After a tough 4-8 season in 2014 in which they lost four games by three points or less, the FIU Golden Panthers are looking to dominate C-USA (just like the rest of the conference except UAB). They will make the trek up to UMass on October 3.
Ron Turner's offense is a single back run first one and he has two strong options at running back this year. Alex Gardner had an impressive freshman year to start as he racked up 562 yards before injuring his shoulder late in the season. Anthon Samuel, a familiar name, transferred from Bowling Green and ended up amassing over 500 yards himself. It will be stiff competition this summer to see who comes out ahead but either back has the skills to be dangerous.
2014 was the year of the freshman for the Golden Panthers as Alex McGough won the starting gig under center after he enrolled early for his freshman year. He had a year full of learning curves after only completing 50.4 percent of his 274 pass attempts.
McGough doesn't have a lot of experience in the receiving corps to throw to. If you were to count up the returning catches in 2015 you would only get to 22. That's from all their returning WRs. Fortunately tight end Jonnu Smith will return after hauling in 61 catches for 688 yards. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, this rising junior has the size to and skills to be more than a safety blanket.
The Panthers defense will have a new leader as former coordinator, Josh Conklin, was hired by Pat Narduzzi to take over the job at Pitt. Turner in turn hired the former Pitt coordinator, Matt House, to take the reins and he has a lot to work with. Three of the top sack leaders of 2014 are back. Michael Wakefield is a beast off the edge as he totaled eight sacks and forced four fumbles. The UMass offensive line will have a their work cut out for them.
Blake Frohnapfel is as good as UMass quarterbacks get but even he will need to be weary of the FIU secondary.Richard Leonard had five interceptions along with seven pass break ups. As if he wasn't scary enough to opposing offenses he also forced two fumbles. Jeremiah McKinnon and Wilkenson Myrtil can't be picked on either as they both had two interceptions each.
The Panthers will try and ride a tough running game and utilize their defenses ability to create havoc and force turnovers. Froh will likely find himself on his back a few times but FIU does give up some homeruns which just so happens is Tajae Sharpe's specialty. This one will be a fun one to watch.