Mario Cristobal and the Florida International Panthers ware currently 1-2 on the season with two road losses to Duke and Central Florida. Their only win of the season came against Akron in overtime. The Panthers are coming off back-to-back bowl appearances and were expected to be one of the top teams in the Sun Belt Conference this season. With Louisiana Monroe and Western Kentucky off to big starts in 2012, FIU might not be looked at as the best team in that league, but the Panthers can still compete.
Although Louisville was struggling at the time, FIU’s win at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium was a big step for the young program. Knocking off a BCS team on their home field is big for a Sun Belt team. With a disappointing start to the 2012 season, I’m sure Mario Cristobal is preaching to his team about the opportunity that is in front of them this weekend. Knocking off a top 20 team would be a huge step for the FIU program.
Louisville can be thankful that FIU lost one of the more electrifying receivers in the country to graduation last year. T.Y. Hilton is now a member of the Indianapolis Colts. Hilton’s two huge plays in last year’s game single handedly cost Louisville the game. With Hilton gone, receiver Wayne Times has stepped in and played solid for the Panthers. In three games this season Times has a team-high 17 receptions for 182 yards. He is no T.Y. Hilton, but he is a capable play-maker. True sophomore Jake Medlock has been one of the bigger surprises for the Panthers this season. With Wesley Carroll graduating, Cristobal knew he’d be dealing with an inexperienced quarterback this season, but I don’t think he expected Medlock to be as savvy has he’s been. Medlock has thrown for 711 yards over the first three games to start the season, the most by a quarterback at FIU. He’s only thrown one touchdown, but has zero interceptions. With preseason first team all Sun Belt running back Kedrick Rhodes out due to an injured foot, senior Darian Mallory will get the start. Mallory doesn’t have quite the accolades that Rhodes has, but he’s been just as productive this season. He has fi ve rushing touchdowns over the first three games of the season. He is also a threat to catch short-yardage passes as well.
The Panthers return 10 starters from last year’s defense, including four Preseason All-Sun Belt players. Senior defensive end Tourek Williams leads the way for FIU and is off to a great start this season. He is coming off one on his best career performances in the Panthers loss last week to Central Florida. He tied a career-high with nine tackles, including four tackles for loss. He also had a 12-yard sack in the game, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry. Senior safety Jonathan Cyprien is also having a huge season. He’s now the current all time leading tackler in FIU history after recording 12 tackles last week against Central Florida. Although the Panthers return a lot of experience on defense, they’ve had a tough time keeping opponents out of the end zone this season. FIU is giving up and average of 39 points per game. To make matters worse, Louisville will likely be the best offensive team they’ve faced yet.
With so many kids from the Miami area on both teams, I think there is a lot of pride on the line. Which is why I think this game will be close early on. It wouldn’t surprise me to see FIU come out and make a couple of big stops on defense and get the home crowd enthused. But I think Louisville’s overall talent will take its toll on FIU. Louisville wins 38-17.