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FIU Panthers 2016 Season Preview

Is this the year FIU’s patience with Ron Turner pays off?

Marshall v Florida International

If you dump a coach unceremoniously you must stink at football for a few years. Those are the rules. When Ole Miss got rid of David Cutcliffe after his first losing season and hired Ed Orgeron as his replacement the Rebels attended zero bowl games in three years, with a 10-25 record.

After firing Mario Cristobal despite cleaning up the program and guiding FIU to back-to-back bowl games and their first bowl win, FIU hired Ron Turner. FIU’s record over the next three years? 10-26.

Those are the rules.

But after suffering for three years, FIU could breakthrough and achieve their first bowl appearance since 2011. Ron Turner’s pragmatic style isn’t the best fit in Miami, but his approach has resulted in FIU improving their win total each season under his watch.

With the return of Alex McGough, Alex Gardner, and Thomas Owens, it isn’t a stretch to say that FIU should expect an uptick in offensive production. Gardner has displayed flashes but has yet to put it together.

With an offense that returns all but one starter off of last year’s offensive line this could be the year we see Gardner take the next step and become one of the best running backs in Conference USA.

Since Ron Turner has been the coach his pro-style offense has always had issues with consistency. What hasn’t been the issue under his watch is defense.

In 2014 FIU’s defense was easily their best unit and it lead to Josh Conklin becoming Pitt’s new defensive coordinator. In 2015 the defensive unit was led by Matt House and although the unit outperformed the offense, they took a step back altogether.

This year the defense must replace their best pass rushers Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of absolute options. The defensive tackle position is in good shape with seniors Imarjaye Albury, Marques Cheeks, and Leonard Washington holding down the fort but they must get more production from the three. Last year they combined for less than three tackles for loss.

The secondary is stacked with players who saw playing time due to injuries and could be the best unit on defense. Tyree Johnson looked good as a true freshman last season and with the return of Shermarke Spence and Jordan Davis, you could easily see FIU having one of the best secondaries in CUSA.

2016 Outlook

Much has been made about FIU’s lack of success on the recruiting trail compared to the other G5 schools in the state of Florida and it shows as this roster is littered with two-star prospects.

But Ron Turner has built a roster full of depth and experience, and unlike FAU who will expect a ton of young players to take on bigger roles, the Panthers will rely on upperclassmen for production

Suffice to say, the time for Ron Turner to breakthrough is now. If the Panthers don’t make it to a bowl game this season I don’t see him getting another year.

The schedule is tricky as S&P+ projects four wins for FIU this season but FIU’s schedule features several beatable teams. This is CUSA after all.

I could see the Panthers winning eight games this year with a monumental win over Indiana or Maryland. I could also see a three-win season with disappointing losses to Massachusetts and Charlotte.

I say the Panthers fall somewhere in between and go 5-7. I like Alex Gardner and could see him really taking the next step. I think the defense will at least be decent. But I don’t trust Ron Turner to get FIU over the hump. He always makes at least one decision on Saturday that puzzles me and with the margin of error being so slim for this team I just don’t see him being the reason FIU takes the next step. Whether Pete Garcia feels the same way remains to be seen.