four of its top five, including each of its three best pass rushers.

The defensive tackle position appears to be in decent shape. Seniors Imarjaye Albury, Marques Cheeks and Leonard Washington all return, and all bring decent size to the table. But active tackle Lars Koht is gone, as are a pair of ends that combined for 25.5 tackles for loss. Can a set of ends led by sophomore Fermin Silva (a former star recruit) and senior Josh Glanton be nearly as effective? And if not, is higher aggression even an option for House?

Linebacker is definitely more well-stocked with the return of Davison Colimon; he should be able to replicate Jephete Matilus' production, and former star recruit Vontarius West might be ready to raise his game in his junior campaign. But it's possible that improvement at LB is simply offset by regression up front. And that's a little scary.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Richard Leonard CB 12 52.0 7.9% 2.5 0 1 8 0 0
Tyree Johnson S 5'9, 188 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7656 12 51.5 7.8% 1 0 0 4 1 0
Jeremiah McKinnon CB 12 48.0 7.3% 2.5 0.5 3 8 1 0
Niko Gonzalez S 5'11, 191 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 10 36.0 5.4% 2.5 0 2 4 0 0
Jordan Davis
(2014)
S 6'1, 218 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7400 12 34.0 5.3% 0 0 1 2 1 0
Xavier Hines S 5'11, 189 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8274 11 28.5 4.3% 1.5 1 0 0 0 0
Mark Bruno CB 5'10, 178 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7956 11 22.5 3.4% 2 1 1 4 1 0
Deonte Wilson CB 6'0, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7200 11 15.0 2.3% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Wilkenson Myrtil
(2014)
CB 6'0, 196 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7500 12 14.0 2.2% 0 0 2 2 0 0
Shermarke Spence (2014) S 5'9, 182 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7444 12 12.5 2.0% 0 0 1 1 1 0
Emmanuel Lubin CB 6'1, 187 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8106 9 7.0 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kenyatta Anderson CB 6'0, 188 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8222 9 4.5 0.7% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Jeremy Derrick LB 6'2, 202 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7906
Sage Lewis LB 6'1, 232 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7980
Hunter Orem LB 6'2, 207 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7966
Shakur Cooper LB 6'1, 217 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900








Jestin Green CB 6'0, 184 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7898
Isaiah Hill S 5'11, 195 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826








8. Injuries created a wealth of experience, part 2

If the pass rush fades, the secondary will be asked to do more than it did a year ago, and it will have to do so without its two starting cornerbacks; Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon combined for five tackles for loss, four interceptions, and 16 break-ups last year, and that puts pressure on players like sophomore Mark Bruno and seniors Deonte Wilson and Wilkenson Myrtil to produce, along with perhaps former three-star signees Emmanuel Lubin and Kenyatta Anderson.

But at the very least, we know that safety should be a strength. Sophomore Tyree Johnson was thrust into a pretty significant role last year, as were juniors Niko Gonzalez and Xavier Hines. But they're all back, as are previously injured Jordan Davis and Shermarke Spence. Gonzalez and Hines are both potentially small enough to move to corner if need be, and if they were to do so, the depth should still allow FIU to field good safeties.

The return of Myrtil and Davis in particular allows for a situation where FIU loses two of four starters but still returns four staters.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Stone Wilson 5'10, 178 So. 42 40.5 2 18 10 66.7%
Chris Ayers 6'0, 180 Sr. 21 39.4 3 9 4 61.9%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Austin Taylor 5'8, 176 Sr. 57 59.6 18 0 31.6%
Stone Wilson 5'10, 178 So. 5 61.0 1 0 20.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Austin Taylor 5'8, 176 Sr. 32-36 8-10 80.0% 2-4 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Richard Leonard KR 29 21.6 0
Anthony Jones KR 5'11, 190 So. 9 23.3 0
Richard Leonard PR 15 10.7 0
Clinton Taylor PR 3 7.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 74
Field Goal Efficiency 66
Punt Return Success Rate 9
Kick Return Success Rate 60
Punt Success Rate 83
Kickoff Success Rate 73

9. Lots of potential on special teams

So many C-USA teams were reliant on freshmen in key special teams roles, and FIU was no different -- punter Stone Wilson was decent in his first year, and Anthony Jones showed promise as a backup kick returner.

But unlike many of the teams we've previewed so far, FIU was actually decent in special teams. The pressure's on Jones and whoever else is tasked with replacing Richard Leonard, a solid return man, but Wilson is back and kicker Austin Taylor proved reasonably strong-legged. Taylor needs to bring a little bit more consistency to the table (he was 2-for-4 on long field goals but missed four PATs), but FIU ranked 83rd or better in every special teams efficiency category. It could be worse.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
1-Sep Indiana 56 -13.0 23%
10-Sep Maryland 62 -12.0 24%
17-Sep at Massachusetts 127 1.0 52%
24-Sep Central Florida 99 -2.1 45%
1-Oct Florida Atlantic 100 -1.4 47%
8-Oct at UTEP 126 0.8 52%
15-Oct at Charlotte 123 -1.2 47%
22-Oct Louisiana Tech 84 -6.6 35%
29-Oct Middle Tennessee 90 -4.8 39%
5-Nov at Western Kentucky 45 -21.7 10%
19-Nov Marshall 75 -9.5 29%
26-Nov at Old Dominion 111 -4.5 40%
Projected wins: 4.4
Five-Year F/+ Rk -30.1% (112)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 105 / 98
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 3 / -2.1
2015 TO Luck/Game +2.1
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 64% (80%, 48%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 4.7 (0.3)

10. Count the tossups

If FIU can simply keep most of its intended starters on the field at any given time, the Golden Panthers should rise back into the top 100 and, with seven opponents projected 90th or worse S&P+, threaten for their first bowl bid since 2011. And with two power-conference foes -- Indiana and Maryland -- visiting to start the season, there's a chance for a statement win on top.

I like the depth and experience Ron Turner has put together, both intentionally and by way of injury/necessity. The offense just needs a little something from the run game, and the defense needs to produce just a little bit of a pass rush for the Golden Panthers to end up a couple of steps ahead of the league's bottom teams. We'll see if they get it.

We saw FIU's upside on four occasions last year, even with the injuries. Now we just need to see more of it. If FIU is around 90th instead of 110th, it could swing a lot of games. Following the Indiana and Maryland games, the Golden Panthers play seven consecutive games in which it has between a 35 and 52 percent chance of winning. If they're a little bit better than projected, they could go 5-2 or better. Worse, and they could go 1-6 and plant Turner firmly on the hot seat.