Signing day represents a make-or-break period for most teams, especially G5 programs on the cusp of bowl eligibility. A few great recruiting moves can change the tides and grant a program momentum coming into a new season.
Florida International has yet to find consistency in that regard. Third year head coach Ron Turner has produced only a single top 100 class during his tenure, with 247sports.com ranking his 2015 class at 97 out of all Division 1 programs.
Turner has new room on his roster for the upcoming class, having 19 seniors gone from his current team. But he will have to pick his spots, as he has mentioned his lack of scholarships recently after adding three early enrollees to the team on Dec. 18. (Offensive Linemen Douglas and Dallas Connell, along with safety Isaiah Hill).
"We are having a tremendous recruiting class right now," he said "I wish we had about another 10-15 scholarships because there are a lot of good players out there that we are not going to be able to take."
With that fact in mind, I'll take a look at how well Turner has recruited to his needs with signing day nearly a month away.
Turner's staff has heavily recruited wide receivers in this year's class. While only losing Clinton Taylor to graduation as a key producer, the Panthers have been known to use a deep rotation of wide outs in the past.
Eight players registered at least 100 yards of receiving and 10 receptions on the roster during the last season, and that doesn't look like it will change in the current system.
FIU's class includes a trio of wide out commits to watch in Anthony "Elbre" Gaiter IV, Ulice Gillard and Darrius Scott.
Gaiter, Gillard and Scott all are quick, but Gillard carries the size advantage at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds. Scott and Gaiter would presumably need a year to gain size, as both currently sit under the 170 pound mark.
The signing of those receivers should serve as added depth and future production potential while junior tight end Jonnu Smith and sophomore receiver Thomas Owens serve out their time as starting quarterback Alex McGough's top targets.
Much of Turner's remaining offensive focus seems to have gone to bolstering his offensive line, which gave up 27 sacks (T-74th in least sacks allowed). As mentioned before, the Connell twins of First Coast High School in Jacksonville make up a pair of early enrollees for the class of 2016.
Among the six recruits is Alex McGough's younger brother Shane. His signing with FIU could see him potentially become part of the line that protects his elder brother.
In total, the Panthers have 14 offensive commits, with the breakdown as follows:
*All schools in Florida unless noted
QB: 1 Justin Huesman (Braden River)
RB: 1 Shawndarrius Phillips (Atlantic High)
TE: 1 Zach Armour (Cocoa HS)
WR: 4 Darrius Scott (Booker T. Washington), Ulice Gillard (Lake Nona), Anthony Gaiter (Westminster Christian), Stanley Thomas (North Port)
OL: 6 Dallas Connell (First Coast), Doug Connell (First Coast), Bryan Ditchman (Lincoln Way Central, New Lenox, IL), Nate Haskins (Boone), Shane McGough (Gaither) , Wyatt Panaccione (Countryside)
K: 1 Jose Borregales (Booker T. Washington)
FIU has its biggest losses on the defensive front, especially in their secondary unit. The graduation of cornerbacks Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon leaves a massive hole to fill, as the duo combined for four interceptions (McKinnon had three) and 16 passes defended for the Panthers last year.
With only two corners left on roster, the recruiting focus in defense should be primarily placed on the position. Isaiah Brown and Jadarius Bryd are the Panthers' duo of three-star defensive back commits, and possibly two of the most important pieces of the class.
Brown seems like easiest pickup of the two, as he recently told Corey Bender of Scout.com he would stay after originally de-commiting.
Lanky Tampa Bay Technical DB Isaiah Brown tells me he's "staying with #FIU." He announced de-commitment earlier: https://t.co/t3AFVcif2K— Corey Bender (@Corey_Bender) December 23, 2015
Securing both players would be huge for a unit that has a single returning player with playing time in Wilkinson Myrtil, who only played in three games last season.
Turner's remaining focus should go towards improving his run defense, which will lose a duo of All-Conference USA picks in defensive ends Denzell Perine and Michael Wakefield. Their departure leaves JUCO transfer Newton Sailsberry as the lone end on roster.
Shakur Cooper could be one of the Panthers answers to solving that lack of depth. A three-star prospect out of Coral Gables High School, he ranked as the eight best player in Miami-Dade County according to South Florida High School Sports preseason rankings.
Cooper amassed 29 sacks alone in his junior year, and has a burst off the line that could put fear into quite a few quarterbacks come fall. Whether or not he is dropped back as a linebacker or kept in the line would fill one of FIU's most pressing needs in stopping plays in the backfield.
In total, the Panthers have 10 defensive commits:
DT : 1 Andrew Tarver (McEachern, Powder Springs, GA)
DE: 2 Shakur Cooper (Coral Gables), Matt Kramer (Lakeland)
LB: 1 Donavan Thompson (Miami Cental)
DB: 4 JoJo Lewis (Braden River), Jadarius Byrd (Ed White), Isaiah Brown (Tampa Bay Tech), Hunter Orem (Lake Gibson)
Safety: 2 Damien Crumitie (Leon), Isaiah Hill (Florida HS)
Right now, Turner is looking at what could be his best class while at FIU and potentially a top class in the program's short history. He has the opportunity to immediately address needs on the defensive side of the ball at thinly staffed positions and add depth to his offensive line and receiving core.
Turner's seat right now is hotter than a noon home game in early September, but a strong recruiting season would be a step in the right direction.