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FIU Football: Four Offseason Storylines

Here’s the first installment of our two-part offseason storyline series.

One of the biggest critique's towards the end of Butch Davis’ tenure was the regime’s handling off the offseason — most specifically the transfer portal. Following last Saturday’s season-finale, Mike MacIntyre and the FIU program turn their sights squarely on an offseason that will be the group’s first full session in Miami.

After a 4-8 season, MacIntyre and his staff will look to replicate Davis’ efforts in building relationships within the South Florida high school football landscape, but also have several questions from this year’s group to address — including managing a transfer portal that has already seen three starters from last year’s team declare an intent to enter.

Here’s the first look at four offseason storylines during the early part of what will be a key offseason for the Panthers.

1. Transfer Portal

Whether FIU fans like it or not, the transfer portal is inherently going to fall as a disadvantage for the Panthers — and virtually all schools who aren’t in the Power Five. In the early days of the portal, the players most desired were former four and five-star prospects who were buried on the depth charts of Power Five programs.

Fast forward four years into the portal era and Power Five teams are now using Group of Five and FCS teams as a glorified extended high school recruiting process. Players who slipped through the cracks and landed at the G5 and FCS level and outperform the competition are prime targets for P5 programs.

Last season saw two members of the FIU offensive line end up at Power Five programs and a third as a starter in the Mountain West. MacIntyre is tasked with trying to keep as many players out of the portal as possible — but even more importantly — having a strategy to replace those who inevitably leave.

Star wideout Tyrese Chambers announced his re-entry to the portal early this week after testing the waters last season. Chambers has yet to announce whether or not he’ll turn pro or remain in the college game. As a grad transfer, Chambers is clear to play immediately, if he chooses to remain in the college game.

Rising cornerback Andrew Volmar and ultra-talented tight end Rivaldo Fairweather announced that they’ll enter the portal, giving MacIntyre two substantial losses in the first week of the offseason.

Players such as Gaethan Bernadel and Demetrius Hill among others could opportunities and keeping them in-tow would exponentially help the Panthers’ rebuilding efforts.

2. Quarterback

After entering the season with more questions than answers at the quarterback position, 2022’s output at QB didn’t necessarily play out perfectly for MacIntyre, but it did provide a substantial foundation to build upon.

Former three-star prospect Grayson James is no longer a player that has the label of unknown, following his 10 starts in 2022, seeing the sophomore throw for 1,962 yards with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. James showed several flashes of the potential that had him highly-regarded by the previous coaching staff and should develop with another offseason.

“He’s an extremely talented kid, his arm-talent and ability to absorb things and regurgitate the information is impressive,” said offensive coordinator David Yost. “The more he sees, good or bad, it helps him because he’s seen it and he has a database that he can pull from to help him progress. The offseason will be about progression and working on his feet, when he get his feet right, he can make good decisions and when he’s balanced he becomes an accurate thrower of the ball.”

One year prior to James’ arrival, Haden Carlson was a highly-touted three-star prospect who drew rave reviews from Davis. However, he served as the number three quarterback for the bulk of his first three seasons in Miami — until last Saturday.

Carlson’s 414-yard, four-touchdown performance, while in a one-game sample size where the Tampa native didn’t learn he would play until 3.5 hours prior till kickoff, is a glimpse into his potential and ability to develop with playing time.

The lone start isn’t enough to undo James’ 10 games worth of experience. But is it enough to give MacIntyre and Yost comfort enough to stand pat at the position with those two, freshman Amari Jones and the possibility of opening-day starter Gunnar Holmberg’s return?

3. Offensive Line

The Panthers’ offensive line started eight different combinations in 2022, due to injury or players leaving the program. As a result, trying to build any sort of continuity amongst a group that featured several first-time FBS starters was futile.

With that being said, the group did perform admirably against competition of an equal talent level and after a full season, should have some of the growing pains out of the way under position coach Greg Austin.

“It’s about getting the guys to play cohesive and play with grit, I look at the start of the season to now and we’ve made tremendous gains but we need to continue to level it up,” Austin. “As far as the young guys playing early, that’s what you came here for, you didn’t come here to sit the bench, it’s about now making the same mistake twice and generally speaking they’ve done a good job of understanding what we’re trying to accomplish.”

MacIntyre have a pair of verbal commitments from three-star high school offensive linemen Jaheim Buchanon and Daniel Michel. Should the 16 players from the year-end group return to FIU, that should be enough to stand pat in the offseason and focus the recruiting efforts on other areas.

4. Wide Receiver

With Chambers’ and Fairweather’s pending departure, that leaves the Panthers without their top-two pass catchers from last season. Since the start of the season, Randall St. Felix, Jacolby Hewitt and Sharod Johnson have left the program. While FIU has signed several three-star recruits at the position, the losses make the unit of the most inexperienced on the team heading into the offseason.

Kris Mitchell was able to fend-off early season injuries to have a nice year as a first-time starter and should hold onto that role entering next year. Behind him are a cluster of players who saw extended playing time, but will be looking to build off of this year.

Dean Patterson’s entire football career has been defined by steady development and this offseason should be no different. At 6-2, 200-pounds, he’s easily the most sizable target returning.

Artez Hooker, Jalen Bracey, Ross Fournet and Jay Barry Jr. earned playing time this year, with Bracey having the most defined role as a slot wideout. Whether MacIntyre and company turn to the portal or the JUCO ranks to bring in more experience at the position remains to be seen.