Peter Holland Jr./ Contributing Writer
Another year and a another missed postseason, the 2015 football season ended on a low note at 5-7 (3-5 in Conference USA) and just one game shy of bowl eligibility.
The last two games against the C-USA heavy weights Marshall University and Western Kentucky University were basically the climax of the season, and the Panthers were outscored 115-7.
Where do the Panthers go from here? Well there are some positives and negatives sides as they begin their off-season.
The offense, despite not finishing strong and only scoring seven points in two games, has a bright future.
Starting quarterback Alex McGough, only a sophomore, can get better as a QB during his junior year in 2016. The Tampa native finished the season with 2722 yards, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
His progression has been superb, whether he’s breaking touchdown records in a single season, which happened at the homecoming game, or being ranked No. 17 nationally in pass completions.
Additionally, McGough has an arsenal young weapons returning with him; running back Alex Gardner, wide receiver Anthony Jones, running back Napoleon Maxwell when he’s fully healthy, wide receiver Thomas Owens, wide receiver Dennis Turner and wide receiver Julian Williams are all expected to don blue and gold again next year.
An added bonus will be starting tight end Jonnu Smith, if he returns for his senior season. It’s 50/50 if he decides to stay one more year or declare for the NFL draft as an underclassmen – his resume from his breakout sophomore season alone could definitely give him some NFL looks. At the same time, he can return fully healthy and help lead the team to a postseason for the first time since 2011.
Head Coach Ron Turner has built an establishment for this team and has been improving every year. He’s come a long way from 1-11 his first year, improving to 4-8 his second year and 5-7 this year.
One game improvement and missing another bowl bid three year straight is a small feat, yet the Panthers are going forward as a team rather than going backwards.
Despite a blowout loss on senior day against Western Kentucky and a low home attendance, winning at home has been huge for the Panthers and they should take advantage of that next season.
FIU also has 23 high school players verbally committing to play for FIU, a majority from Florida, which could prove to be another huge boost for this program.
Being the most talented FIU football team we’ve seen in years came with high expectations, which unfortunately resulted in having the most underachieved team we’ve seen.
This is especially true on defense, which was pretty average against the pass but struggled against the run.
In their defense, injury definitely played a key role during the season, as the Panthers lost a few key players in the back seven on defense.
The safety position was the weak point for the defense due to the injuries. This season they had to rely on true freshman Tyree Johnson to start at free safety when two safeties ahead of him went down.
In addition to improving defense, the next task for this off season is replacing the seniors, including team captains Michael Wakefield and Richard Leonard. There are going to be many holes that will need to be filled.
Expect to see some brand new faces and not much experience.
This season lacked consistency when it came to winning games. Even though they finished 4-1 at home, they also finished 1-6 on the road.
Instead of back to back wins, which they didn’t have this year, it was either a win followed by a loss, or back to back losses in two weeks. Their losses to below average teams like Florida Atlantic University and University of Massachusetts really hurt the Panthers’ chances of bowl eligibility.
The scheduling itself had really set the Panthers up for failure. Even being 4-1 at home doesn’t seem so impressive now because of the mediocre team they played and the lack of home attendance from the FIU fan base, or somewhat of a fan base.
The Panthers are looking towards the future and are not looking back. What to expect for next season all depends what happens this offseason. This is now the time to recruit more talent before national signing day.
I expect no major changes this offseason.
Turner and Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment Pete Garcia are not going anywhere anytime soon, even though some critics believe that they are both on the hot seat. As for the returning players, this will be an even younger team with a lot up for grabs next year.