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After five wins total in Ron Turner's first two years with Florida International, last year's 5-7 record was quite the feat. The Golden Panthers had some big wins, but also some big losses and were just short of reaching a bowl game. After blowing out UTEP and ODU, they closed the season losing to Marshall and WKU by a combined 115-7 score line. Not great. But with their starting quarterback returning, another run at a bowl game should be possible for this team.
FIU's offense was hit-or-miss last year, but with plenty of returning talent, could show some improvement. At the head of the returnees is quarterback Alex McGough, who is still a junior and entering his third season as the starter. He was solid in 2015, finishing with 21 TDs and 8 INTs, while completing 64% of his passes. There's no reason McGough can't improve on those numbers given the guys around him.
The offensive line returns every starter, including all-conference center Michael Montero. Even though they struggled to 3.4 yards per carry last year, the experience on the line should help in that department. Along with that, top receiver Thomas Owens (51 receptions, 638 yards, 8 TDs) returns with tight end Jonnu Smith (36 receptions, 397 yards, 4 TDs). Do-it-all running back Alex Gardner will again be a focal point as well. He ran for 760 yards and 9 TDs as well as catching 60 balls for 442 yards and a touchdown through the air.
FIU scored 25.5 points per game a year ago and should be able to top that total. Their first task will be scoring on better defenses in the conference.
Defensively, the Panthers need to be better to reach a bowl game. They allowed just under 30 points per game last season, but failed to do much against better teams. They don't have a ton of returning starters, but get multiple players back from injury, which should help.
The first task will be replacing almost every relevant player along the line. Tackle Imarjaye Albury is the only returning starter and finding a pass rush will be the new guys' job. Linebacker Anthony Wint led the team in tackles last year and he's flanked by Treyvon Williams and Davison Colimon, two seniors that missed action in 2015 because of injury.
Corner is a question with inexperience, but the secondary will be kept alive with the help of safeties Niko Gonzalez and Tyree Johnson. This group had its moments last year and can build on them as long as injuries don't pop up again.
A couple Big Ten tests await at the beginning of the year for FIU, but if they can take down both UMass and UCF, that should help their quest for six wins. Of course, that also means they'll need four conference wins. Their home C-USA slate isn't easy with FAU being the only team they face with a losing record from last year. Wins will have to come about on the road, most likely at UTEP, Charlotte or Old Dominion.
The schedule is there for the Panthers to reach six wins, but can they pull through? They lost by 10 points to UMass and 14 to FAU last year. FIU has the second-worst odds to win the C-USA East, but with an improved offense, don't count out a bowl game for this team.
2016 Florida International Golden Panthers Football Schedule
Sept. 1 vs. Indiana
Sept. 9 vs. Maryland
Sept. 17 at Massachusetts
Sept. 24 vs. UCF
Oct. 1 vs. Florida Atlantic
Oct. 8 at UTEP
Oct. 15 at Charlotte
Oct. 22 vs. Louisiana Tech
Oct. 29 vs. Middle Tennessee
Nov. 5 at Western Kentucky
Nov. 19 vs. Marshall
Nov. 26 at Old Dominion
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