Florida International U

Grading the FIU Panthers ahead of the 2019 college football season

FIU wide receiver Maurice Alexander on changing positions, diversified skills

FIU wide receiver Maurice Alexander on transitioning from quarterback to wide receiver over his career and how his diversified skill set sets him apart during Panther Media Day on August 7, 2019.
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FIU wide receiver Maurice Alexander on transitioning from quarterback to wide receiver over his career and how his diversified skill set sets him apart during Panther Media Day on August 7, 2019.

QUARTERBACKS | C

Senior James Morgan set the FIU single-season record with 26 touchdown passes in 2018 Morgan, who came to FIU as a graduate transfer from Bowling Green, earned Conference USA’s Newcomer of the Year. This season, he is rated as the second-best QB in the league behind Mason Fine of North Texas. Behind Morgan, however, FIU has no passer with collegiate experience.

RUNNING BACKS | A

FIU ranked third in the league in rushing yards and third in average per rush (4.8). Only FAU averaged more per rush, but the Owls lost two star running backs to the NFL in Devin Singletary and Kerrith Whyte. Meanwhile, FIU returns seniors Anthony Jones and Napoleon Maxwell and junior D’Vonte Price, who form a solid 1-2-3 combo. Jones has 1,148 career yards, Maxwell led the team in rushing last year (697 yards), and Price led in average per rush (6.2).

WIDE RECEIVERS | B

FIU will rely on three senior receivers: Austin Maloney, Maurice Alexander and Tony Gaiter. Maloney (30 catches, team-high 20.3-yard average and five touchdowns) is second-team all-league this preseason. Alexander, in his first year since converting from quarterback, made first team all-league as a kick returner. And Gaiter could factor in as a possession receiver. In addition, junior Bryce Singleton has shown game-breaking ability but has been slowed by injuries.

TIGHT ENDS | B

Sophomore Sterling Palmer is an emerging talent. He made Conference USA’s All-Freshman team, catching 26 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns. He played in all 13 games, making 10 starts, and he finished strong with a career-best 64 yards in the Bahamas Bowl. He’s on the 2019 Mackey Award watch list. FIU is looking for sophomore backup tight end Ivan Thomas to make strides after he made two starts as a freshman.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN | B

The Panthers led the league in fewest sacks allowed (eight), a testament to the fine work turned in by position coach Allen Mogridge and his blockers. FIU took some hits to graduation, but still returns the best pass blocker in Conference USA, left tackle D’Ante Demery. Senior center Dallas Connell is among the nation’s best at his position, and guard Shane McGough has continued to improve. Right tackle Devontay Taylor is solid, and the Panthers are hoping someone such as Mershawn Miller or junior college transfer Logan Gunderson can claim the one open starting spot.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN | C

FIU used as many as 11 defensive linemen in a game last year, but its depth has since taken a hit. Much-hyped seniors Tayland Humprhey and Josh Little transferred out of FIU, and Anthony Johnson and Jermaine Sherriff graduated. Among the returnees, the standouts are senior tackle Teair Tart (team-high four sacks) and junior ends Kevin Oliver (two sacks) and Noah Curtis (1.5 sacks).

LINEBACKERS | C

Senior middle linebacker Sage Lewis led the league last year with 132 tackles, setting a school record. This year, he has been named Conference USA’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. However, there are no established outside linebackers, with Jamal Gates (three starts), Rocky Jacques-Louis (two starts) and Daniel Jackson (no starts) positioned to emerge.

DEFENSIVE BACKS | A

This is the strength of the defense. Senior Stantley Thomas-Oliver, a converted wide receiver, led the team with 10 pass-breakups and might have a pro future with his length (6-2) at corner. Safety Dorian Hall and versatile Richard Dames tied for the team lead in interceptions with three. Senior Ike Brown, another tall corner at 6-1, and Rishard Dames (Richard’s twin) are two more standouts. And safety Olin Cushion started 11 games last year, ranking third in tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS | B

Maurice Alexander is perhaps the best punt returner in the league, and junior Jose Borregales was solid on field goals, making 14-of-18 attempts. However, he missed three kicks shorter than 40 yards. The big question is at punter, where Stone Wilson graduated. Junior college transfer Tommy Heatherly could emerge as the punter, but Thomas Leo and Alec Hallman are challenging.

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