While there’s still plenty of logistics to be worked out before the 2022 FIU Panthers can move full speed ahead with their sights set on spring practices, first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre has started putting together his coaching staff and shaping his roster for the immediate future.
Undoubtedly, the task ahead of him will be daunting, as the Panthers are looking to replace almost half of last year’s roster and rebuild a program that hasn’t beaten an FBS opponent since November of 2019.
Here are five offseason questions facing FIU with less than a month until the late signing period.
Coaching Staff — Defense
MacIntyre’s staff has started to take shape with several hires having taken place, most notably former Texas Tech and Utah State offensive coordinator David Yost. Yost brings a marked change from the previous five years under Rich Skrosky and Andrew Breiner, as his offensive philosophy is based in playing high-tempo.
However, all eyes should be placed firmly on who MacIntyre is able to land at the helm of an FIU defense that is in major need of rejuvenating.
The Panthers have ranked in the bottom third of C-USA teams in sacks since 2018 — and are dead last in sacks from the defensive line. Against the run, FIU ranks last among C-USA teams in rushing yards allowed since ‘18.
85 Players/Spring Roster
The Panthers were besieged with entries to the transfer portal and players leaving the roster since the start of the 2018 season.
Now, coupled with graduating seniors and veteran players who have chosen not to return with the coaching change and FIU is in very real danger of not reaching the 85 scholarship limit — even with signing 32 players this recruiting cycle.
How close FIU can get to 85 will be a major question mark, followed by exactly which players will appear on the spring roster.
With Max Bortenschlager choosing to depart, FIU will welcome a new signal-caller in 2022 and most notably for the first time since 2014 (Alex McGough) — they’re facing the prospect of opening with a quarterback who will be making their first career start.
The positive is MacIntyre and Yost have the benefit of two highly-touted former three-star prospects in freshmen Haden Carlson and Grayson James.
Carlson earned rave reviews from the prior coaching staff for his playmaking ability in spurts, but he battled a bout with COVID-19 that affected his chances to compete for playing time last year.
James is also well-regarded and served as the number two quarterback last year, seeing mop-up duty in six contests, going 18-27 for 162 yards and one touchdown pass.
Can FIU find players who can make an immediate impact?
As mentioned above, FIU is in need of bodies. Over the past four seasons, the transfer portal hasn’t been kind to the Panthers. While the portal did yield James Morgan, who ended up leading the team to two bowl berths — Jeremiah Holloman, Alexy Jean-Baptiste, Chris Whittaker and Tyson Maeva are among players whose FIU tenures left more to be desired.
If MacIntyre can find experienced players out of the portal who can contribute immediately, that will go a long way to helping cushion the blow of the level of roster turnover that the team is facing.
Running Back Rotation
With the graduation of D’Vonte Price, the FIU backfield will be inexperienced. However, just like the quarterback position, the running back room isn’t lacking talent. 2021’s season finale saw a glimpse into what could be for the Panthers, as Flex Joseph and Eric Wilson Jr. rushed 28 times for 161 yards at Southern Miss. Both are former three-star recruits who have patiently waited their turn and both have shown playmaking ability.
Pair the homerun threats with 6-3, 225-pound bruiser Shaun Peterson Jr., who should be better in ‘22 after recovering from major knee surgery following the 2020 season and the run game should play a major factor in this upcoming year — if it can live up to its potential.