FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL GOLDEN PANTHERS
- Florida International enters the 2012-2013 campaign with an outstanding defense, especially along the defensive line that returns sack specialist Gregory Hickman. The Panthers limited opponents to a mere 3.4 yards per rush attempt last season, and I expect even better performance from the Sun Belt’s best defensive line in 2o12.
- The Panthers also boast an excellent linebacking unit that returns three starters from last season, including their top two tacklers. Both Jordan Hunt and Kenneth Dillard provide invaluable experience that will pay immediate dividends this season.
- One of the main reasons for why I am so bullish on Florida International is its elite secondary that limited opposing quarterbacks to 57.1% passing last year with an 11-14 ratio. And, despite losing Emmanuel Souarin, the Panthers return eight players with starting experience, including their entire two deep. There is no question that Florida International takes the field with the conference’s best secondary in 2012.
- Florida International’s domination from the line of scrimmage is also evident on offense where the Panthers have seven of their top ten offensive line back (103 career starts). Left tackle Caylin Hauptmann anchors an elite offensive line that only allowed 3.8% sacks last year, and I expect this veteran group to have its best production ever under head coach Mario Cristobal.
- Behind the conference’s best offensive line is the Sun Belt’s best running back unit led by Kedrick Rhodes, who set a school rushing record last year with 1,149 yards and 4.9 yards per rush attempt.
With seventeen returning starters and a starting quarterback in Jake Medlock (who got invaluable experience last season; 66.1% completion rate), the Panthers should win the Sun Belt Conference provided they take care of business at Troy on October 20.