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NCAA Football Preview - FIU Panthers

8:31 AM, Aug 19, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -

2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Mario Cristobal turned down some offers at bigger programs prior to the 2012 season as he wanted to continue building the Panthers he led to the 2010 Little Caesar's Bowl. That didn't work out though, as Cristobal is going to be the offensive line coach at Alabama in 2013 after being dismissed following a three-win campaign in 2012.

FIU could not handle Duke's aerial attack in its opener and lost, 46-26, to the Blue Devils in Durham. It captured its first victory of the season the following week by outlasting Akron for a 41-38 overtime win. The Golden Panthers then lost eight games in a row, falling to UCF(33-20), Louisville (28-21), Louisiana (48-20), Arkansas State (34-20), Middle Tennessee (34-30), Troy (38-37) and Western Kentucky (14-6). The tough stretch took Cristobal's squad out of contention for the Sun Belt Conference title and a bowl appearance. FIU strung together a pair of road wins at South Alabama (28-20) and FAU (34-24), before ending the year at home with a double-overtime setback to ULM (23-17).

Athletic director Pete Garcia announced Cristobal had been fired in December and the school chose Ron Turner as his replacement. Turner was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterbacks coach in 2012 and the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears from 2005-09. He last coached at the collegiate level when he was the head coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini from 1997-2004. He owns a 42-61 record, including a 1-1 mark in bowl games, as a head coach at the FBS level. He will bring his professional experience to the program as it enters its first season in the Conference USA.


OFFENSE: Turner is expected to implement a pro style offense, which will be a drastic change from the spread system that had FIU quarterbacks taking snaps from the shotgun. Junior Jake Medlock will be the starter after an impressive showing in 2012. In his first year as the full-time starter, Medlock completed 57.7 percent of his pass attempts for 2,127 yards with 13 touchdowns to just two interceptions.

"I like what I have seen in Jake. I like his competitiveness. He is tough. He can throw the football," said Turner on his new starter. "He is still getting used to the system. I just spoke with him for 10 minutes after practice and told him the biggest thing he can do is master what we are doing. He is working on getting the ball out of his hands quicker."

FIU only has two other returning starters on the offensive side of the ball. Senior running back Kedrick Rhodes is a reliable option out of the backfield. He gained 1,194 yards and scored eight times in 2010 as a sophomore. He didn't get as many carries last season, but averaged 4.5 yards per carry and finished with 699 rushing yards.

The Panthers also have back their big play wideout Willis Wright, who paced the team with 633 yards and five touchdowns in 2012 as a junior. Wright had a slow start to the season last year, but really picked it up down the stretch. He reeled in a touchdown pass in each of FIU's final three games. Senior wide receiver Glenn Coleman (227 yards, 13 receptions) and sophomore tight end Ya'Keem Griner (106 yards, eight receptions) are going to have to take on bigger roles in the passing game.

The offensive line has very little experience coming back as it graduated all five of its starters. Juniors David Delsoin (6-6, 305) and Donald Senat (6-2, 285) made a few starts each last season. The size of FIU's offensive line may be an issue as Cristobal compiled a group ideal for his spread passing attack.

DEFENSE: FIU also returns just four starters to its defensive unit, which had a disappointing performance. The Panthers finished 89th in the FBS in scoring defense with 31.7 points allowed per game and allowed over 400 yards of total offense on seven different occasions.

The defensive line has some potential as junior defensive end Giovani Francois (6-1, 260) and senior end Paul Crawford (6-8, 275) both had outstanding springs. They both performed so well that defensive coordinator Josh Conklin moved Greg Hickman (6-2, 280) from the outside to tackle.

Sophomore linebacker Patrick Jean is one of the most promising players in the program and saw brief action as a starter as a true freshman. He is expected to become the leader of the defense, while starting alongside fellow sophomores Luis Rosado (6-2, 220) and Davison Colimon (6-2, 200).

Sam Miller and Richard Leonard started six games each at corner last year. They can only hope sophomore strong safety Demarkus Perkins (6-2, 210) or junior free safety Justin Halley (6-2, 195) are as productive in the secondary as the departed Jonathan Cyprien.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Panthers also lack veterans on special teams and will have freshmen starters at kicker and punter. Redshirt freshman Sergio Sroka(5-11, 170), whose father Roberto was a kicker in the NFL, handled the majority of the field goal and kickoff duties during spring practice. Chris Ayers (6-0, 170), who is also a redshirt freshman, will have to beat out Medlock for the starting punting job.

Junior defensive back Richard Leonard finished seventh among FBS players in return yards (716) and scored one of his 24 kick returns. He and sophomore wideout De'Andre Jasper are both exceptional playmakers in the open field.

OUTLOOK: Turner is not going to be expected to win immediately considering the vast amount of holes present in the depth chart when he was hired. FIU could be a competitive unit in the near future if Cristobal's recruiting skills were underestimated.

The Panthers begin their era under Turner at Maryland. They will then host UCF and Bethune-Cookman before hitting the road for a tough test at Louisville. FIU will play its first C-USA game at Southern Miss and follows it with three- straight home games versus UAB, Louisiana Tech and East Carolina. It then has to play three of its final four games on the road at Middle Tennessee, Texas- El Paso and Florida Atlantic with its second to final game, versus Marshall, at home.

Turner is very optimistic for his future with the program.

"A lot of things (made this an attractive position). Number one, the ability to win. We are going to win here. I told those guys (the players) that. I've told our recruits that. I don't know if it is going to be 2013. I can't answer that. The talent level that is here, the talent we can recruit here and the level of coaching experience we have. We will win. We will be competitive for championships year in and year out. We want to be a team at home or on the road that the opponent knows has come ready to play. We are going to be a force within the conference."

The Sports Network

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