New FIU head coach Butch Davis signed the best recruiting class in recent memory for FIU as the Panthers signed the fourth best recruiting class in Conference USA, with 12 three star recruits set to call Miami their next home. We will take a look at the new roster and do a position-by-position breakdown of what the roster looks like going into Spring Camp.
Returning contributors: Alex Gardner (SR), 181 Rushes for 930 yards with 6 touchdowns and 4 fumbles. Anthony Jones (JR), 116 Rushes for 562 yards with 4 touchdowns and 0 fumbles.
Incoming recruits: D’Vonte Price (3 Star)
What we know: Alex Gardner is the lightning to Anthony Jones’ thunder. The duo combined for 1492 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Gardner has been a known commodity since his freshman season but Jones was a player who had yet to make an impact as a Panther during Ron Turner’s tenure. Once Turner was fired Jones began to receive more playing time.
In the eight games with Ron Cooper as the interim head coach Jones averaged 11 carries for 58 yards. In three of those games he rushed for at least 90 yards. It’s no coincidence that FIU won each of those contests.
When Gardner and Jones were tearing it up on the ground FIU won (Gardner averaged 102 yards while Jones averaged 85.5 yards per game in wins). When they weren’t they were losing. The Panthers ranked 42nd in the country in Rushing IsoPPP, a pedestrian 77th in Rushing S&P and a horrible 120th in Power Success Rate.
Gardner has battled with inconsistency as a Panther and remains the most dynamic player of the offense. He has had flashes of great vision, top-end speed and can catch the ball too but he has yet to put it all together for a full season.
If Butch Davis and Rich Skrosky are able to maximize Gardner’s potential the FIU rushing attack will be one of the best in the nation.
Joining Gardner and Jones will be incoming freshman D’Vonte Price who was looked at by several P5 schools. With his size and speed it wouldn’t shock me at all if Price saw the field this year.
Final thought: Alex Gardner is FIU’s best skill position player but despite his unique skill set he has never rushed for over 1000 yards in his career. With the emergence of Anthony Jones last year Butch Jones should feature a run-first offense and if Gardner can play to his potential he could be the best Conference USA running back in 2017.
Position grade: B+. We have seen how good Alex Gardner and Anthony Jones can look in stretches but now is the time they put it together for a full season. Both will be the pillars of the offense in 2017 and should FIU reach a bowl game they will be one of the reasons why.