Transfers, departures and more: Everything you need to know for the new football season

Photo courtesy of FIU Athletics.

William Duval | Assistant Sports Director

As the fall semester draws near, so does another season of FIU football, where the Panthers are looking to build upon their previous season.

The 2022 season was full of ups and downs for FIU, as they finished the year with a 4-8 record and were ranked tenth in the Conference USA standings. After a valiant 38-37 overtime win to open the season against Bryant, the Panthers couldn’t build momentum for the rest of the season.

Last year, the Panthers ranked last in C-USA in both rushing yards and rushing yards per game. Their passing game was not much better, as they were ranked eleventh in passing yards and tenth in passing yards per game.

When all put together, it resulted in FIU’s offense scoring the fewest points in C-USA. 

Not only did the team struggle on offense, they also were ranked bottom four in the conference in every major defensive statistic. Most notably, the Panthers allowed 37.3 points per game while only scoring 18.7 points per game themselves.

Rather than remaining complacent, FIU landed multiple new players through the NCAA transfer portal and are looking to improve on both sides of the field. 

Offensive Additions:

Looking to address their running game, the Panthers brought in sophomore running back Shomari Lawrence. Last year, he totaled 597 yards on 107 carries, giving him a 5.6 yards per carry average. Showing his ability as an efficient running back, Lawrence will be a key contributor on offense this year.

Running the ball at a high level is not possible without an offensive line. With this in mind, FIU added sophomore offensive lineman Travis Burke, a six-foot nine inch, 290 pound goliath of a player.

In the 2022 season, Burke appeared in thirteen games for Gardner-Webb, proving to be a key piece to their lethal rushing attack. His size and power allowed him to consistently see playing time in an offense that averaged over 178 rushing yards per game.

While bolstering the running game, the Panthers didn’t stop there, as they added junior wide receiver Ja’Coby Matthews to provide some speed downfield. While his individual statistics aren’t necessarily eye-popping, Matthews had some key performances for SW Mississippi last season, including a 114 yard season opener in 2022.

Looking for a commander to this offense, Coach MacIntyre has been evenly splitting quarterback reps throughout training camp. Freshman quarterback Keyone Jenkins has been strongly competing for the starting spot, showing mobility as a rusher and poise as a passer. 

With new faces and talent on offense, FIU is looking to improve upon what was an unstable offense last season. Whether it comes from internal development or one of their new acquisitions, the Panthers are attempting to have a more dynamic offense next season.

Defensive Additions:

Among the many weaknesses the Panthers may have had last season, their defense stuck out compared to the rest. Allowing almost twenty points more than they score every game, the team is in need of defensive resistance.

Junior linebacker Avery Huff is at the center of FIU’s new-look defense, where he has potential to be a star. He spent three years at Miami, mostly appearing on special teams exclusively. 

Entering college, Huff was ranked a four-star prospect by 247Sports after a strong career with St. Thomas Aquinas. He will be joining Elijah Anderson-Taylor as the new linebacker acquisitions for the Panthers.

Defensive improvements didn’t stop there for FIU, as the defensive line seemed to be a point of emphasis, bringing in multiple new players in an effort to get better. This includes senior defensive tackle Jack Daly, who looks to make a serious impact next season.

Daly, the six-foot three inch, 315 pound tackle spent his past four years playing at Bryant, where he earned All-NEC First Team selections in both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Appearing in over 30 games for Bryant since 2020, Daly was consistently an unstoppable force for the Bulldogs and looks to carry it over to FIU.

When reflecting on his time at Bryant, Daly said “I learned kind of just how to be a man and how to grow up pretty quickly.” The “expect to win” mentality, as coined by Bryant football head coach Chris Merritt, carries over to Daly’s everyday work ethic.

“The ‘expect to win’ thing, it’s not just a game. It’s practice, it’s every rep, it’s when you’re lifting, it’s in the meeting room, you’ve got to expect to win, and I take that very seriously” said Daly.

Landing both Daly and J.T. Anderson from Bryant, the Panthers find themselves with two hard-working talents that look to be key contributors next season.

Newfound Energy:

Finding a connection with a new team and teammates could prove to be a challenge for some people. For freshman defensive end Claude Larkins, he’s embraced the challenge and looks to create a tangible energy for this team.

“What I’m trying to bring to the team is high energy. I’ve already talked to Coach Mac, we’re going to get a sideline-squad going” said Larkins. 

After having a subpar 2-4 away record in 2022, Larkins wants to use the sideline as an energizer for the team. “When we travel away… while the opposite team’s crowd is trying to get down on us, our sideline is going to bring us up… be high energy, be a coffee bean.”

Just as high heat transforms a coffee bean, Larkins and the Panthers look to use the high pressure to their advantage. 

A New-Look C-USA:

A new season always brings new challenges for a team, but this year, the entire conference has been shaken up.

In June of 2023, it was announced that Liberty, New Mexico State, Jacksonville State, and Sam Houston joined C-USA. Along with the new additions, Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss all moved to the Sun Belt conference.

Something noteworthy is that both Jacksonville State and Sam Houston are both moving from the FCS to the FBS after stellar seasons in recent years. In the 2022 season, Jacksonville State finished with a 9-2 overall record, running through their conference.

Although Sam Houston had a lackluster 5-4 record in 2022, this comes on the heels of an undefeated national championship season in 2021. In a tightly contested match with South Dakota State, Sam Houston took the lead with sixteen seconds remaining in the game, showing resilience when things seemed bleak.

As impressive as both teams are, this is not to take away from the success both Liberty and New Mexico State have seen in recent years. Liberty had an 8-5 overall record in 2022 and New Mexico State had a 7-6 overall record, both having above .500 seasons.

Now that the conference has added four teams with better records than FIU, the Panthers have to face some new challenges. With multiple familiar C-USA teams out of the conference, FIU has an opportunity to prove themselves as a well-established program in the conference.

Through adding multiple key pieces, the Panthers are ready to take on the new challenges coming with next season. 

Follow William Duval on X @willduval40

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