Asst. Sports Director
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about this year’s FIU football team, it’s that they’re nothing like the team of a season ago. Sure, they returned a lot of starters and Ron Turner is still the head coach; however, the mindset and maturity of this team has changed drastically in a positive way.
You could tell how much different this team is than they were last year just by looking at their first game in each season.
In the 2014 season opener, FIU played an incredibly sloppy game and were upset by FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman University.
This year? FIU had a Week 1 upset of their own against the heavily favored University of Central Florida Knights.
Despite their close loss at the hands of the Indiana University Hoosiers over the weekend, the 2015 FIU Panthers are the real deal.
This year’s team shouldn’t have to worry about losing against FCS schools like they did last season, which brings us to this weekend’s home opener against the lone FCS team on FIU’s schedule: the North Carolina Central University Eagles.
Coming off a heartbreaking loss last week, FIU should be more motivated than ever. NC Central is (on paper at least) the easiest opponent that they’ll face all season, and the Panthers need to win games like these if they want to make a Bowl Game this winter.
NC Central opened their season with an impressive 72-0 rout of St. Augustine’s University, though in their first game against a Division 1 opponent last week they were shut out by Duke University 55-0.
Although the Eagles looked great in their season opener, the Panthers are still a heavy favorite.
The key for the Panthers to avoid a colossal upset this weekend is to move the ball productively and limit turnovers. Turnovers killed them against Indiana, as the Hoosiers scored a touchdown off each of the 3 FIU turnovers in the game.
Against an inferior opponent such as NC Central, however, they should have a much easier time holding onto the football.
Though they weren’t all his fault, quarterback Alex McGough was responsible for all three of FIU’s turnovers against the Hoosiers. His status is still uncertain after leaving last week’s game early with an undisclosed injury, but there is optimism that he’ll be able to play on Saturday because he was taking first team reps at practice this week.
Regardless, I think they’ll pick up a lopsided victory against NC Central. Not quite the 55-point blowout that Duke handed to NC Central last week, but I don’t think FIU will have too much of a problem in this one.
At the end of the day it all comes down to talent, and FIU simply has more talent than NC Central.
The Eagles have some great players on their team, most notably their star linebackers Reggie Hunter and Jordan Miles, but the Panthers have more playmakers on both sides of the field.
The playmaker with the most potential is freshman Anthony Jones. He showed flashes of what he’s capable of against UCF, but I think this week we’ll finally see him worked into the offense even more.
If Jones is able to get significant playing time along with McGough’s top targets Thomas Owens, Jonnu Smith, and Ya’Keem Griner, this offense should look incredible in Saturday’s game.
Prediction: FIU defeats North Carolina Central 41-6. You can never underestimate an opponent no matter who they are, but I’d be shocked if the Panthers weren’t 2-1 going into their Conference USA opener against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 19.