After landing 21 players and Conference USA’s top-rated recruiting class during December’s early signing period, the Panthers have their sights squarely on February 1st’s National Signing Day.
With just over three weeks until NSD, Mike MacIntyre has been open about using the upcoming period to scour the transfer portal market for depth — or players who can compete for starting roles immediately.
“We’ll have an opportunity to look at the portal and the way we do the portal is we search kids from the state of Florida, South Florida, Tampa, Orlando and Miami first and then work our way up, because we want the kids to have a connection to here and want to be here,” said MacIntyre.
The Panthers have already hosted several players for visits including former Miami Hurricanes’ linebacker Avery Huff.
Here’s a look at the offseason notebook on the Panthers’ recruiting, Scott Carr’s scheduling philosophy and more.
Scott Carr’s Scheduling Philosophy
With conference realignment in full swing, one of the major questions facing FIU Athletic Director Scott Carr was how would he look to fill the Panthers’ schedule vacancies in upcoming seasons.
Carr and Florida Atlantic AD Brian White both emphasized a want to continue the “Shula Bowl” rivalry, as both teams will play from 2024-2027. Carr spoke about the importance placed on the FAU game, his scheduling philosophy and the need to bring premier teams — and attractions to FIU Stadium.
“We felt the most important game we could do was Florida Atlantic,” said Carr. “We have four-game series starting with them in 2024 and running through 2027, so we’re excited about that.”
In regards to Power Five opponents, Carr notes that the goal is to play a named opponent in each year.
“We have Arkansas on the schedule and we’re there in 2023, we’ll be at Indiana in 2024,” said Carr. “So we’re working on 2025 and beyond now. Our scheduling philosophy, the goal is to play a guarantee game every year, so one of our four non-conference games will be a guarantee game.”
In 2019, then UCF and FIU AD’s Danny White and Pete Garcia signed an agreement for the Panthers and Knights face off in a home-and-home series in 2020 and 2022 — which would have been the fourth home-and-home series between the two programs. However, COVID wiped out the 2020 game which triggered a clause in the contract to terminate what would have been the home game at FIU Stadium.
For those interested, here are the contract details signed by then-AD's Danny White and Pete Garcia. It doesn't appear that either side (UCF/FIU) owes the other compensation for neither game being played. https://t.co/kyk08O9sSL pic.twitter.com/mHBHMkIxzT— Eric Henry (@EricCHenry_) November 23, 2021
Carr spoke about the desire to schedule in-state programs, preferably for home-and-home series.
“We’re looking at those and obviously we would love to do things within the State of Florida,” said Carr. “Whether it’s a guarantee game or a home-and-home, we would love to start with the State of Florida. When you do that home-and-home and you have someone coming to your place, you want it help sell tickets in your market. Just because it may be a P5 brand, is it going to help move the needle in our market.”
In the 21-year football history of FIU Stadium, three of the top-10 most attended football games have come with UCF as opponents (2011, 2013, 2016).
Panthers’ offensive coordinator David Yost came to FIU as arguably the most high-profile hire of Mike MacIntyre’s staff. The 33-year coaching veteran guided some of college football’s most prolific offenses during his stops at Missouri and Utah State.
While the team showed glimpses of potential, specifically in wins over Bryant, Louisiana Tech, Charlotte and the team’s season-ending loss against Middle Tennessee, there’s little doubt that Yost will be looking for marked improvements from the offense in their second season in his scheme.
FIU finished the season ranked last in Conference USA in several major statistical categories including points per game and total offense.
Yost spoke about the performance of the offense during their first season under his stewardship.
“We’ve made vast improvements and certain individual guys have made improvements and we’re better than where we were at the start, but we still have a long way to go and the kids have been great at pushing and working,” said Yost.
“It didn’t exactly go the way we would have liked offensively, but there aren’t many years that it ever goes exactly as planned,” said Yost. “As a staff, we made a lot of adjustments from the first game to the last as far as what we’re doing on offense and in the end it’s about giving the kids the best chance to win.”
“There were certain games that I probably didn’t do a good enough attacking and then there were some games that we were able to get aggressive from the get-go,” said Yost.
One of the biggest struggles was pushing the ball downfield in the passing game. In yards per attempt and adjusted yards per attempt, quarterback Grayson James ranked last and second to last in each category respectively (5.5 and 4.7). Haden Carlson was a non-qualifier having under 100 attempts, but his number was slightly better at 6.3.
Yost spoke about the lack of downfield passing called during games.
“The NM State and Charlotte games, we were able to do what we wanted to do, we were able to be aggressive from the get go — North Texas and FAU we weren’t, we were taking what they gave us we weren’t able to do anything with that,” said Yost.
