Grayson James FIU
FIU QB Grayson James is one top player returning who could turn the tide for the Panthers (PHOTO CREDIT: FIU Athletics)

FIU Panthers 2023 Preview: Panthers Hunting for Improvement

In 2018, the Florida International Panthers were riding high and looking as if they were building toward something bigger as they finished 9-4 and won a bowl game. In the four seasons since, FIU had a combined 11 wins. Will the Panthers overcome offseason setbacks? What can we expect in year two of Mike MacIntyre at the helm? Can the Panthers claw closer to the top of Conference USA?

The Big Cat Head Coach Mike MacIntyre

MacIntyre was dealt a tough hand in his first year as coach in 2022. It is not unfamiliar territory, though. MacIntyre took over San Jose State and, in year one, was 1-12; but by year three, he had the Spartans at 11-2. When he was at Colorado, by year three he had the Buffaloes 10-4 and PAC-12 South champs. If anyone can get FIU to the top, it would be this man. The magic year seems to be year three in his system; we're only in year two at FIU, so expect this team to improve from last year's 4-8. Keep in mind, too, many pundits had FIU winning only one game last season.

FIU Football

FIU football coach Mike MacIntyre continues to look to improve program's fortunes. (Photo credit: FIU Athletics)

A Shaky Offseason

The Panthers have a lot to overcome. Two days into spring ball, talented running back Lexington Joseph suffered a knee injury that will keep him out for the season. Shaun Peterson, their talented rush linebacker, entered the transfer portal. Some teams can withstand losses to the transfer portal, but the lack of depth on this FIU roster made things that much more difficult.

All Eyes on James

All eyes will be on quarterback Grayson James. He started 10 games last season, throwing for 1,962 yards and 11 touchdowns along with 11 interceptions. The turnovers must come down this fall. With the experience gained from last season — and in year two of offensive coordinator David Yost's system — it is reasonable to expect that the quarterback would make a big leap in production this season. James does have big targets to throw to in 6-foot-2 Kris Mitchell and 6-foot-4 tight end Josiah Miamen. Miamen could be a breakout star and a great safety valve for James.

Josiah Miamen FIU

FIU tight end Josiah Miamen is a proven target for the Panthers. (Photo credit: FIU Athletics)

Quite the Pair

The Panthers have added very talented players from the Football Championship Subdivision. In 2022, FIU added former East Tennessee State University linebacker Donovan Manuel, who racked up 97 tackles that year. They went back to that well, going out west to add linebacker Elijah Anderson-Taylor, who had 111 tackles last season at Northern Colorado. The beating heart of the defense is usually in its linebacking corps. With these two in the middle, they can cover a lot of ground and shut down the middle of the field for opposing teams. These two will be fun to watch.

Toughest Games in 2023

FIU was tied with Sam Houston for last place in the Conference USA preseason media poll in July. The toughest stretch for the Panthers will be in October, when they will be at New Mexico State on Oct. 4, home versus the University of Texas at El Paso on Oct. 11, at Sam Houston on Oct. 18, and home against Jacksonville State on Oct. 25. FIU defeated New Mexico State last season 21-7, so can it beat them on the road again? UTEP could be a sneaky good team this year, and a win there would really show growth. FIU needs to beat the two teams that just joined the FBS, Sam Houston and Jacksonville State. But keep in mind they did lose to newbie Jacksonville State in the COVID-19 spring of 2021, when the Gamecocks were still FCS. If FIU can go 3-1 in this stretch in October, it will get them toward the middle of the pack in C-USA.

2023 Predictions

The Panthers and MacIntyre have been dealt a tough hand even before the season started. If this team were to get to five or six wins this season, that would be a huge accomplishment. The Panthers are in good hands and are increasing the level of talent on their roster. This team might be a year away from bowl eligibility, but the arrow is pointing upward.