2009 Florida International Golden Panthers Football Preview
2008 Record: (5-7, 3-4)
2008 Bowl: none
Coach: Mario Cristobal (6-18 at Florida International, 6-18 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Bill Legg
Defensive Coordinator: Phillip Galiano
Other Key Returnees: OT Joe Alajajian, G Mario Caraballo, LB Tyler Clawson, WR Greg Ellingson, G Andy Leavine, OT Ula Matavao, WR Junior Mertile, S Ashlyn Parker, K Dustin Rivest, C Brad Serini, DE Armond Willis
Key Losses for FIU: DT Dan Chacreton, LB Mike Dominguez, G Dustin Gibson, LB Ryan Martinez, CB Robert Mitchell, RB A’mod Ned, DE Quentin Newman, DT Jarvis Penerton, RB Julian Reams
Just about everybody figured Florida International was the worst team in the FBS in 2008. Instead, the Golden Panthers won five games and were extremely close to becoming bowl eligible. And things could be even better this year. Coach Mario Cristobal continues to tap the deep talent pool in Florida and the program is well ahead of schedule and should compete for a bowl spot this year.
Florida International's Strengths:
Quarterback Paul McCall is not the most efficient quarterback in the Sun Belt conference, but he does have a decent arm and can make plays. Receiver T.Y. Hilton caught 41 passes for 1,013 yards and seven touchdowns. That is a lot of yards for just 41 catches. Hilton is a big play receiver and he will have plenty more big plays in 2009. With fellow receivers Greg Ellingson and Junior Mertile back and tight end Dudley LaPorte entering the mix after transferring in from Utah, the passing game should be in the top half of the conference. It was the ground game that slowed the offense in 2008 and now Julian Reams and A’mod Ned are gone. That leaves the pressure on sophomore Darriet Perry who only played in two games as a freshman, but tallied 173 yards and two touchdowns. The offensive line gave up a ton of sacks, but they do return just about everybody. They will have to keep McCall on his feet and pave the way for Perry if FIU has dreams of bowling.
Florida International's Weaknesses:
The defense was the definition of average in 2008. They ranked fourth in rush and pass defense in the conference and, not surprisingly, fourth in total defense as well. But now some key pieces are gone and the Golden Panthers might not have the players to fill the holes. The front four has some, literally, big shoes to fill. Tackles Dan Chacreton and Jarvis Penerton might not have been the best run stoppers in the league, but they were experienced players. Senior Jonas Murrell and his 6-2, 340 pound frame can certainly fill those shoes, but will they be as productive as Chacreton and Penerton? The secondary has junior cornerback Anthony Gaitor to build around, but must replace everybody else.
The Bottom Line for the Golden Panthers:
The strength of the defense is in the middle with linebacker Scott Bryant. The 5-10 senior led the team in tackles and added 7.5 tackles-for-loss. It is Tyler Clawson who is in the middle of the defense and he is back for his senior season. The linebackers will be the strength of the defense, but can Bryant carry this defense? If he can, Florida International could win the six games they need to be bowl eligible.
By Joel Welser
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