He added that the down-and-distance situations make a difference in calling downfield passes.
“We haven’t hit as many shots as you would like, we’ve tried it, but not a ton, I wish we would throw it deep more but when you’re not hitting them, it’s harder to call it,” said Yost. “Last time you called it, it was 2nd-and-10 or 2nd-and-8 and now it’s 3rd-and-8 but it’s all part of it, it’s a growing thing.”
On the season, FIU finished last in Conference USA and 126th out of 131 FBS teams in third-down conversion percentage (.286). For Yost, while getting better on third downs is key, he also spoke about the ebb-and-flow of play-calling and the ideal situation being staying out of third downs as a whole.
“What you don’t want to do is become a hey, I just want to get four yards repeatedly type of coach, because if you do that, well if you’re only getting four yards at a time and you start, let’s say it’s after a kickoff, you’ve got to run 18 plays to go score a touchdown,” said Yost. “The chance of you running 18 plays and getting four yards every time is hard. So then the other side of it is, okay, I’m going to try to do something that should create a more explosive play, a 10, 15, 20-yard play and whatever and great when it works, we all love it. And when it doesn’t work, now you’ve got to get more in four yards on the next play.”
“Part of the challenge is it’s a chess match between you and the opposing defensive coordinator but your best flow is when you’re able to go first, second, first or first, first,” said Yost. “If you’re 50% on your third downs, you’re one of the best in the country and we’re not close to 50%, but we got two in a row at times but the chance of us getting three in a row, your percentages go way down.”
Recruiting South Florida
When MacIntyre was hired, one of the major questions was could he recruit the tri-county area similarly to candidates he was chosen over. After getting commitments from 10 players with South Florida ties, he was steadfast in his belief that the program’s effort to ingratiate themselves in as many local high schools as possible has paid significant dividends.
“I think you can call every high school coach, maybe one would say something different but 99% of the high schools can tell you that were coming by the schools and going by there,” said MacIntyre. “It’s really exciting and we can’t sign every one of their kids but we want them to know that we’re here.”
With many programs choosing to recruit the transfer portal heavily, MacIntyre notes that there will be opportunities for FIU to recruit local prep talent that might have gone to larger schools in the pre-transfer portal era.
“I genuinely believe that some of the kids that we’ve been able to sign and recruit, we wouldn’t have been in the conversation if it wasn’t for the transfer portal,” said MacIntyre. “I’ve had other coaches talk about how surprised they are that we’re in the conversation for some of the high school kids that are available and I think that’s going to be huge for us going forward.”
Since the end of the season, the Panthers have lost six significant contributors from last year’s team to the transfer portal.
On offense, starters Tyrese Chambers (Maryland), Rivaldo Fairweather (Auburn), Julius Pierce (undeclared) and backup running back Eric Wilson Jr. (Temple). Defensively, starting cornerback Andrew Volmar (Louisiana-Monroe) and linebacker Gaethan Bernadel will need to be replaced.
With 15 of the 21 players in-tow being high school signees, the Panthers have turned towards the transfer portal looking to replace some of the veteran departures.
Former Miami linebacker Avery Huff and transfer portal linebacker Elijah Anderson-Taylor took official visits to FIU over the weekend.
Former Miami LB Avery Huff took an OV to FIU. The former four-star recruit appeared in 20 games with the Hurricanes. https://t.co/vHHYcxnQuS— Eric Henry (@EricCHenry_) January 9, 2023
Huff was a four-star recruit from Fort Lauderdale as part of the Hurricanes’ 2019 class, appearing in 20 games during his time in Coral Gables. Anderson-Taylor spent four seasons at FCS Northern Colorado where he was named an Sophomore All-American and earned Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2022. The 6-0, 235-pounder had 112 total tackles and five forced fumbles for Northern Colorado this year.
Along with Anderson-Taylor, several other FCS standouts have been offered by FIU — by design.
“To be completely transparent with you, we would look at some guys from SEC or Big 12 schools, but you want to make sure they’re not looking down their noses at us and thinking they’re going walk in day one and start,” said MacIntyre.
Like last season, MacIntyre has leaned into the Deep South junior college ranks for a receiver. JUCO wideout Ja’Coby Matthews visited FIU over the weekend after recording 29 receptions for 556 yards and five touchdowns in two seasons at Southwest Mississippi Community College.
- FIU filled their final scheduling vacancy of 2023 with the addition of North Texas to the schedule. After playing as conference opponents, the Panthers and Mean Green will face off in 2023 and 2029. FIU’s non-conference schedule for next season will be: Maine and North Texas as home opponents and Arkansas and UConn as road contests.