FIU made the move to "big boy" football, Division 1-A, in 2005. FIU started off 5-6 in their first year but from 2006 to 2007 they endured a losing streak that stretched for 23 painful games. In 2010 they posted their first winning record in Division 1-A, aka FBS, by beating Toledo 34-32 in the Little Casears Bowl and securing a 7-6 season. Andres of FIUGoldenPanthers.com helped us out with our Pre-Season Preview on FIU and he once again stepped up to the plate to answer some questions about the Golden Panthers 2010 Season.
1. FIU went from a team with a 23 game losing streak to winning their first bowl game. What did this season and the bowl win mean for the team/university?
This season meant a great deal in helping the future development of the football program and justifying the investment that the University has made in this young football program. Prior to this, FIU was known as the other team in the brawl with the University of Miami and, as you mentioned, the team with the 23 game losing streak. Going into its 10th year playing football, the FIU program can build on some concrete on the field success with its first winning season in history, its first conference championship, its first Bowl appearance and its first win in a Bowl game. The stage is set for this improvement as FIU is expected to return 15 starters from this year’s team. In addition FIU’s schedule for the upcoming 4 seasons features at least 6 home games, including home and home with Texas A&M, Louisville, Duke, UCF and Akron, along with our usual Sun Belt Conference matchups. Lastly, Coach Cristobal has always been known as an excellent recruiter (by SBC standards) and this is just another weapon to have in his arsenal as he recruits against the big boys. Coach Cristobal has already stated that the Bowl game has had a very positive effect on the quality of athletes interested in joining the FIU football program.
2. Which players were the biggest surprise of the season?
By far, the biggest surprise of the season was the marked improvement of the offensive line. In 2009, this team was ranked 100 in total offense and 107 in rushing offense. Contrast that with 2010 when the team was 46 in total offense and 27 in rushing offense. The improvement in the rushing attack helped take some of the pressure off from Junior QB Wesley Carroll who cut down on mistakes in the 2nd half of the season, in addition, it helped keep the defense fresh throughout 4 quarters.
3. What game was the turning point of the season?
FIU’s 42-35 double overtime victory over ULM was the turning point in the season. FIU had just come off a devastating loss to FAU dropping its record to 2 – 5 and in danger of falling out of the SBC championship race. The Golden Panthers led most of the game but allowed ULM to tie the game in the fourth quarter and the FIU defense was forced to create a turnover in field goal range at the end of the game to send it to overtime. Led by TY Hilton’s 25 yard TD run, FIU was able to stop ULM in the 2nd OT and pick up the 42-35 win. FIU went on to win its next 3 games, including a 52-35 victory over defending SBC champions, Troy.
Which players are you most excited about for next season?
TY Hilton is still exploring his draft possibilities, but if he returns, he will once again be the most exciting and explosive part of the FIU football team. TY was back to form in 2010 after an injury plagued 2009. TY was named the 2010 SBC Player of the Year and would be a leading candidate to repeat as such if he were to return. Most of the country might have gotten to see TY for the first time after his miraculous hook and ladder, but FIU fans have known for 3 years what a great player TY is.
5. In what areas does the team need to improve the most this off-season to keep it's momentum moving forward?
The Panthers defense, while significantly improved from 2009 when it was ranked #119 in total defense (60th in 2010), will have to deal with the loss of 2 of its leaders in Seniors Anthony Gaitor (CB) and Toronto Smith (LB). In order to maintain the momentum, the defense needs to replace those two key cogs. However, the parts might be there already with safety Jonathan Cyprien and a slew of talented linebackers waiting in the wings. If the FIU defense can become a top 40 unit and if Wesley Carroll continues to take care of the ball as he did in the last few games of the season (and TY Hilton stays), then I believe that the Golden Panthers can build on this season’s success and become a perennial SBC title contender.